Gorwydd Caerphilly was one of the stars of a Paris restaurant meal cooked by me (aka The Culinary Coach) and my partner, Michael Whitehouse in April 2012. Invited by the owner of Le Coin de Table, a neighbourhood bistro in the 10th arrondissement to present English food to her clientele, we took up the challenge.
When it comes to food and wine, the French are complete chauvinists. Their ideas about English food are tired and outdated, based on their memories of school trips. They rarely travel outside tourist London and don’t know how our food has improved out of all recognition. This meal gave us a chance to confound their prejudices. Mad? Foolhardy? The BBC must have thought so because they asked to record our adventure for a BBC Radio 4 documentary, ‘To Paris with Parsnips,’ transmitted in July.
The biggest risks were the cheese and the wine. After all, the British can’t compete with the French in these two areas, can they? Sophie, the restaurant owner, agreed to serve British cheese but initially refused to have English wine in her establishment. “Jamais du vin anglais dans mon restaurant!” She was won round, grudgingly, when the radio producer offered each guest a glass of aperitif wine. Chapeldown Bacchus Reserve 2010, a white made from the German cross of the same name, was a surprising hit with the diners. One-nil for the Brits!
Le Coin de Table serves inexpensive cuisine de grand’mère so we couldn’t do anything too costly or elaborate. We also had make sure that there was nothing to frighten the diners, so we had to consult French residents in the UK, including restaurateur Raymond Blanc. We found out that the French don’t like mixing sweet and savoury (they detest lamb with mint sauce), they can’t get their mouths round our wobbly jellies (trifle was off the menu) and that young people haven’t developed their parents’ taste for offal. Forget the steak and kidney pudding, then.
For our 8 euro-per-head budget, we decided on Jane Grigson’s curried parsnip soup, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s fish pie and a classic sticky toffee pudding. Our cheese plate showcased the best of British artisan cheese – the Caerphilly, Cornish Blue, Appleby Red Cheshire and Isle of Mull Cheddar, served with our home-made plum chutney.
Stress levels were high on the night. Quite apart from radio presenter Jane Garvey and her producers sticking their microphones in our faces, we had 45 covers to rustle up from a miniscule basement kitchen. No major disasters or temper tantrums but some rather sticky moments.
So, were the customers won over by the British menu? You can hear the outcome on www.alfimedia.com . Let’s just say that a restaurant full of French diners had to eat humble pie!