Brooklyn-based food writer Peter Kaminsky has chronicled the world's best chefs and foods. While researching his latest book, he ended up in Burgundy, France, at a crazy wine dinner. An excerpt from Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (And Really Well), published by Knopf.
A few years ago I was at the annual Burgundy winemakers' dinner known as La Paulée in the city of Beaune, where the greatest Burgundies are auctioned. The winemakers had invited Daniel Johnnes as their guest of honor, in appreciation of all he has done for Burgundy wine as a sommelier and an importer. His wife, Sally, like my wife, is a schoolteacher and couldn't take the time away from her class, so I got Sally's seat. Drew Nieporent, a Rabelaisian restaurateur and bon vivant, best known for Tribeca Grill, Montrachet, and Nobu (among others), completed our group.
The dinner was a down-home grande bouffe, as only the French can do it. Nearly six hundred people filled the huge banquet hall. We tasted fifty of the best wines on the planet. Whenever an increasingly tipsy chorus broke into the traditional La Paulée song, that was the cue for all to jump to their feet and join in with full voices and synchronized hand-clapping.
In between these outpourings of bonhomie, a half-dozen mustachioed musicians played hunting horns. To achieve the full effect, they faced away from the crowd, which meant that the bells of their horns and their backsides were pointed toward us. At the conclusion of each song, they bowed, still facing away from us. The effect was of a bunch of rowdy collegians mooning. Between the toot-tooting of the horns and this backassward salute, the music had the inescapable subtext of an extended fart joke. Such barnyard humor is typical of the earthiness of Burgundy, and less so of aristocratic Bordeaux.
The wait staff navigated the crowded aisles bearing aloft huge trays full of food, dodging the high-spirited revelers. I watched in awe when it came time for the cheese course. Each waiter carried a large tray of cheese in one hand and, with the other, manipulated a fork and a spoon to cut individual servings. One-handed cheese service can be a challenge when a stationary cheese board is on the table in front of me. So, the ability to dip and pirouette amid a boisterous Burgundy-fueled throng struck me as a near miracle.
At around the fiftieth wine (rough guess), we pushed back from the table and walked to town.
"I need a roast chicken!" Drew declared.
I ignored him. Surely it was the wine talking.
"Me too," Daniel said. "Let's see if Ma Cuisine [a popular restaurant in the middle of Beaune] is open."
It was late, but they were still serving, and, rather than look like a spoilsport, I joined my friends for a golden-brown, succulent, milk-fed (poulet de Bresse) roast chicken, and, it goes without saying, more wine. It was, in the words of the Guide Michelin, "worth a visit."
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
Don't stop there. Read the whole thing.
Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (And Really Well), by Peter Kaminsky