Friday, June 24, 2011

Diner des Grands Chefs at the Chateau de Versailles

  My husband and I share a birthday.  One day in March we were talking about what we wanted to do for our birthdays this year.  I said,  "Why don't we throw a karaoke party?"  He said,  "Yes, or we could go to the Chateau de Versailles for a nice dinner?"  His idea was much better than mine.

  On April 6th we found ourselves at Versailles with about 650 other people for a dinner billed as the Diner des Grands Chefs celebrating the inclusion of French gastronomy on UNESCO's list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the World.  Some of the proceeds were also ear-marked to raise money towards creating a permanent center of learning for French cuisine, called the Cité de la Gastronomie.  It was organized under the patronage of President Nicolas Sarkozy by Relais & Chateau, an international association of unique luxury hotels and restaurants, and Les Grandes Tables du Monde, an international association devoted to promoting and maintaing high standards of gastronomy.

  There was a lot of talk about the dinner in the French media because of the magnificence of the setting, the number of accomplished chefs involved (60), and the price tag (not cheap).  I was even interviewed the night before the event by a news radio show on Europe 1 about why I was going to the dinner.  That was a interesting experience- it was funny to hear myself on the radio later,  because it was not at all what I thought I sounded like!

  We drove to the town of Versailles and checked in at Hotel la Residence du Berry.  We have stayed there four times now.  It's a really lovely little hotel with sunny breakfast room and a friendly staff.  If I'm not mistaken,  it's family-owned and we like how cozy it is.  A real hidden gem.  After checking in we walked for maybe two minutes to the Chateau.

 Once we arrived we waited outside the gates for several minutes taking a bunch of pictures, and then in we went!  It was cool to see the Chateau without the crowds.

  Inside the Chateau we went through a reception area where we checked in. We walked through the State apartments and the Hall of Mirrors on our way to the dinner.  There was an exhibition underway showcasing thrones from around the world titled Thrones in Majesty.

  How the King and Queen took their public meals, seated at the head of the table with an audience:

Looking out the windows:

  The dinner was held in the Gallery of Battles, a museum created for the French people by King Louis-Philippe I to glorify the military history of France.  Formerly it was the place of the apartments of the noted letter-writer Elizabeth-Charlotte of the Palatinate, sister-in-law of Louis XIV, among others. 

  After finding our table from the seating chart at the entrance we went inside the museum where champagne and passed hors d'oevres were waiting.  I felt like a kid in a candy store, taking in the beautiful venue, the tasty tidbits being passed around and the champagne glasses being filled everywhere. 

The table setting:

  Once we were all seated there were speeches by Jaume Tapies, Chair of the Relais & Chateau Board of Directors and Jean-Robert Pitte, chair of the Mission Francaise du Patrimonie est des Cultures Alimentairs,  introductions of special guests, including Minister Frédéric Lefebvre, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, Chairman of the Public Establishment of the Château de Versailles and Christophe Navarre, Chairman of Moët Hennessy.  Once the speeches were finished,  the chefs were introduced and walked in through the hall to applause from all:

  The maitre des hotels and the sommeliers came through to more applause:

  Alongside the tables were stations where the grands chefs and the junior chefs worked to plate each course.  It was fun to watch.  Almost all of us were taking pictures throughout the evening, something I was pleasantly surprised about- it was nice to see so many other people as excited and eager to document this special evening as I was.  I really enjoyed talking with the people at our table.  We were from America, France, Italy and Ethiopia.  There was a lawyer and his lady friend, who were super nice.  There were two Relais & Chateau public relations people at our table, which meant that most of the chefs came by to say hello to them and smile and wave at the rest of us.  The other Americans at the table were Justin Cogley,  Chef de Cuisine and Ron Mendoza,  Pastry Chef at L'Auberge Carmel in California, who in France not just for the Diner but also to compete in an international dessert competition sponsored by Valrhona.  They were great conversationalists- their excitement for gastronomy was really contagious.

  We had a spectacular evening sharing food and wine, talking about what we liked of the courses- a natural discussion coming out of an evening based on celebrating cuisine.  It was fascinating to learn about what people thought was important around the whole topic of food- in what ways it could sustain people- both in the physical sense and in a mental/emotional way, situations when food was important, how inclinations are created in childhood, what we thought was essential to include when preparing meals, and so on....

