Dining at Le Foodist is like having a gourmet dinner while taking a class, except that no school cafeteria ever served food as good as this, and few schools make learning so much fun.
Le Foodist is a new Parisian twist on the concept dinner. You’ve heard of dinner on a boat floating down the Seine, and you’ve heard of supper clubs in private apartments where you share dinner with a small group of strangers. Le Foodist combines the two and adds a cultural/historical element to the experience.
It all started when Fred Pouillot, a Frenchman who had joined the ranks of corporate America and traveled the world for his work, got fed up with that lifestyle and decided to turn his love for French food and culture into a new venture.
I was invited last month to try out this experience with about 15 other guests in a boat called Le Daphné floating (not cruising) on the Seine just beneath Notre Dame. As we sipped the aperitif, the sommelier, Stéphane
Bonnerot, gave us an entertaining lesson in how to properly taste wine and challenged us to guess what the crisp, sweet white wine we were drinking was. It turned out to be a 2009 Jurançon from Domaine de Cauhapé.
We then moved to the candlelit table for dinner. Each course was accompanied by a short illustrated and well-researched talk by Pouillot about the origins of the foods we were eating – the Jerusalem artichoke, for example – placing them in their historical context and adding anecdotes. That may sound dry, but it wasn’t at all. I won’t reveal the stories here, since I assume he tells them at each meal, but just say that they were surprisingly illuminating and interesting.
In between courses, the ebullient Bonnerot organized us into teams to play guessing games
(great ice-breaker when you are eating with strangers), which taught us interesting food facts like how to tell the age of a scallop by looking at its shell, and explained the wine pairing for each course.
The food, prepared by youthful chef Maximilien Joncourt (formerly of Lasserre and Arpège, and now at the George V), was refined and beautifully presented throughout. We
started with a rich Jerusalem artichoke velouté with truffle oil and moved on to a delicate
carpaccio of scallops with colorful root vegetables, sliced paper-thin, with a curry vinaigrette. The meat course was a
deconstructed Mediterranean-style lamb stew (which we learned from Pouillot was an
adaptation of an ancient Mesopotamian recipe found on a cuneiform tablet), served with pea and mint purée. The cheese course had us all cooing with delight, as did the dessert of poire Belle Hélène.
We then trooped up to the deck of the boat, where Notre Dame loomed above us and the evening was fittingly capped off with champagne, but only after Bonnerot had shown one of the guests how to open the bottle with a saber, which involves cleanly chopping the head off the bottle, just as one of Napoleon’s soldiers might have done.
Pouillot also offers cooking classes and cheese and wine tastings. He will soon be opening another venue in the fifth arrondissement, but the dinners on the boat will continue. They are costly (€150 per person on the boat; they will be €120 in the yet-to-be opened restaurant), but offer a great deal of fun, a learning experience and an excellent meal with fine wine for the price. It is also a good way to meet people, although I would have liked to have had a little more free time during the aperitif to chat with some of the other guests.Favorite