Meals in homes or other non-restaurant settings offer a completely different set of expectations and experiences than those in restaurants, especially restaurants with vaunted reputations. In homes and other personal settings, it is mostly about the personal interaction and the circumstances. The food usually offers simpler, but no less delicious pleasure. 2013 offered a wealth of great experiences along these lines for me. From family celebrations of the holidays and birthdays to simple and elaborate home cooked meals to special lunches and dinners prepared in non-restaurant locations, I enjoyed great camaraderie, beautiful scenery and wonderfully delicious food. From a fabulous dinner hosted by Esmaralda Capel and her husband in their Madrid apartment to Friday night soiree in a spectacular Charleston penthouse apartment to a variety of lunches set in drop-dead gorgeous Chilean wineries to fun and lovely dinners with friends in their homes as well as our own, I ate very, very well and enjoyed great times with friends old and new.
In all of the things that make private dining special, one set of dinners managed to stand out above all of the other wonderful ones. The traditional French food and drink was nothing short of spectacular and the feeling of warmth and welcome bestowed upon my son, L.J. and I was unsurpassed. Add to this a trip to a special market and the setting of old Lyon, France during the Bocuse d’Or and the overall experience was sheer magic, creating a true life-affirming moment.
Lucy Vanel and her family know how to be hospitable and Lucy CAN REALLY COOK! We ate at their home two nights in a row. The first night was just Lucy and her family and my son and I. We brought a Lyonnais Gesú, a dried pork sausage, but Lucy made a Tartiflette, a traditional and spectacularly delicious dish from the French mountain countryside of the Savoie, featuring Reblochon cheese. Throw in a little wine and an atmospheric walk back to our apartment and it was a special evening.
The next evening, somehow was even better. This time, Lucy and her husband, Loic, had another guest besides ourselves, the incredibly accomplished and talented baker, Peter Yuen, As we built upon our conversations from the previous evening and new ones from this one, we prepared dinner and munched on some leftover Gesú.
We helped Lucy prepare a main course of succulent fried veal sweetbreads served with a salad of watercress, arugula and lemon that were as delicious as any sweetbreads that I have ever encountered (I love sweetbreads). A mineral rich Chablis was the perfect accompaniment to the course. Additional courses of braised cardoons and beef in wine were also outstanding.
A cheese course of lovely local cheeses procured at the market enhanced the meal further, but the exclamation point came with Peter’s dazzling Tarte Tartine.
These were two nights of sheer pleasure, warmth and deliciousness. Choosing this one set of dinners to highlight is no slight to any of the other fabulous private dinners that I enjoyed. They just happened to be that special and that magical.
If in Lyon, you too can experience the city through Lucy’s culinary talents. She owns and operates Plum Lyon, an English language cooking school and catering program in Lyon. Don’t miss it!