  Some dishes were better than others, but overall it was very delicious.  There were two sets of menus for the evening.  I think it was just a matter of where you were seated that determined which menu you had.  The 60 chefs were alotted a number of tables to prepare and plate the menu to be served.  These are the ones which were served at my table:

Scallops -
The presentation was nice but the flavors fell a bit flat.

Morilles de Printemps with Raviole -
the sauce was heavenly. 

Roasted Lamb -
 the best lamb I ever tasted.

Rocquefort de la maison Carles

 White Cake with Dense Caramel Center -
I don't remember what the real name was  :)

Tarte Tatin and Millefeuille au Chocolat

The mothership White Cake with Dense Caramel Center being carried through the hall: 

The wines and spirits served with dinner:

Dom Perignon Millesime 2002
Cheval Blanc Millesime 2004
Chateau d'Yquem Millesime 1996
Cognac Hennessy Paradis

  The Diner des Grands Chefs was a special night and I couldn't have asked for better food or company. Mr. Mother of Style and I had so much fun together.  It used to sound corny to me when I heard couples say it,  but now I have to say sincerely:  my husband is my best friend and his company was the best part of the evening.

  In general when it comes to food I am motivated more by love for my family to give them good meals to see their enjoyment of those meals than by the love of gastronomy by itself.  But coming away from that evening in Versailles I have felt more curiosity about food and to try to prepare things with more variety and distinction.  I think that's a mark of a good evening.   

  After the evening wound down, around 1 AM, we walked out the way we had come in, through the State Apartments.  It was so cool to be there at night!  Everything was dim, it was so quiet that you could hear the floorboards squeak, and it felt really special- how many people get to see Versailles like that?  I loved this visit to the Chateau of Versailles with my husband for our birthdays. It was such a treat. It is so fun imagining what it was like when this beautiful Chateau was home to the rulers of France. When you physically stand in a place like Versailles and walk through the rooms, or along the garden paths, you come away with so much more than just the cold hard facts that are found in a book. It becomes more personal and the stories in the books become that much richer as a result. 

Someone's souvenir from the evening:

You can also visit my French history website:  Life at Versailles

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Disneyland Paris- Part 2

Walt Disney Studios Park is part of Disneyland Paris and is probably most famous for the Moteurs...Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, where the audience sits back and watches an outdoor car performance of stunt maneuvers including driving backwards at high speeds and flying over a canal of fire.  My kids also love the Stitch Live show, much like Turtle Time with Crush at Disneyland California.  It's amazing how the technology is available to let the kids interact with an animated character in such a natural way. 

We rode the Flying Carpets over Agrabah...

My 4 year old's jaw dropped when she saw this giant Buzz Lightyear statue.  It was the gateway into an area that was new to us called the Toy Story Playland.  It was super cute!

Tower of Terror in the background:

Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin:

The RC Racer half-pipe rollercoaster had my older two kids giggling and screaming with delight:

Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop:

The Aerosmith Rock 'n' Rollercoaster is one of my favorite rides in the Walt Disney Studios Park.  It looks like you are loading into a stretch limousine and then you are off on the rollercoaster into a Aerosmith concert turned into a ride, with lights flashing and smoke machines blowing.  I really like that there are more than one Aerosmith songs used on the ride.  My husband and I have to take turns on the ride because our youngest is too little for everyone to ride together and we each heard different songs.

Waiting for the baby swap :)

My kids' favorite ride is the Crush Coaster.  It is so fun!  You sit with two facing forward and two facing back, and in the coarse of the ride the direction changes and the positions are reversed and the front-facing two become the rear-facing two.  It's a lot of twisting!


On one of our times riding the attraction broke down and we had to be evacuated out of the ride.  It's amazing how different the ride feels without the lighting and sound elements.  This is one of the fun parts, where the jellyfish are everywhere.  Even though I know there is "magic" happening to create these effects, it was still funny to see that there were only a few jellyfish needed with a few mirrors to create that effect!

While the "big kids" ride the Crush Coaster, one of us adults take our little one over to the Cars Race Rally:

We ate lunch at the front of the park inside the hanger you see from the entrance.  It's themed like old time Hollywood, and while we were there a band played big band music.

Good and fast:

Monsters, Inc. Scream meter: