Food and Leisure

French parody

Mary Ann Quioc Tayag - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - We just had our first breakfast of goat cheese omelet, sautéed in butter and delicately flavored with extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of fleur de sel (in English, “flower of salt”).  Such a flowery way of saying plain rock salt. But then French is a very complicated language, just like the people. French words have genders, like in Spanish, but unlike Spanish, French words are pronounced so differently from how they are spelled. Our ancestors must have been referring to the French when they coined the expression “Mahirap spell-ingan.”   It is a wonder why they write letters they don’t pronounce. Like “Les Halles” (the neighborhood where we stayed) is pronounced “Le Al.”  Five out of the nine letters are silent.  What a waste of ink and paper!

Even simple English words become complicated once the word “French” is added to it.  French kiss is hot, while a French leave is a cold takeoff.  And why is tongue-lock kissing called a French kiss? I don’t think they invented this universal torrid physiological foreplay. A French curve is not sexy at all; a French cut is very different from a German cut (which, by the way, is not practiced at all by Germans); a French press is a plunger, a French dip is a sandwich, French toast is actually pan-fried and a French window is indeed a door!

We were in Paris for the three-day Gourmand World book event at the Louvre museum. We planned and saved up for this trip as early as last year when informed that our Linamnam book was to compete with other winners from other countries. But three weeks before the competition, I learned that our book did not make it to the shortlist of finalists.  I kept the not-good news from hubby Claude as it would take away his excitement.  To an artist, that is like taking away his life and creative juices.  I had no heart to do that.  Days later, he heard the same news from the same source.  He didn’t tell me as well, knowing that cost-conscious me would surely cancel our trip. He wanted to take me on a (romantic) holiday, especially on our 15th wedding anniversary.  So when we discovered we both knew all along, we both just laughed heartily and said, “Well, we both cheated, not on each other, but for each other.” If this is not love, I don’t know what is.

On the first day, it was minus-three degrees and it snowed while we walked from our rented flat to the Louvre museum. Hubby wore a black beanie that did not do justice to his handsome (excuse the much-in-love wife), albeit round face. I told him he looked like an underpaid worker in a tuna factory, especially next to me in my lamb’s wool dress and cashmere cardigan. But good wifey assured him he was properly dressed for the occasion because tuna very much belongs to the culinary world. And, judging by the many sushi bars within our neighborhood, the French must be fond of tuna.  He didn’t find that funny. It is indeed a challenge to amuse hubbies.

The museum was comfortably heated.  Almost everyone was in a business suit. As expected, it was an older crowd aged 45 to 60. We saw all the winning Philippine books: Linamnam, Savor the Word, The Foods of Jose Rizal, Inside a Chef’s Life, Larry Can’t Cook, Journal for Cooks and Foodies, Baking Secrets (all available at National Book Store). There were food books everywhere in different languages.  The books’ quality reminded me of the Philippine Kulinarya book of Anvil Publishing Inc., which is just as beautiful and could win in such a com-petition.
Artist hubby was awed by the books’ food photography and printing. “They are so beautiful that you want to buy them even if they are not in English,” he said. “That is exactly how I feel about Ferragamo shoes,” I cheerfully said. He rolled his eyes, which never fails to annoy me, and left. Oh, my poor tuna man, you will never understand.

Small conferences and some cooking demos by famous chefs were simultaneously ongoing in English. Now alone, I first sat in the Gault et Millau, which is similar to the Michelin guide.  The Michelin guide is over 100 years old and Gault et Millau is over 40 years old.  It is slowly becoming more sought after, as, unlike the Michelin guide, there is no membership money paid by chefs and restaurants.  Hmm, very similar to our Linamnam book values, I thought, and stayed.  I even participated in their Q&A at the end.

The most attended conference was the one on Chinese food. Someday it will be Filipino food, I said to myself. I joined the interesting “The Future of Bookstores” conference. A young French man hurriedly came towards me. If I were younger, I would think he would want to take me out, but at my age now, a man runs after me only if I haven’t paid a bill.  I honestly got worried. Apparently, he noticed the word “Philippines” on the Linamnam book I was holding at the Gault et Millau conference. Oh, okay, so that is why God sat me at that conference.  He very much wants to make a book on Philippine food.  Judging by his excitement and enthusiasm, it seems Claude and I just got an exciting new job.

