UNESCO has dubbed French cuisine a world cultural heritage. If you really want to experience it, you are best making a reservation at a “table d’hôte”, one of Paris’ many private restaurants.
The silence of the lambs? Not in France. Benoît was extremely enthusiastic: about the breeder, the juicy Périgord meadows, the tenderness of the meat. He eloquently praised the sensuous character of every carrot and every wine, and for the first time ever I realised the erotic relationship that some French people have with their food. I was new in Paris and wanted to expand my circle of friends. I thought that the best way to meet new people would be at a private dinner. Initially, I was actually disappointed by the supposedly legendary French cooking: the majority of my friends are stressed with their kids and work, and so feed themselves with frozen dinners and microwave ready-meals. The metres upon metres of convenience food shelves in Paris supermarkets show that they’re not the only ones. One point in their defence: it goes without saying that the city’s tiny apartments and kitchens limit people’s culinary ambitions and any plans to hold big dinner parties.
I found what I wanted on the website www.cookening.com, where you can still find real cooking artists and enthusiastic farmer’s market visitors. Here hobby chefs offer menus at their private dining table for different prices. And that’s how I found myself in Benoît’s impressive apartment high above the elegant Place Vendôme on a horribly cold January evening, joined by five other guests. He is an anthropologist, a photographer and an Amazon researcher. When he’s in Paris, he lives for his second passion: cooking. He apparently doesn’t need money. He simply holds these private dinners because he doesn’t feel like cooking for himself and because he enjoys meeting new people.