22 October 2011
Voulez vous diner avec moi, ce soir?
Of course, like all things tourism in Paris, this could easily have been just another gimmick. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, I decided to register on the website VoulezVousDiner.com and see what turned up. Very soon after that, I received an email from Renaud Maigne, the website's founder, telling me he was very excited that I was the first Australian to register on his site.
Private dining clubs and personalised eating experiences are not new to Paris, but according to Renaud, his site is the first to bring the experience to such a professional level.
And polished and professional this experience was - from start to finish. A few email exchanges later, and I'm booked to have dinner with Marc and Lyssa, just a short uphill stroll (or one metro stop) from my Montmartre apartment. Shortly after, Marc sends me an email to see whether I have any dietary or culinary preferences (greatly appreciated - I'm wary of french experiences like tête de veau or offal!) and to give me details about entry to their apartment.
Curious, I check the location on Google Maps, and follow the route from the metro to the apartment entrance on streetview. Looks great and a charming area of Paris to be sure!
Seems like almost no time, I'm in France, in Paris, two days into my french lessons at ELFE (more on this one later), and on my way to dinner.
Immediately on arrival, made even more atmospheric by having done the short walk from the metro station in the rain, I feel at home. Marc and Lyssa are an English-American couple who decided to make Paris their home some 14 years ago. The apartment was beautiful, spacious, a fire was lit, and not only was I made to feel extremely welcome by Marc and Lyssa, but Scruffy, a dog saved from a less-then-ideal existence in St Barts in the Caribbean also decided to adopt me for the evening.
Shortly after, the company founder, Renaud, also turned up - so we are four for dinner this evening. Perfect. The conversation switches from English to French, and after a short time to shift the neural connections, I find, to my delight, that I'm able to keep up quite well. And contribute. Wow, and that was after only two days at french school!
Turns out Marc is a chef, who loves nothing more than playing out classic dishes in new ways. The menu for the evening was printed and on the table waiting. It could have been a dinner party menu from the 1970s, but presented in a totally modern and fresh way. Had I been presented with these dishes in a top restaurant anywhere in the world, I would not have been disappointed. To find such quality and creativity, together with the relaxed and happy atmosphere of a real home, was truly a Parian "trésor". Marc was also happy to pass on his culinary tips (especially about the "confit" technique he used to cook the coquelet, or baby chicken). He's promised me his recipes as well, so look forward to trying these out when I'm back home.
Lyssa is a stylist, having worked in the fashion industry for many years. I was privileged to take a peek at one of her wardrobes full of vintage clothing, some going back to the 1600s. By the end of the evening, we are giving each other advice on this and that - as you do with new best friends.
To my surprise, I checked my watch and it's already after midnight. I have to be at school by 9 am the next morning, so feeling like I was living in a Parisian fairy-tale, I did the Cinderella dash in order to catch the metro before they shut down for the night. Made it with a few minutes to spare, and great stories to share with my group the next morning.
Posted by Susan Whitbread