27 September 2006

Un pique-nique delicieux

One of Chefette's little pleasures is to spend a couple of hours a week in front of the laptop, combing the blogosphere looking at other foodie posts.

Not sure if any of you saw it, but a couple of months ago the chappie at 'A la Cuisine' -- a mildly geeky and endearingly earnest young Canadian called Clement -- came up with his Theorem of Deliciousness, a mathematical formula expressing deliciousness not only as a function of ingredients and technique, but also nostalgia. His point was that delicious (as opposed to merely good tasting) food is about more than quality ingredients cooked in a sympathetic way. Truly incredible food evokes past experiences. We all have our own ways of identifying with this universal truth. I'm certain that my grandmother's recipe for blackberry cobbler will never appear in a three-star Michelin dining room. But to this day, taking a bite of any well-made warm concoction involving flaky pastry and sweet, juicy blackberries has the power to transport me to her farmhouse kitchen on a summer afternoon. I can taste it even now!!

Anyway, much as I am enamoured of the theorem, my trip to Paris last weekend made me realise that it has a major shortcoming. It's failed to take account of a vital component that can affect the deliciousness of food-- the Al Fresco factor. Good food tastes even better out of doors in good weather. I challenge any one of you to say it's not so.

Last Monday, on a park bench in Square Boucicaut, it all came together. The good ingredients, artfully prepared, with a big dollop of nostalgia and lashings of glorious autumn sunshine.

After a somewhat hectic morning spent accomplishing chores, the Husband and I decided we deserved a little reward, and so loaded up with picnic goodies from the Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marche department store on the Left Bank. How to describe this unparalleled grocery store? Suffice to say that every section is stuffed to brimming with delectable treasures, from spankingly fresh fish and seafood, to artisan bread and patisserie, to mouthwatering ready-prepared meals from every ethnic background. The cheese island alone is a veritable continent, with 200+ kinds of French cheese.

Naturally, the prices are a bit on the high side from a grocery perspective, even for Paris. But the value for money lies in the quality, which is unsurpassed. The price of our picnic was less than half of what we would have paid for a two-course lunch for two at any decent bistro in the 7th arrondissement, and the food was no less than fabulous. For just over 20 euros, we had: a ‘croque antipasto’ (mini multigrain baguette stuffed to bursting with grilled vegetables and lusciously dressed with fresh pesto), a ‘croque Parisienne’ (mini white+rye baguette with ham, cheese, rocket, olive oil and fresh capers), a seafood salad of prawns and crabsticks dressed with lemon oil, a Chinese noodle salad with crayfish tails, fresh white crab meat and coriander, and a small handful of perfectly ripe Reine Claude plums. Oh, and two bottles of mineral water as well.

And so, perched away in our secluded corner of the park, we savoured our bench-top ‘bouffe’, while soaking up the sunshine, and fondly remembering the many Parisian picnics that have gone before.

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