10.29.2009

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

20 comments:

Rebecca said...

Oh those dinner parties sound so wonderful. I can only imagine what the topics of conversation were. I'm guessing it was always interesting and lively (I'm sure there was no talk of the lastest episode of this or that on the TV)!

CashmereLibrarian said...

Count me in to your next dinner party! ;-)

I personally seldom have people over for dinner unless it's my husband's idea, because he's the cook. And since he's a guy his preferred dinner with guests is, of course, on the grill.

tishjett@yahoo.com said...

Oh, yes, eh oui. Aren't they fabulou? My best friend can pull off this slight of hand when she has 12 around her table. One of her secrets is always to have the first course on the table so the dinner can begin immediately. Everyone is already served and there is no fuss at beginning. Everyone settles in and the rest flows with the wine.

I will never understand how they make everything look so effortless. She claims she is "lazy" and it is because of this character flaw she is excessively well organized (you should see the linen closets -- in both of her houses).

As I believe I've mention on one or two occasions if I have eight for dinner I need an ambulance idling in the driveway in case I pass out from the stress.

I've certainly learned a lot over the years and in my opinion a French dinner party ranks way up there with one of life's greatest pleasures.

Great post, Merci.

Jo said...

I am a newcomer to your blog - I found you through another blogger who wrote an interview of Anne Barone, one of my favorites. I am SO enjoying your blog! It is just the read I need, I even took your advice and rented "Intimate Strangers" to watch tonight! I strive to live a life of little luxuries and appreciate the French example of consistent moderation, emphasis on quality, and taking the time to do things the correct way. These attributes are intrinsic, I think, to the French Joie de Vivre, which I aspire to daily. And, of course, as an American, struggle with daily!

tina said...

alors? pourquoi pas? vas-y! :)

go ahead, throw the party and then write about it. it would make you feel european again and i'm sure everyone would looove to read about it ;)

a month ago, i was very busy at work but for one night i went to the appartment where we used to study with my friends. we ordered sushi, listened to sting, drank a loot of great french wine and though the next day i went to work tired after two hours' sleep, i was satisfied and very happy :)

ScentScelf said...

Courage! You would have a most delightful gathering, I am sure. Remember, it is the company and the touch of ceremony that make it what it is.

I love the idea of rolling the food in on a trolley cart. Of course, that's just a way of creating ceremony, and isn't necessary...but something about it is fun.

You could make up an element that brings the dinner party your personal touch...like taking your aperitif in that room with the beautiful view... :) Talking about this inspires me to resume having mini-dinner parties, which has fallen to the wayside these past few years.

I agree with Tina; do it, and report back!

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Rebecca- In the beginning my French wasn't very good so I had no idea what the topic of conversation was lol! But over time I got a lot better and yes- the discussions were very interesting. More on those later ;)

Cashmere- Wouldn't it be fun to have a dinner party of fellow bloggers? Maybe one day... :)

Tish- Lol re: the ambulance in the driveway! I get SO stressed out when throwing my own dinner parties. I can only handle 6 people - tops! I can't even imagine 12.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Jo- Thank you so much. Your comment seriously made my day. I spend so much time on this blog and it feels great to get such positive feedback. I LOVE Anne Barone. Her books are so amazing... maybe I'll do a post on them one of these days. I am so thrilled that you rented Intimate Strangers! You must tell me what you think- I hope you like it. I really look forward to seeing you more on the blog.

Tina- Thank you for your comment and for your encouragement. Your spontaneous sushi party sounds like so much fun- those are the best nights and the ones that you will most likely never forget...

Scentscelf- you and Tina have convinced me and I promise to throw a dinner party in November and report back! Mini soirees are so much fun. I just need to breathe and take a chill pill before hand and realize no one will judge me if it all goes horribly wrong ;)

||| laura frantz ||| said...

Et quoi des frommages?? LOL
We always had cheese and bread after dinner in France. Not your experience?

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Laura- I am horrified I forgot about le fromage! lol. Thanks for reminding me... yes, ALWAYS fromage- usually camembert... **double sigh**

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

Jennifer, I think you should recreate the French dining experience for a small group of your friends. You can be Madame Chic and I am sure you will be superb! xx

Linda H said...

I have no doubt that you could pull off a most charming dinner party. I used to stress too until I found some simple tasty dishes that are my staples for a dinner party. It's never the food (although I believe it should be tasty--not fancy) it's the mix of people and good conversation and you are already a professional at that. So Voila amusing dinner party. I would be happy to email you a repas with recipes! Just do It

Tom Bailey said...

French dinner parties.... my first thoughts were toast and fries. I know that is not right but they were the first food items I thought of associated with french. When I thought deeper it led to thoughts of wine and french pastries.

When you mentioned picky eaters... I have to admit I am in that group (mostly vegan)... but I eat before going to parties so I do not starve or presure the party planner.

The other thing is that I host parties for the minorities- vegans- and go to parties for the masses... Formal ones are hosted by rich business people. If you want the formal ones charities are excellent places to meet people into that. I do not like to dress that formal all the time. The ideal place to find those are the 25k dinner parties hosted for charities in private homes.

I like your entry it really made me think.

JennyMac said...

Sounds divine!!!!

We love dinner parties too..one of my favorite things to do is cook for friends..great convo, great wine...perfect.

Michael Rivers said...

This sounds wonderful. If you throw a dinner party like this, I'd love to attend!

Rose said...

oh that sounds wonderful. In fact a dinner party would be perfect for this very rainy London day. Plus I love that they all dress up- why don't people dress up anymore heh?

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Thank you all for the encouragement and thoughtful input... Linda- thank you for your kind offer... I'm sure your recipes are amazing! xo

Dining on Deals said...

Ahh, the Dinner Party. Every time I come back from vacation (and dinners with my large family) I tell myself I need to start throwing more of them. And every time I look at my tiny kitchen I talk myself out of them. No more excuses - let's commit to doing one by the end of the year!

suzan said...

hi jen

i thinking of suing you for spoiling me. i limited myself browsing an hour a day. but its getting harder to go away from your blog. will you share her secrets. was she cooking ahead? i love invite friends but cleaning the house, cooking is too overwhelming. often i do potluck. yee.. ya no so chic. will you share her secrets

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Hi Suzan, I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog :) Madame Chic had a set group of recipes that she perfected that she didn't even have to think twice about when making. If she didn't have time to cook she would prepare a quick salad and get selected cold meats from the butchers. For more on everything Madame Chic I hope you'll read my book Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris. It's available now on amazon.com! xo

 
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