Once I arrived, I found that being a woman in a french restaurant in France was not going to be easy. I quickly tired of the constant teasing and decided to try to learn what I had come for by visiting and eating with as many french families as I was lucky enough to be invited to!
What I found was that french housewives were amazing cooks! The simple fact of being raised in a culture that has such an appreciation for the art of cooking and its presentation has taught the home cook to know what most Americans have had to spend years in culinary school to learn. Besides that, the way in which families gather to celebrate is so rich, beautiful and frequent! The rules are few:
- There is always enough food for another guest.
- Family grudges do not mean you are not invited.
- Small children are not required to be quiet or remain at the table throughout the meal.
- You never know at what time the party will end.
It was at one of these parties that I met a handsome and most charming man. We found that we were both passionate about food. Little did we know, that soon we would be passionate for each other.
Speaking very little of each other’s languages, our rendezvous were quite funny. On an all-day excursion to Reims (where all the best champagnes are made), I resorted to singing every song I knew by heart, since Laurent’s old Peugeot did not have a radio. Another day, we lunched in the Bois de Boulogne, at the famous Le Pré Catelan (where Laurent had done an apprenticeship). I spent my last night in Paris, in Laurent’s family’s guest room. In the morning, he knocked on my door, came in with enough croissants for six people, carefully placed the tray with hot café au lait next to my bed and left me to enjoy my breakfast. It was not ’til one year later that a postcard arrived… My charming french memory was to come to America.
Laurent had planned to work as a food and beverage manager of a large hotel and needed to speak better English, before taking a job in Japan. He expected to stay with me for two weeks of his six months’ visa. Laurent was introduced first-hand to what was then known as Jessie’s Culinary Service. He was happy to help with my work and was intrigued by the way I was making delicious meals with so little butter or cream. He had completed the Hotel School of Geneva in Switzerland and had trained under two very famous french chefs.
Accustomed to traditional french cooking, Laurent was fascinated with California cuisine. We were a fun and contrasting combination. Laurent was raised in the center of Paris, while I was raised in a tiny town in Washington State. He had culture and refinement, while I had love for the wilderness and adventure. The steam was starting to rise, both in the kitchen and in our hearts. Two weeks had become six months and with the visa soon expiring… something had to be done.
The telephone rang early on a Saturday morning. Sleepy-eyed, I answered to find my rafting buddy on the line asking me if I was interested in a 28-day private rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, on the Colorado River. Laurent overheard my conversation, explaining how much I would love to have this opportunity, but with my business, it would be impossible for me to go. Laurent then made me a proposition that would ultimately affect the rest of our lives. He suggested that he could stay and cook for my clients, so I could go on the river trip.
We went to the immigration office to do the paperwork for an extension of his visa and then off I went for a month on the Colorado. This was a significant decision.