by Kate Heyhoe
Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
12th Stop: Paris, France
Georges and Francois eagerly unfold the map of France on their tiny kitchen table, carefully pressing out the creases. "On New Year's Eve, we're eating France. The menu will be one specialty from each of our great gastronomic regions: Burgundy, Perigord, Alsace, and so on. We will welcome the beautiful 21st century with only the finest foods in France—which are, as everyone knows, the finest foods in all the world!"
I admire their enthusiasm but wonder how they'll be able to churn out over fifteen dishes in their closet-sized kitchen. Three people shoulder-to-shoulder in it fit like pickles (or cornichons) in a jar, and for big parties, one of the men always winds up chopping vegetables in the dining room.
"This is why," explains Francois in his impeccable but thickly accented English, "this is why we have the charcuterie, the boulangerie, and the patisserie. We buy the foods already made. Come along now, let's go shopping!" and with a joyous 'Allons-nous!' the men grab their string mesh bags, a rickety folding cart, and two umbrellas which they wave wildly over their heads. Like Joan of Arc heading into battle, we charge out the door to plan the Meal of the Millennium.
Whereas Americans avoid spending time on food, living on diets of Big Macs, Stouffers dinners, and Hamburger Helper, the French devote hours each day just to food shopping, especially in Paris. Food is bought fresh daily, from individual merchants. I suspect the multitude of small apartments and tiny refrigerators has something to do with this, but even those with ample living space seek out only the best and the freshest of foods daily.
Arm in arm, with me sandwiched between the portly Georges and the svelte Francois, we make our first stop at Schmid charcuterie for samples of foie gras. "You must try the raw foie gras cru. It is the best of the best, rarely found at other times of year." The satiny, pillow-like puff of foie gras slides across my tongue, richer than butter, and a thimble size portion is all that's needed to convince me and my companions that this shall be the representative dish from Alsace.
We head on to our next sampling. "Est-ce que je peux le gouter, s'il vous plait," Georges asks at the Alleosse fromagerie. The man behind the counter cuts a small straw-colored section from under the rind for Georges to taste. "The best Camembert is made from raw cow's milk. It must say 'de Normandie'—otherwise, you are getting a cheap imitation. A true Camembert is a complex taste: a bit of mushrooms and truffles, a hint of garlic, a woodsy, nutty flavor. This one is perfect. It will be our specialty from Normandy."
We spend the rest of the morning tasting and ordering the goods for next week's New Millennium party. About two o'clock, we do as many good Parisians do and slip into a wine bar to sip sauternes and eat more foie gras. This time, the foie gras is not served raw, but lightly cooked (foie gras mi-cuit), accompanied by sweet butter from Charentes and toast. It is dense, rich and heavenly, perfectly enhanced by the sweetness of the wine.
As I take another dreamy bite of the foie gras, I feel a tad politically incorrect about eating the fattened liver of force-fed geese (or in some cases, ducks). Francois makes a noise that sounds like a hippo exhaling, "Pfft! You Americans think it's cruel, but you eat turkeys with breasts so big they can't stand up. The geese and ducks don't suffer when they're fed. And the grain is not crammed into their stomachs as some mistakenly believe. You should read Foie Gras: A Passion for the real truth about foie gras. If you still feel guilty, then bon!—more foie gras for Georges and me!" he laughs.
Over lunch, Georges and Francois hammer together the final party menu based on our samples throughout the day. "Only in Paris can one taste every part of France," he says. "And on such a long and memorable night, what better way to celebrate than with a culinary tour de France, n'est pas?"
Here then, is the French Meal of the Millennium, as designed by Georges and Francois—specifically with ease of service and a tiny kitchen in mind. If you have a good French or gourmet market in your area, you should be able to replicate much of this menu for your own happy new year. Dishes highlighted in blue are included - just click on them for the recipe.
Happy 21st Century from Foodwine.com!
(Dishes highlighted in blue are recipes available on this site)
Other French Cookbooks (with sample recipes)
Other French Recipes
December Itinerary... Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 1999 and modified November 2006.
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