January 31, 2013
If you follow the Paris food scene, you’ve no doubt spotted a trend: eateries, bars and even desserts have gone decidedly American. From cupcakes and coffee bars to cheeseburgers and cocktail lounges, there’s no denying that all things New Yorkais are très à la mode. In a land famously derisive of American cuisine, it’s surprising to say the least. For those of us who adore Paris for its singular Parisian-ness, it’s a tough trend to love.
That’s why Le Foodist — a new series of deeply French “dining events” launched by Fred Pouillot, a French-born, erstwhile U.S. corporate exec — is a welcome newcomer on the local food scene. It started with a simple idea: offer a select group of diners the chance to discover French culture and history through its most prized creations — food and wine.
And do it aboard a péniche on the Seine in the shadow of a gloriously lit Notre Dame Cathedral. Fred’s sights are set squarely on food-and-France-loving visitors (English is Le Foodist’s lingua franca), but the experience is authentic enough to please even resident foodies looking for the latest thing.
On a recent chilly December evening, my husband and I partook in one of Le Foodist’s three proposed experiences, a guided dinner and wine tasting called, “Once Upon a Table.” We were promised a fixed five-course menu set by the young chef (admirably trained by Alain Passard at L’Arpège) and careful wine pairings to complement the regional dishes. Fred would animate the evening with historical anecdotes and share his passion for the cuisine of his beloved homeland. Were we in? Mais, bien sur.
As we descended the stone steps to the Quai Montebello, with the picture perfect Bateau Daphné in our sights, I sensed we were in for something special. We were quickly greeted by Fred and his jocular sommelier, Stéphane, bearing flutes of champagne for our apero. As the deck filled with another dozen or so diners, excitement mounted for the culinary adventure ahead.
Below deck, we sat around a large table swathed in white linen and awash in candlelight. The barge listed gently with the waves of the Seine (or was it the champagne?) as Fred related stories marrying French history and gastronomy. For our first course, we savored a perfectly creamy velouté de topinambours (jerusalem artichoke soup) with a decadent splash of truffle oil. Most of us had never heard of this root veg, let alone tasted it. In a word, sublime.
As our meal progressed, Stéphane guided guests through various wines, challenging us to a lighthearted guessing game. Our group of food writers and tourism industry types included a chic, wine-savvy femme française who ably named regions and appellations with barely a sniff and a sip. Game on. My husband countered with a couple of winning guesses of his own, earning our team a respectable tie in the evening’s wine contest.
The meal’s highlight was undoubtedly the main course, a deeply flavorful navarin d’agneau with subtle Mediterranean spices, paired with an organic 2011 Crozes-Hermitage. It followed an entrée of carpaccio de Saint Jacques, a slightly bland if artistically presented dish that’s been popping up on many chic menus of late. Dinner wrapped with another nod to French tradition: a perfectly poached Poire Belle Hélène, bathed in warm chocolate. After a plate of unctuous and decadent fromage, it was just right.
With heads abuzz in wine and good cheer, we regrouped on the upper deck for a final coupe de champagne before bundling off into the chilly Paris night. Our glasses raised, we toasted la France, her gastronomic wonders, her ever-obliging vineyards and her gallant Gallic hosts. American foodie fads be damned, vive la France!
- Find out more about Le Foodist and what they offer
- I Prefer Paris and Bonjour Paris has also dined together with Le Foodist
- Want to experience a Parisian food market with your own chef as a private tour guide? Check out Localers market tours
Written by Paige Bradley Frost
Paige Bradley Frost, a Los Angeles native, moved back to Paris with her young family in 2011 after first living and getting married there in 2000. A lover of French style and cuisine, she spends her days scouting and writing about the city's gems when not chasing after her two young children. Her articles about parenting, culture and lifestyle have appeared on NYTimes.com, the Huffington Post and various other publications. She blogs about her Paris experiences at http://parisdejavu.blogspot.com.
Website: Paris Deja Vu