Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Banquet - deadline 8-16-12 10 am NY time (08/09/12)
TITLE: Colette's Feast
By Karen Pourbabaee
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Sauntering under its grand design, I gazed upward at the iconic landmark. The sun’s glistening rays created an ever changing kaleidoscope above me. Crisp fall breezes delivered the charming tune of a nearby street musician with his violin. Ahh…the Eiffel Tower and all of Paris stretched out before me. I had actually convinced my New York editor to send me here to cover the Presidential inaugural banquet for “Contemporary Cuisine.” Of course I was ecstatic about such an important assignment in a fabulous country known for its sophisticated cuisine. My ancestors hailed from the Provence region of France and immigrated to the New Orleans area several generations ago, so I grew up with tantalizing French cuisine myself. My taste buds were craving the French feast that awaited me this evening, prepared by the famous French chef Colette Dubois. This was indeed a food writers dream. However, I did not disclose that I had a strong ulterior motive for coming to Paris.
Enroute to my hotel I ventured along the Seine River bank, watching families strolling, and jovial people sipping espresso or wine at sunny outdoor cafes. The heavenly aromas emanating from Rene’s Boulangerie teased the palate, but my appetite would have to wait.
After a brief respite at Hotel Bretagne, I donned formal attire before heading to Palais de Francais for a long evening of culinary delights. The typical French banquet lasts five to six hours because French people love to sample various foods and go about it very slowly by savoring each morsel. Of course a myriad of wines are served throughout the meal.
Seated at the table reserved for the press, the evening began with the customary first course of aperitifs. Small light appetizers of beef carpacio, salmon mousse, and canapés were set before us, whetting the appetite for the delicacies ahead. A special light drink called kir was the perfect blend of Chablis and crème de cassis. I took notes about its warm, soothing flavor.
The fish course followed the aperitifs…sole filet terrine with light vegetables tantalized the taste buds. As the formal ceremonies commenced, I continued my notes. Furtively glancing toward the rear of the banquet hall, I wondered if Ms. Dubois would appear…
No traditional French banquet would be complete without the presentation of coq au vin, bouillabaisse, and beef bourguignon. I relished petite servings of all three entrees during the main course extravaganza, highlighted by the music of the Orchestre National de France.I turned the page in my journal to enter my analysis with words such as splendid, succulent, savory, and sassy.
The President was now official and many were following him and his wife to the dance floor in celebration as the salad course began. The crisp white-uniformed waiters served salad nicoise and salad mescium, meant to cleanse the palate after the dense main course. It was now 10pm….perhaps the finale would be at midnight!
Camembert, brie, and roquefort were the offerings during the ensuing cheese course, all accompanied by fruit, nuts, and baguette. This was a more informal time to chat with my fellow writers as best as I could, for there were so many languages represented at our international table.
“Ms. Dubois has outdone herself, don’t you think?” I queried my comrades.
“Yes, outstanding banquet…did you know she was a graduate of Le Cordon Blue?”
That was a fact I was well aware of.
“Very beautiful too,” another added.
I was lost in that thought remembering the last time I saw Colette as we embraced in Central Park seven years ago. I liked to entertain the notion that seven was a lucky number and had made it my mission to get to Paris this year.
My thoughts were interrupted by chocolate mousse, chocolate profiteroles and apple tarts…the dessert course! Café and chocolate truffles added to the sweet delight. Where was Colette?
The final course, the digestif , marked the ending of the grand banquet. It consisted of the finest brandy, whiskey, or cognac. I jotted my last impressions and quickly exited. I would have a long wait at the palais entrance…exactly two hours before I heard swift staccato sounds approaching.
With my head bowed toward the sidewalk , I watched the petite high heels glide by my field of vision.
“It was a fine feast, Colette!”
The gliding high heels took an abrupt stop. As she slowly turned to face me I saw the smile in her eyes even in the dim moonlight.
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