La Grande Bouffe – (1953) A French–Italian film directed by Marco Ferreri with Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli and Philippe Noiret. The story of four friends who gather in a villa for a *very* foodish weekend.
La Grande Bouffe – (2010) A menu concocted by Henry Harris, owner of Racine. The story of a French/Belgian thirty-something couple who auctioned “La Grande Bouffe” as a prize at the Blagger’s Banquet to enjoy the best of the best of traditional French food in London.
THE journey started with the simplest pleasure from France: A plate of charcuterie with bread, baguette and walnuts. Sometimes, a simple slice of cured ham enjoyed with a fresh piece of baguette and creamy butter will put up a strong fight against the most complex of dishes and, when the charcuterie and bread is that good, the battle may seem a little one-sided.
After this French introduction at its best, our journey brought us to the sea, Falmouth Bay, to be exact, where 24 native oysters were waiting for us. Full of flavours from the sea, the oysters were fleshy with good consistency. I had never been a big fan of oysters but Henry definitely proved the reason for people’s passion for the perfect oyster.
Following this refreshing moment, our carriage made an unexpected stop. With a true love for earthy cuisine with authentic and strong flavours, Henry had concocted his special ‘Gratin de tripes‘, especially made for us.
“I pulled out the very soft and slippery trotters and separated the meat from the bones. I then julienned some of the gras double and mixed it in equal quantities with the trotter meat. To hand I had mustard, some cooked shallots and some garlic butter. A few moments of saute later, it slithered into a gratin dish topped with persillade bread crumbs. I had not cooked that dish before but will again”
As it was a surprise addition to our menu,this dish was most probably the best moment of our culinary trip. The tripes were perfectly smooth in taste and texture, contrasting very will with the garlicy strength and crunchy texture of the gratin topping. Despite the recommendation of our friendly head waiter to not eat the whole plate and save some space in our poor stomachs, the last forkful was gone in no time.
There is a particular relationship between a man and a plateful of meat, as if it had an undefined power that makes human beings immediately fall in love with it. Is it a way for a man to prove himself and show his superiority to the animal?
I don’t know but what I’m sure of is that this 1kg Cote de Boeuf from O’Shea’s of Knightsbridge was enjoyed at its best and only the bones were left. Perfectly cooked in an amount of butter that would spark havoc and general outcry in the fashion industry, the meat from Jack O’Sheas was extremely tender, rich and intense. A flick of the knife was enough to cut the meat.
After this ‘plat de resistance’ which hardly showed any resistance at all, our hosts allowed us to enjoy a breather before the next destination. A restaurant isn’t home but sometimes you wish there would be a couch hidden somewhere to allow the guests to take a quick nap. Messieurs les restaurateurs, if you hear me now…
Before we embarked into this culinary journey (which at the stage sounded to be the last one), we were told that the restaurant wouldn’t feel offended if the Vacherin couldn’t be finished… ‘we have doggy bags‘ we heard.
Coming from a country where doggy bags are seen as the invasion of our dear American friends, we had to give the 550g Vacherin du Mont d’Or from La Fromagerie the honour of being consumed with love. And we did it. We finished it. With delicious raisin bread. Were we crazy? Yes. But there are moments in life where pride is stronger than reason.
At this stage, and with a certain level of alcohol in our veins, some astonishing thoughts can come to mind. So, for no particular reason, I recalled a biology teacher explaining how elastic a stomach could be. That class may have been very boring that day but 20 years later, I finally saw the point of it.
This mystery having been clarified, our hosts served us a ‘petit pot au chocolat‘, a chocolate mousse/cream topped with creme fraiche. The chocolate was rich and only bitter enough to be balanced by the cream.
The last glass of ‘prune’ announced the end of our extravagant culinary journey. We had arrived under beautiful sunny weather and five hours later, we left with the sky ready to welcome the moon. The waiter told us the first costumers for dinner were expected half an hour later.
No dinner for us that night. Once back home, bed seemed to be the one and only choice.
We made it. We succeeded. We impressed the hell out of ourselves. And we were just impressed with our meal.
“I am so pleased you enjoyed La Grande Bouffe. It was a joy to cook it for such an appreciative couple.” Henry Harris, Racine
239 Brompton Road
London SW3 2EP