Have Fork, Will Travel
France’s new generation of eaters
By Ari LeVaux
On a recent Wednesday evening, a youngish crowd gathered on the banks of Paris' Seine River to catch a ride to a nearby island. After the short crossing, they sat on blankets and pillows amid crackling fire pits and ate Irish tapas. There were plates of salad greens tossed with Clonakilty blood sausage, thick with oats. Bowls of chunky seafood chowder with smoked salmon were followed by creamy mocha hazelnut meringue—all of which helped absorb a variety of whiskey-based drinks, including whiskey Mojitos. Folksy rock bands played on a makeshift stage, not loud enough to overwhelm conversation. The event was called Foodstock. And while most of the guests were better dressed and better smelling than attendees at the namesake Woodstock festival 41 years ago, both groups shared a spirit of revolution.Le Fooding, a movement-
According to Anna Polonsky, co-executive of Le Fooding, "Feeling is not about strict codes for how many centimeters are between each table, or how the bathroom is arranged, or how this or that food is prepared, or having truffle on the menu. Sometimes a restaurant has all the codes but isn't memorable."
If you find it strange that French foodies are reorganizing the French dining experience according to an American word that doesn't translate into French, brace yourself for this: They also claim there isn't even a French translation for "Food"—hence the adoption of the word "food" in Le Fooding.
"Feeling is not about strict codes for how many centimeters are between each table, or how the bathroom is arranged, or how this or that food is prepared, or having truffle on the menu. Sometimes a restaurant has all the codes but isn't memorable."
Anna Polonsky, co-executive of Le Fooding
The word "Fooding" was coined in 1999 by Le Fooding's founder, Français Alexandre Cammas. Writing for Nova magazine, Cammas observed a shift in the habits of younger Parisians, who were showing an increasing interest in food as a recreational pursuit. "Clubbing is out," he wrote, "and Fooding is in." Today, Le Fooding shares a Paris office space with a rock 'n' roll magazine on a narrow side street, barely a stone's throw from the Bastille.
Le Fooding happenings like Foodstock are conceived as demonstrations of food-borne feeling. Recent events have included a clandestine cognac bar in the basement of the Hôtel Thoumieux and a "Paris loves New York" event at P.S. 1, in New York City. This September, Le Fooding will return to the States with a New York-versus-San Francisco event, partly inspired by the rivalry of East Coast and West Coast rap—minus, one assumes, the drive-by shootings.
Following a Le Fooding guide recommendation, I booked a reservation at a Paris restaurant called Derrière, which means—pardon my French—“buttocks."
My companions and I sat in an upstairs bedroom, two of us on the bed by a nightstand, below a ceiling-mounted mirror that allowed me to lie back and watch myself chew. Another party occupied a table at the foot of the bed, and another dined between components of the room's entertainment system, their bread plate on the TV, wineglasses perched on a stack of magazines. Across the room was a painting of a naked woman with her knees pulled together in the air, her derrière winking at us.
A cheerful waiter sat with us as we ordered pumpkin soup with sea urchin whipped cream; steamed cod with nori, cabbage and creamy clam jus; braised beef cheeks; scallops with orange and ginger; and lentils with horseradish. The food was exceptional, each dish arriving beautifully presented on mismatched plates. The mood in the room was jovial, and the layout seemed to foster a rare kind of intra-table intimacy. Our pumpkin soup drew questions from across the bed thanks to our chatters of approval.
Fred de Gasquet
During and after dinner we lounged, kitchen towel napkins on our laps, and took turns exploring the restaurant. Hidden pieces of art were tucked in closets. In the bathroom, an elevated clawfoot tub served as a very large sink. Behind a mirrored wardrobe, a hidden door opened into a smoky library with couches, a foosball table and shelves of books.
"You go to a restaurant not only for the food but because you have a specific desire," Polonsky had said. Indeed, if you desire to eat amazing food in a joyful, intriguing and slightly perverted ambience—a space so insanely cool it seems like a matter of time before you’ll need a secret knock to even get in the door—this is your place.
Derrière won't be earning any Michelin stars. When the guy sitting at the foot of the bed moved, I bounced. Later, a woman somehow got locked in the bathroom. Derrière did, however, win a design award from Le Fooding. But that’s not why I chose it. I chose it because, according to the guide, it was one of the few restaurants in Paris that was serving dinner on Sunday.
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