To see photos of the people and food at the Le Fooding event, click here for a slide show.
I'm sitting in the cold at the bottom of an empty swimming pool eating horse meat. At this same swimming pool in 1946, Micheline Bernadini donned two bits of fabric and introduced the bikini to the world. But now the walls are covered with graffiti and people here are talking about food not flesh.
To get here, I waited in a long line in the stinging cold to be inspected by a frowning bouncer who checked my name against his list. But the Piscine Molitor, in Paris'16th arrondissement, is not a nightclub. It's the temporary home to Le Fooding, a movement shaking the dusty world of French gastronomy. This year, its event "La Semaine du Fooding" explores the age-old French notion of propriety in food.
The place is deserted, apart from the chefs still laying out their dishes. I watch people arrive. A couple in their early forties--the man in his long brown cashmere coat over a dark gray suit, white shirt and red tie, she in her severe dark blue skirt and matching jacket, perfectly brushed bob, and sensible heels. Next to them is a group of hipsters in their thirties--a mixture of vintage clothes, designer accessories, and thick black oversized glasses. An old man passes by, elegant in his jeans, black turtleneck, and tobacco corduroy jacket, a petite woman at his side, younger by 15 years I'd say and dressed with as much care as he.
Each night Le Fooding invites famous chefs to cook a dish they'd never serve in their restaurant.
The horse tonight is prepared by Tonino Simbula, chef at Sardegna a Tavola, in the 12th in two ways: a carpaccio with olive oil, parsley, a mixture of five different peppers, and shaved pecorino; and marinated then grilled, with onions and bell peppers. Judging by the number of abandoned plates, it seems the idea of eating horse still finds resistance, especially when raw. I'm more bothered by the reality of trying to eat the grilled piece with wooden spork and no knife.
On to the cheese. I am handed a plate of six from the prestigious Quatrehomme and a toothpick--a challenge in itself given the almost liquid state of some of them--and a glass of Veuve Cliquot Brut. Unusual as it is to serve Champagne with cheese, I find it very pleasant with the aged Mimolette and the Mont d'Or affiné au vin jaune, as the wine allows the cheeses to reveal new flavors.
Photo by Pascale Brevet
Most of the others are very strong, from Maroilles and Epoisses to a surprising goat Charolais that knocks me out. Champagne brings a nice freshness that cleans the palate between tastes. But I feel it's a waste: I would have liked to hold on longer to the flavors and aromas. The cheese kills the Champagne. The Champagne kills the cheese. I can spot a few guests resisting the unconventional combination, their plate in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other--sticking with the correct (and perhaps in this case right) rather than the incorrect.