09 November 2010

Fine Dining

Ok...first things first...yes, I confess to reading People magazine online.  We all have our vices and if a little fluff reading is the worst of mine, so be it!  Now that we have the shock and awe out of the way, on to more interesting matters...While reading a bit of that vice recently, I came across the following bit:

"Also there: Marion Cotillard, who shared a leisurely dinner – more than three hours! – outside with her friends."

It really spoke to me that the "journalist" wrote emphatically that Mademoiselle Cotillard dined leisurely MORE THAN THREE HOURS!!

To most Americans visiting France, this is one of the most culturally jarring habits they confront.  They cannot understand why - if there are tables in the restaurant that are empty - they are turned away with the explanation that the restaurant is complet. They start eating the tablecloth, the bread, the bread basket during the pauses between the courses. They boil when the wait staff disappears and seemingly must be chased down to get the check.   (I am not talking here about the pit stop to refuel in the midst of a busy day...the French have those just as much as we do...but that is what that sandwich shop is for!)

The French approach these meals completely differently than Americans do. In France, a meal with friends is like a private dinner party. You talk a lot...you drink some nice wine...you eat some really tasty food and you are there to enjoy your friends and the experience. The quality of the conversation is as important to the experience as the quality of the food and wine. You never look at your watch. There is no second seating. The table is your's until you deem to give it up.

The restaurant is the stage for your little party. The chef and the wait staff are there to provide the theater.  They consider their role as important as a director and actors in a play do and sometimes they are just as temperamental. They are not there for your every little whim. They do not introduce themselves to you. They do not interrupt your conversation or that huge bite that you just put in your mouth to inquire how you like your meal...they are just not that into you. They are mostly polite and they will most likely respond to all the adoration and applause that you want to throw their way. The waiter does expect you to politely listen to him deliver his lines as he presents your meal to you in detail. The sommelier expects your full attention as he offers the bottle for your tasting. When you are ready to leave, sometimes you have to chase them down to allow you to pay, but again, they are not focused on your need to leave or for that matter pay...they are self-absorbed and focused on their role at that moment.

So when in France, slow it down. Think how much we pay for that meal.  Shouldn't we slow it down and enjoy it?  Experience a meal or two as the French do and see it as culturally important as the museum or the tour that you take. Have a bit more patience with the staff...as long as your meal and experience were worth it. If you are in a hurry, make sure to let them know...they may or may not speed up the show for you...but if they don't, you will just have a French war story to elicit sympathy from your American friends back home.  Bon appétit!!

01 November 2010

More Pictures From the Party at Chateau Champlong

After party in Olivier's cave
Trish, Celia, Nancy and Debby in action
Pomme Caramélisée
The guys waiting to eat
Celia, Debbie and Mary enjoying a well earned glass of champagne
Trish, Mike and Celia à table
Cora, Trish, Celia and Mary wait to plate
Cora, Debbie and trish
Celia announces each course to the diners
Marc, calvados and drinking songs...oh la la la la!!

Thanks to Nancy from Bateau Libellule for these wonderful pictures!

Toussaints et Leclerc - The Perfect Storm

We made the grand mistake of going grocery shopping this morning - Toussaints (All Saints Day) at Leclerc.  Either it was due to everyone returning from vacation and needing groceries before tomorrow's back to work day or it was that Leclerc offered a coupon of 15 euros off every 80 euros purchased or all of the above.  Everyone had their carts loaded full!  It took us 40 minutes to get through the line to the cashier!!  Of course we not being anally frugal French people left our coupon in the other car.  The cashier asked us for our coupon and when I explained our predicament, she offered a sympathetic shake of her head.  That was a painful experience all around!

Halloween 2010

I totally forgot to buy Halloween candy this year!  I figured since it was a rainy Sunday and during a school vacation, I would be ok.  But promptly at 19h (7 pm), the doorbell rang!  We all panicked!!  What should we do?  Turn out the lights and run for the back of the house?  Answer and hope for the best?  Scream and run around the house like maniacs?  After choosing the latter for a minute or two, I settled on some really yucky candy that Nathan and Celia had rejected...licorice and candy flavors just unknown to Americans...maybe French kids were different!  There was a really scary skeleton, a cutely horrible witch and I'm not sure what the other kid was going for...They hungrily grabbed at the bowl of candy that I offered.  Then throwing out Happy Halloweens to everyone and they disappeared into the night. 

Not 15 minutes later, the exact same scene occurred again!!  What to do?  I had stupidly given ALL of our candy to those monsters!!  I yanked open the snack drawer and quickly rejected the meringues still left from Jeff and Janet's visit in July, the Melba toast languishing for eternity, the pistachios and slivered almonds that probably wouldn't go over too well...finally my eyes guided by some miraculous force lit upon the Pomme Potes...apple sauce in a really convenient portable little package that you almost drink like juice...  I grabbed the huge Costco sized box and ran for the front gate.  The monsters had refused to give up hope and were still there.  Maybe they had seen my frantic darting through the front kitchen window!  I apologized that there was no more candy and said I hoped the Pomme Potes would appease their monstrous need for sweets.  There was no grumbling, but only a Merci and Bon Soirée thrown over their shoulders as they commenced their assault on the dark house next door...Phew...another disaster avoided.  We feverishly served up the Sunday night roasted chicken and vegetables and fled to the back of the house to find asylum in front of some mindless TV leaving the front of the house dark and unguarded.  Not 20 minutes into the feeding frenzy, the doorbell rang again!  These French style monsters were relentless!  They did not care if the house was completely shuttered and dark!  They leaned on the doorbell even though Jazzy yelled at them to stop!!  We cowered in our chairs furtively looking at each other trying to decide whether we should confront the monsters once more or continue to tremble in fear.  The smell of the chicken decided for us!  Bon appétit and Happy Halloween!!