France pulled out its culinary big guns Monday for one of the greatest kitchen challenges ever: cooking lunch for the largest one-day gathering of world leaders in history.
Five chefs, each awarded stars by the demanding judges of the Michelin food guide, joined forces for a gastronomic tour de force to defend France’s culinary reputation at a climate summit in Paris.
Undaunted by the challenge of catering to banquets with their familiar perils of rubber chicken and agonisingly long waits, the quintet sought to tempt the palates of 150 leaders, from US President Barack Obama to China’s President Xi Jinping or Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“It was a very good lunch, a surprising lunch, very friendly and relaxed,” Albanian President Bujar Nishani told AFP after leaving his table.
Judging his meal “very tasty and delicious”, Nishani said his lunch was prepared with organic foods, “which go very well with this climate summit”.
Albania’s leader said he washed lunch down with a glass of champagne to celebrate “cooperation and friendship”.
He was among the 170 guests, including the leaders, to be wined and dined at the heavily-guarded Le Bourget conference centre on the northern outskirts of Paris.
Diners sat at 20 tables, the Elysee presidential palace said.
President Francois Hollande hosted the likes of Obama, Putin, Xi, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the table of honour.
– ‘Impress with our cooking’ –
All the dishes left the kitchen for the tables in less than an hour so as not to delay leaders trying to avert a global climate catastrophe, said Guy Krenzer, of the fine-food Paris caterer, Lenotre.
All five Michelin-starred chefs — Yannick Alleno, Alexandre Gauthier, Nicolas Masse, Marc Veyrat and Christelle Brua — volunteered their services for the 75-minute meal, which broke more than 12 hours of back-to-back speeches by leaders and was accompanied, naturellement, by the finest French wines.
“A lunch reflecting France’s environmental and gastronomic excellence… but without ostentation,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the president of the conference, told reporters on Sunday as he described his hopes for the meal.
The feasting began with a “Modern Freneuse turnip soup with scallops cooked in floral steam”, followed by “Free-range poultry from Licques, stuffed celery preserve with truffles and parsleyed creamed spinach,” according to the menu.
The cheese course was an organic Reblochon from France’s Mont Blanc region, and dessert a traditional Paris Brest cake with stewed citrus fruit and a “light praline cream”.
The wine selection included a white Meursault 1er Cru “Santenots” 2011, a red Domaine Marquis d’Angerville Chateau Beychevelle 2009, and the Champagne a Philipponnat Cuvee 1522 — with a fruit juice option for those averse.
“There are no showy or very expensive ingredients,” said Alleno, the three-starred chef who presides over the kitchens of the Restaurant Ledoyen on the Champs Elysee before the lunch.
“We will aim to impress with our cooking instead.”
Meanwhile, in the centre of Paris, President Francois Hollande chose to entertain Obama not in the gilt splendour of the Elysee Palace, but at L’Ambroisie, a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the swanky Place des Vosges square.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and US Secretary of State John Kerry were among the 12 people who sat down to dinner at the exclusive eatery.