Ever since The Hidden Kitchen launched in 2007, the concept of community dining with strangers has taken Paris by storm. Similar types of events have sprung up all over the city and many new cafes, restaurants, and coffee bars have long, community tables, begging you to not quite love thy neighbor, but at least possibly strike up a conversation with them.
I was invited to the newest version of this concept last week called Once Upon a Table and it took place on a sleekly converted barge on the Seine on the Quai Montebello in the Latin Quarter. I arrived near 8PM and found most of the 13 participants mingling on the deck of the boat. I was first struck by the awesome night view of Notre Dame all lit up.
It was a clear, cold night and the sommelier Stephane made a lively and overly animated presentation of the Champagne. Apparently Stephane had no distinction of cold weather, as he was wearing just a suit jacket and no scarf and he enthusiastically carried on about the Champagne as though it was a balmy August night for an inordinate amount of time while I was shivering and couldn’t wait to escape the cold and go downstairs toute de suite to warm my chilled bones.
The downstairs of the boat was a large, open loft like space with a prettily decorated table set for 13 with fine white china and soft candles.
The thing that sets apart Once Upon a Table is that it gives an historical background about the foods you are tasting and how certain popular dishes came to be what they are today. So before our first course, a delicious, warm, velvety soup of topanimbour (Jerusalem artichoke) with truffle oil, we were given a Powerpoint history of the topanimbour and the very important role it played as a survival food during WW II. For the rest of the evening we heard stories from every era of French and European history, from Esmeralda and Notre Dame to Santiago de Comopstela, who is somehow connected to how Coquilles St. Jacques, told in a lighthearted and entertaining way. We also ate our way through simple to spicy, from France to North Africa.
The soup was followed by carpaccio of scallops with root vegetables and curried vinaigrette and citrus, lamb stew with Mediterranean spices, purée of baby peas and mint, a cheese plate of Comte, Brie de Melun, and Epoisses, and dessert was Poire Belle Helene.
The wines were served in this order:
Jurancom Domaine de Cahupe 2009 with the soup
Sancerre Robineau 2011 with the carpaccio
Organic Crozes Hermitage 2011 with the lamb
St Emillion, Chateau Matignon 2008 with the cheese
Maury, Mas Amiel 2009 with dessert
Champagne Fallet Dart at the end of the meal
Stephane played a little game with us and covered the labels of the bottle when he served the wine and we had to guess what it was. He also showed us the art of properly sniffing and swirling it in our mouths.
Max, who was our chef for the evening, trained with Alain Passard at l’Arpege, and Laserre with Christopher Moret, and currently works at the George V hotel. His highly regarded training grounds have paid off handsomely, because the food was excellent, well executed, and thoughtfully prepared. Each course was special and could stand on its own yet the combination of the flavors and courses worked terrific together for a well rounded, satisfying dining experience. I see a bright future for this talented chef.
Our host for the event was Fred Pouillot, a former corporate chemical engineer, who turned his corporate badge in to get a degree in Hautes Etudes du Gout, (High studies of taste) from the University of Reims in France. I believe you can only get a degree like this in France. Fred lived in many places during his corporate years and gained an appreciation and fascination of the culture of food in different countries. He started www.lefoodist.com , a company which focuses on discovering food through culture a few months ago. Once Upon a Table is one of his food events along with Daring Pairings, where wine is paired with unusual foods including 10 different types of chocolate.
I met a few interesting people including two guys that worked for Air BNB in France and I bonded with an American food and travel journalist from San Francisco who was visiting Paris for the week.
This was a fun and educational experience and I highly recommend Once Upon a Table if you want an out of the ordinary dining event.
For now dinners are scheduled on Monday nights, which is great because many of the better restaurants close on Monday.
Cost: 120 euros and presentations are lead in English
The hot blooded Stephane, who braved the cold night just wearing a suit
I am happy to announce the sale of a new set of prints of my Eye Prefer Paris Photos. I am offering 20 of my most popular and iconic images for sale including my doors, architectural details, statues, and monuments. They will make great gifts for all your Francophile friends, relatives, and colleagues but don't forget to buy some for yourself.
Click here to see photos and for full details including sizes, prices, and shipping. Here is a sample of some of the photos.
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 195 euros for up to 3 people, and 65 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com