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Diplomacy and Gastronomy

Stephanie Curtis - June 2014

Paris and Normandy—The French phrase “entre le poire et le fromage" (between the pear and the cheese), referring to that moment in a meal when delicate subjects can be broached, must certainly have taken on particular importance for French President François Hollande during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, held in early June in Paris and Normandy.

Eighteen heads of state—monarchs or government leaders—attended the festivities in memory of the Allied landings on French beaches in 1944, an occasion for Hollande to orchestrate four highly diplomatic meals. Hollande’s gastro/diplomatic marathon began on June 5th in Paris with a dinner for Barak Obama, John Kerry, and a few other privileged guests at chef Guy Savoy’s Chiberta restaurant, featuring a Normandy lobster salad and sea bass. Cheese wasn’t on the menu, until Obama politely requested it, saying something to the effect of “What’s a French dinner without cheese?”

Several hours later the same evening, Hollande welcomed Vladimir Putin for an intimate “souper,” with a main course of Normandy turbot, in a private dining room of the Élysée Palace.

The following day, Friday, June 6, Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Putin, Angela Merkel, the Queen of Denmark, and the Presidents of Greece and Italy were among 80 guests strategically placed around Hollande for a state lunch in the 18th century Bénouville Château near Caen, Normandy.

The five course meal, served and savored in a quick 65 minutes, was orchestrated by five of Normandy’s culinary tenors, headed by Michel Bruneau (ex-chef/owner of Caen’s Michelin two-star La Bourride restaurant). His team’s mission: to celebrate the rich terroir of this region, where Allied troops first set foot in occupied territory in 1944.

The menu, a carefully guarded secret until D-hour, precisely 1:43 p.m., delayed by the late arrival of Obama, began with canapés in the flavors of Normandy (Camembert, lobster, carrots from Créances, asparagus from Cagny), followed, two minutes later, by Saint-Pierre en feuilleté de pommes, cubes de crème Normande (John Dory from the Normandy coast in a delicate layering of apple slices and Normandy cream). The main course, chef Anthony Caillot’s fondant de veau au lait (milk-fed Normandy veal with black truffles and apple brandy) was served to 80 guests in a record four minutes.

An assortment of Normandy cheeses preceded a dazzling dessert of chocolate and Normandy pears (what else?), just before guests motored off at 2:49 p.m. for the meticulously choreographed commemorative ceremony and fireworks on the beach of the neighboring town of Ouistreham.

The grand finale of these two days of commemoration, diplomacy, and gastronomy was a state dinner for 220 guests at the Élysée Palace in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. On the menu, duck foie gras (one of the queen’s favorite French delicacies), truffle aspic and truffled brioche, Sisteron spring lamb, Normandy cheeses, and pink Champagne.