Dinner Parties- Comme les Français- Famille Chic
Ahh, the French dinner party. That intimate affair: the subtle interactions, the amazing food (the wine!), the ritual. If you have an opportunity to attend an authentic French dinner party- go, I tell you, allez!
Famille Chic threw at least one dinner party a week. This still amazes me. In America, dinner parties are a rarity (So many diets to take into account. So many allergies. So many picky eaters!). Staying in France really made me appreciate the art of a dinner party. It is, in my opinion, the most intimate type of party one can have.
The format for Famille Chic’s dinner parties were very formal. We would always dress up (no jeans, s'il vous plaît) - the men would wear jackets and ties (or for the most casual of dinner parties- a sweater with a collared shirt). Madame Chic would wear a skirt (but then again- she always wore skirts. I never saw her in trousers- even on the coldest of days). We would all sit in the salon for a little aperitif beforehand. The aperitif would range anywhere from a kir to whiskey to tomato juice. (I am quite a lightweight so when we had whiskey as an aperitif- it really became a party for me!)
Classical music would ooze from the record player. After the aperitif we would all move to the table. Madame Chic would disappear to the kitchen (how on earth she managed to create 3-5 delicious courses, mingle with her guests and not be a slave to the stove was beyond me) where she would roll out the tray containing the first course (the kitchen was not adjacent to the dining room, remember). The first course would often be composed of a soup, savory tart, salad or delicate slices of cured meats. The women would always be served first starting with the female guest of honor, then me, then Madame Chic (on non dinner party evenings, I was always served first- without exception), then the men served themselves last. It was like this for every course. At first all this etiquette following and pomp and circumstance felt very daunting to me (I come from the land of outdoor BBQs remember) but I grew to love this following of tradition and always feel slightly disappointed when the protocol isn’t followed aux États-Unis .
After the starter, Madame Chic would disappear into the kitchen again and roll out the main course on the trolley. This could range anywhere from lamb, to fish to roast chicken- and was always served with fresh vegetables and usually a gratin of some sort. And then the same thing would happen with the dessert- either a selection of delectable cheeses eaten with bread or a homemade apple or strawberry tart, a cake, crepes or fruit drenched in Grand Marnier.
**Sigh** I am getting depressed just writing this. I miss those dinner parties so much. I loved their formality- the ceremony involved- the pomp (the circumstance!) The different courses- the different wines. I long for that here in California… I suppose the only way to stave off my culinary depression is to throw a little dinner party of my own comme les Français . Now all I need is a little bit of courage…
The Dinner Table by Henri Matisse is pictured above