We met and talked to Monsieur Edouard Cointreau, of the Cointreau liquor family. He is the 100-percent owner of Gourmand World. He is most probably in his late 60s. Claude asked him why Gourmand World is based in Madrid when he is French. He said something like his mother taught him how to think globally as early as age 10. He now speaks Spanish, Italian, Ger-man, Russian and English like a native. I don’t know if this has anything to do with his global upbringing, too, but he now lives in Beijing with his Chinese third wife, with whom he has a four-year-old daughter. His first two wives are French and Argentinean, respectively.

He said the number of books that compete grow every year. The last time he counted was five years ago and then there were over 8,000 books at a national level. The jury at the final level judged the books, not on their cost of publication but on their social importance, context, and if it was a chef book, physical beauty, which is very important. They have experts on different languages and foreign food knowledge. Unassuming, nice and warm, he talked endlessly about cookbooks and his passion for them. I asked if he cooked and his reply is a firm “no,” but all his three wives cook well.  His favorite food now is Chinese food but he will not say that to anyone French.  We handed him a copy of our Linamnam book and invited him to try our Philippine cuisine.

Despite our book not being short-listed, we booked seats at the awards night.  We might not have another opportunity to be in such company and to dine in the Carrousel du Lou-vre.   Priced at 100 euros (P5,300) per person, I wondered what degustation the Gourmand World organization would dare serve foodie authors and famous chefs from all over the world.

There were 150 tables of 10 diners each. Always computing, I whispered to hubby, “That’s 150,000 euros or P8 million; we must be eating gold tonight.” Different languages echoed in the room. We were joined by a French lady PR, a famous French journalist and two lady writers whose book on Swedish wine was a finalist. Until that evening, I did not know there was such a thing as Swedish wine.

Set for each guest was a plate of three pieces of toast with foie gras terrine. Each piece was two inches square.  In the center was a big platter of Swedish cheddar cheese cubes and another platter of mini-meatballs, which we dipped in a fruity sauce and some biscuits.   There was, of course, wine but we had no cutlery. “This must be it,” hubby said. I was still hopeful that real food would be served. We started to argue in whispers.

Winners were called, speeches were made and still no sight of food. The Louvre museum function room must have cost the organizers gold. Tuna man was getting irritable. I got him the foie gras toasts meant for the no-show guest next to me to pacify him. He wanted more. I got him more. For the first time in my life, I wanted to eat or bring home more than what was meant for me.  We left, French-leave style, as our stomachs were grumbling. At minus-four degrees, 10 p.m. local time (5 a.m. Manila time), we were in search for food. We walked and walked till we saw a 24-hour bistro and sat for onion soup and steak and frites. We ate in silence. We bit our tongues so as not to cause more harm.  We even slept in silence that night.

The following morning, the delicious smell of goat cheese omelet woke me up. Hubby was in his usual jolly mood and was whipping butter.  The sight of a baguette toasting on the radiator heater (the toaster oven was kaput) excited my stomach. I looked up and thanked God for blessing me with a handsome, huggable, handy chef. If only he could also give me a foot massage, he would be perfect.  We shared a marron glacé (candied chestnut) yogurt — so creamy I scooped it with a knife. Now with cooler heads and filled-up tummies, we talked about last night’s dinner.  The e-mail said “with food and drink delicacies”; we were at fault to expect a full dinner.  But then again, would you not expect food at a culinary event? More so an international one and in Paris! “Mahirap talaga sila spell-ingan.”  Tuna man’s big complaint was that he had to wear a coat and strangled himself with a tie for a couple of miserable meatballs and cheddar. And I want my 100 euros back! We laughed and said of course, had our book won, we would be too high to notice any of that.  

We just amused and comforted ourselves, saying our Paris trip earned us a new job and that we should be grateful for that dinner, which completed our true French experience. In seven days, we had French fries, French dip, a French kiss, French toast and finally, a French leave. Thank God we missed the French Revolution.

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