When I returned from my cooking adventure at Bouchon I was excited and decided to offer a french bistro style dinner for six at our house in our school charity auction. We have never done this before, at least in part because dinners sometimes go for very low amounts of money and we always fretted that this might happen to us. Our dinner came up to bid and before I knew what was happening the price had soared over $1,000 which is rarified air for our auction. I just couldn’t believe it and was even more amazed to learn that the winners were a couple we didn’t even know and so for several months I’ve been wondering how to make a dinner worthy of this generous donation to the school.
It wasn’t long before I learned that the winners were an international couple from Belgium and Italy. The excitedly relayed that they would be bringing a bunch of French people including someone who is in the fine French foods business. In other words, little ol’ me was going to have to cook French food for people who actually knew what French food was <gulp>. And so the question of how to pull this dinner off lingered in my mind for months.
I corresponded with the winner over the course of a few months and a few interesting challenges came up along with the news that the guests were all adventurous eaters. Challenges in the good sense of course. He was intrigued at the notion that I might make my own charcuterie for one. A member of their party didn’t drink wine for another. And the last was the easiest: chocolate dessert. Slowly the menu took form in my mind until I found myself a week out. I did a full day of prep on Sunday and then got bamboozled by a roommate reunion on Wednesday and having to cook a midweek meal for an old friend and his family who were in town unexpectedly. So I wasn’t really able to restart until Friday and worked until late. I was up early Saturday and worked pretty furiously until about an hour before showtime and a funny thing happened. I was ready!
Our dear friends, who actually knew the couple, generously offered to come and help. They helped decorate the table outside, served, took photos!, helped entertain (us in the kitchen too!), and did a stunning amount of dishes helping make the dinner a success and the evening a lot of fun. In the spirit of serving our guests like a restaurant I served us all a staff dinner while we waited to start the evening.
I planned the menu to be one that capitalized on advanced prep and required the least amount of cooking during the dinner. They all arrived at once and we showed them to the garden where we could let them settle in and where I served the first wine. After hemming and hawing I opted to serve all California wine for my French bistro dinner. What can I say, it sounded fun and a little mischievous. We poured some Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose to go with the first few courses. At my Sunday market the week before I stumbled upon a Kabocha squash. I had made a Kabocha – Fennel soup before from one of my favorite cookbooks so I decided that with some creme fraiche, chives, and sherry vinegar it would make an excellent amouse bouche.
Next came a charcuterie plate. I found some nice olives which I marinated. I roasted some yellow beets fresh from the market that morning then tossed them with a shallot and sherry vinaigrette. If you don’t mind me saying they were quite good. I added some garlic sausage which I actually just purchased and then my first secret weapon Lapin (Rabbit) Rillettes with spiced prunes. I had had rillettes the last time I was at the Bouchon restaurant and since our guests wanted charcuterie and some daring dishes I couldn’t help myself. This proved to be one of the most popular parts of the whole meal!
Next was my other secret weapon and something I had practiced a few times: parisienne gnocchi. These are delightful pate choux dumplings with mustard, cheese, and herbs mixed into the dough. The mustard might sound strange but it turns out to be an excellent ingredient. I browned the gnocchi and added garden tomatoes, market squash, olives, homemade chicken stock, and butter. This turned out to be the second biggest hit of the night reminding some of the guests of home. I paired this with a Carneros Lioco Chardonnay. Which I had tried with the gnocchi earlier in the week.
In my correspondences with the winner of the auction it came up that he liked Mango Lassis. I couldn’t bring myself to pour him this filling drink with the likes of rillettes but I wanted to work it into the menu. I opted to turn it into a sorbet and serve it as a palette cleanser between the first and main course.
The main course was the trickiest because it required the most cooking during the dinner and tricky timing because I didn’t know how long it would take them to eat the first courses. I ended up “firing” it when they started the charcuterie platter. I wanted a protein course and settled on lamb. The Bouchon cookbook has a roast leg that requires you to cut the leg into different pieces, remove connective tissue and then make small roasts. Note: this is a lot of work. I browned the lamb on the stove and then snuck it out the Big Green Egg to roast away.
I served the lamb over flageolet beans that were finished with shallots, garlic confit, thyme and a lamb jus I had made the week before. The guests didn’t say much about it but back in the kitchen we thought it was pretty darn good!. I served the Bedrock Lorenzo’s Heirloom Red Wine with this course.
The final course was dessert. The Bouchon bakery makes these wonderful chocolate bouchons. I thought they with some homemade vanilla ice cream would be a great way to end the evening
Despite my self imposed high standards (I won’t blame these on anybody) and the fact that we were serving complete strangers a complex multi-course dinner, the meal was a grand success! At least from my perspective. The guests seem to have a great time. There was a lot of lively chatter and laughter and they said some nice things when we chatted a bit at the end of the evening. Our friends had worked so hard cleaning as we went along that there wasn’t even a mess at the conclusion of the meal!! We ended the evening with our friends chatting over a few more bites of food and savored pulling off the $1,000 dinner!