First, I left my Sadaharu Aoki green tea eclair - that I had waded through the ten deep crowds in Galeries Lafayette to obtain - in a bar and a man had to chase me down the street waving the small phallic parcel, to return it. I wanted a "Bamboo" really, which is a cake of criminal, insane, deliciousness, but it was too fragile to transport. As it is, the eclair is still in my bag, getting sadder and more squashed by the minute. It's a desecration. Of course, I should have eaten it, but the problem was that I had not factored:
(a) Large lunch at Mamma Roma
The condemned man ate a hearty meal before his séjour linguistique in a Nissen hut on the North Sea coast.
(b) Salted caramel ice cream from Capoue (despite the torrential rain); and
(c) Three tiny eclairs on the train that it would have been churlish to refuse
into my patisserie purchasing equations. A sad truth revealed itself: I was not remotely hungry. This did not stop me from buying a small selection of Pierre Hermé macaroons, since I was passing the front door of the shop and there wasn't a queue and it actually seemed CRIMINAL not to. I was very glad of this for reasons to be revealed shortly. I also bought some matcha salted caramel truffles, which are strange, but compelling - somewhere on the frontier between delicious and repulsive. I think I can only eat one at a time, but then actually, I need a second one to check whether I still feel the same about them.
Next, I ended up on my own at a reception at the American ambassador's residence for 40 minutes without the person whose 'plus one' I was supposed to be, which was not at ALL awkward, especially as:
- I realised too late my dress was sort of squalidly sweaty;
- I was holding a bag of semi-squashed cakes;
- I actually tripped over on my heels in the cobbled courtyard from the front porte cochère to the main entrance. I did that carefree laughing 'oh! how amusing! I am on my arse!' kind of performance, then got up and tried to pretend it hadn't happened;
- it turned out to be a very SMALL reception and all I knew about the whole event was a cryptic text from Trish that read "Nathan Mirth Void modernist cuisine book". No one could work out what on earth I was doing there, being neither a chef or food writer or otherwise remotely great or good. I exchanged frantic texts with her.
E: Ambassador's speech starting. I am sweating.
T: Nearly there, just moving car.
E: Pleeease hurry. Am staring at garden and pretending to be mute.
T: They are letting me in!
E: THANK GOD. Have eaten all petits fours and on second wine. Danger zone.
"Nathan Mirth Void" turned out to be a moment of autocorrect genius. His name is not actually Mirth Void, but Myhrvold and he is some species of culinary uber-geek and savant fou who used to be chief technology officer at Microsoft and has produced a six volume meisterwork 'Modernist Cuisine' on every kind of food and cooking in the world ever*. I had ample time to study it, because I was entirely paralysed by social embarassment and could not really cope with starting a conversation, where I would have to explain that I had absolutely no place being there, so I stood in a corner turning the many, many, many pages and accepting any small snacks that came my way (tiny hamburgers, some kind of miniature possibly pork meatballs, spring rolls. Not massively amazing, I am sad to relate). The book is .. encylopaedic. It is an extraordinarily large and comprehensive tome of frightening erudition and I thought I would fracture a wrist just trying to pick it up. I am definitely not the target audience being (a) not male (this book is infused with food-nerd testosterone on every page) and (b) as culinarily talented as a lame weasel. I would no more go in for 'spherification' than I would sprout wings and fly.
When I was telling Mrs Trefusis (who is blogging more at the moment, I hope you have noticed) about it, first she said "So it's like your dad, if he started cooking?" and then "Aha! So it's Microsoft XP Cooking?" which is very accurate. I did like the pictures where he had cut all his saucepans and other kitchen equipment - including a barbecue - in half to show what was happening on the inside. All the photography was completely extraordinary, in a sort of "take it apart to see how it work" way.
Anyway. It was lovely and rather astonishing to be there. Because the book is epic. Because the building is exceptionally beautiful, with exquisite (repro, the ambassador said, the originals are in a museum) gold moulures and a huge garden in the middle of Paris. Because the number of evenings in my life where I have ended up at an ambassadorial reception numbers precisely NONE prior to Saturday. Because I got to "meet" (stare at covertly and wordlessly shake the hand of on departure) the US ambassador who is like a tiny, perfect elf of a man like a Sèvres ornament and blow my nose on a US embassy crested napkin. And because, most excitingly of all, I MET PIERRE HERME.
Let us pause for a minute to think reverently about Pierre Hermé, the high priest of patisserie and his unearthly genius with vanilla and rapsberries and sugar and almonds and the like. There he was, the dolorous man mountain of cake, looking very, very grave, perhaps because the full six volumes of Modernist Cuisine do not contain ANY patisserie. Trish - who had finally been allowed in despite not having her passport - introduced us, even though I could barely speak for patisserie fan love and general social inadequacy. I told him I had a box of his oeuvre in my bag, like a cakey stalker. He nodded, seriously, and said that he never tired of people talking to him about cake, then he said he had to go because he was having dinner with Heston Blumenthal. How wonderful.
When I told M, she said "I bet he smells of Ispahan. Did you lick him?" Then she went on to steal my thunder by telling me she had fed a manatee a potato (video here, I am so so jealous). I forgave her though, because she also filmed a mouse deer licking its own face for me, which I think you will find is the dictionary definition of what friends are for.
After that, we ran away, I dumped my torture shoes, and we went for dinner (here, charming beautiful waiters, nice wine, MASSIVE amounts of food for not much money) with the lovely BB and we ate gigantically fat frog's legs/buttocks and squid and artichokes and prawns and a slightly dubious octopus saucisson, drank lovely Languedoc white wine and laughed a lot about the worst things we had ever stolen, among other things. No, I am not telling you. I tried not to think about cakes all evening, but then they brought us this:
It's what Pierre would have wanted AND the coulis pattern matched my dress AND it was a gift, so obviously we had to eat it, even though I thought cream would start coming out of my ears by the end of it.
(Incidentally, Trish said as we were driving across Paris that she thought her writing was workaday, functional, not brilliant, and I need to tell her how wrong she is. No one evokes the comfort of ritual, the reality of cooking for a family, and the poetry in both better than Trish. You need to go and look at her lovely new blog and you'll see exactly what I mean. She takes the most ordinary kinds of cooking, the plainest foods that ACTUAL PEOPLE eat, and turns them into something beautiful and desirable with her writing which is simple and sensual and full of humour. She's the anti Mirth Void, actually, and I know whose writing I'd rather take to bed with me. So there. )
*Description may not be wholly accurate