Tuesday, June 22, 2010

FIVE GUYS & ME - Feasting In Florence (Italy) - Day One

Feasting In Florence (Italy)
Day One

It was hard leaving Lyon (well, hard leaving all that great food), but we did and headed out for our adventure in Provence...

We left Provence over the "To Catch A Thief" High Corniche and crossed the Italian border and made our way to the medieval city of Alba, mountain top restaurants, truffles and truffle hunting dogs...

Then onto ancient Reggio Emilia and castles and frescos and balsamic vinegar that rivals fine port...

By now I was in love w/ Germany, France and Italy. I wanted to live everywhere... Everything was so wonderfully... well, old!  Ancient!  But nothing prepared me for Florence, but more on that a bit further 'down.'

I had to admit as we drove to Florence, I missed Barry's droll humor. What I didn’t miss, however, was sharing the back seat of the Passat. With Jim and Jason in the van following close behind, Charlie was again driving with Richard riding shotgun and giving directions. I sprawled out in the back and enjoyed the scenery as we caravaned to Florence. We were on our way to Tuscany. Tuscany!

Though the ride was smoother than our long mountain drive to Alba, my emotions weren’t. By the time we reached the outskirts of Florence my stomach was growling and I was getting a tad ‘out-of-sorts.’ As we entered the city, Charlie – and Richard – lost their way completely which only added to my crankiness. A few Cheez-Its or a small bag of chips, even a nut would have calmed me down, but the only thing we had in the car was chewing gum. I hate chewing gum!

We finally found our way into the ancient part of the city - a maze of narrow one way streets jammed with smart cars and Vespas.

We drove up and down the streets and alleyways for what seemed like hours. Charlie tried to get directions, but none of us spoke Italian and we found no one who spoke English. Other than the noise my stomach was making, I remained quiet for fear I might start hyper-ventilating because, along with no Cheez-Its or chips, we had no paper bags to breathe into. Finally Richard jumped out of the car waving a piece of paper with the name of our hotel and its address and jumped into an empty taxi in front of us. The cab took off. Charlie followed and the equipment van w/ Jason and Jim followed Charlie. A turn at the next corner and a half a block later we were in front of our hotel.  Why didn't he think of that before?!

Richard rushed back to the Passat and opened my door.

As I got out and saw the old, cramped, ugly buildings on our street and the New York City flop house marquee marking our hotel, I burst into tears. Dozens and dozens of Vespas careened noisily up and down the street, narrowly missing us as we unloaded the car while I sobbed quietly to Richard that this wasn’t the Florence we always dreamed of visiting.

I got it together, however, as we walked under the old, ugly marquee and into the tiny lobby of our hotel. Inside, I began to feel a little better. It had a charm that belied the outside. There was some lovely Italian pottery on display. The guys checked us all in and made arrangements for the van and its equipment as I “inspected” the sweet little mahogany bar in the rear of the lobby and the hotel’s small dining room. My stomach was still growling, but I was “adjusting.” We finally made it upstairs to our room which was very simple, but had an artistic flare. The ceiling was high and surrounded by crown molding. The plastered walls had wonderful faded stenciling here and there. There was an antique desk and chair and a lovely painted armoiré. The heavy, dark drapes covering the windows added a sense of drama. The duvet was plush. I sat down on the bed and let out a sigh of relief. Richard suggested we go explore and get something to eat. I grabbed my purse.

As we walked along the streets looking for a café I felt I was in the midst of a glorious outdoor museum.  No movie or picture prepared me for all the amazing artwork.  Everywhere!  Just hanging out in the piazzas w/ us ordinary folk.

We wandered into an outdoor market filled with vendors selling beautiful leather goods, clothes, artwork, jewelry, pashminas, scarves and Tuscan pottery.

(a souvenier Tuscan pottery plate - great for cheese or a salad)

We decided we’d explore all the stalls later as we still wanted to get some lunch. We turned a corner and, for the second time that day, I thought I was going to hyper-ventilate… this time not from panic or frustration, but from the sheer beauty of what we were seeing. There in front of us was the Piazza del Duomo and the 15th century Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, a/k/a Il Duomo.

Its massive size was overwhelming. I was positive it could house every citizen of Italy behind its walls. The magnificent terra cotta colored dome cast a warm shadow over the piazza… hell, it cast a warm shadow over all of Tuscany, that’s how big it is!  The inside of the dome was magnificent!

There were carved marble figures, gargoyles and mosaics, a bell tower that reached toward the heavens

stained glass windows and a figure of Mary holding a flowered scepter over the intricately carved door and mural.
I was breathless. Though this was Italy and not medieval England, I wondered if this magnificent neo-classic cathedral was Ken Follet’s inspiration for his novel, “The Pillars of the Earth.” My hunger forgotten, we strolled in the piazza examining the cathedral from every angle for what seemed like hours. There was so much to see just on the outside that we didn’t notice the sun beginning to set. It was time to get back to our hotel and get ready for dinner.

Back in our room, I showered and put on my black DKNY traveling pants suit, a cream-colored silk blouse and strands of Coco Chanel pearls. Tonight we were going to experience some of Italy’s finest dining at the Ristorante Enoteca Pinchiorri and, like the restaurant in the Hostellerie de Levernois in Beaune, France, it’s a member of the Relais & Chateaux group – Relais Gourmand. Richard had discovered it on-line when he researched the sites in Florence and had made the reservation. Since it was in the old part of the city, Charlie, Jason, Richard and I walked the narrow streets to the restaurant. Jim didn’t join us. It seemed he fell in love that afternoon with a beautiful shopkeeper and was playing Romeo to his newly discovered Juliet.

As we approached the restaurant we were greeted by a plain door to a building with an unremarkable façade. I didn’t react. I learned my lesson when I misjudged the outside appearance of our charming little hotel. We entered and walked up a short flight of stairs to a small foyer. We were greeted by the maitre’d who led us to our table in a stunning garden atrium with colorful flowers in huge stone urns and tall carved statues of what I assumed were Roman gods. The tables were dressed with ‘aged’ pink cloths and the walls were a pale yellow. Through a doorway on the other side of the atrium I could see another dining room in the same pink and yellow theme with vases filled with brightly colored flowers. An old world landscape in a gilded frame hung on a wall. Our waiter brought us menus and a tiny little chair that he placed on the floor beside me. I hadn’t a clue what it was for until he unhooked by Vuitton bag hanging on the back of my chair and placed in on the chair. A purse chair! Who knew? But it was then that I knew we were in for a memorable evening… no detail was too small.

Our food ordered, the sommelier chose a bottle of rich red Italian table wine (the only one we could really afford even on an expense account) from the restaurant’s cellar that houses about two hundred variety of wines.

We shared the appetizers: sea scallops with herbs and bell pepper, lobster ‘gratinated,’ a quinoa salad with ginger and yogurt, and an endive salad dressed with hazelnut oil. We talked about the past three weeks and all the shoots we’d been on for the Food Network while the waiter replenished our wine glasses. He really didn’t understand English that well, but he did understand “Food Network” and began asking us all sorts of questions… Who were we? Why were we in Florence, etc? By the time we finished the delicious appetizers and answering his questions, the wine was gone. But, sadly, “our” budget didn’t allow for another bottle.

However, when our waiter returned with our entrees, the sommelier also returned with a second bottle of wine, compliments of the chef, explaining that the chef couldn’t allow people from the Food Network to eat his creations without “complementing” it with wine. I wanted to cheer, but restrained myself. This bottle of red was far more complex than the one we had just finished and went beautifully with each of our entrees. We shared a handmade tagliatelle pasta filled with ricotta and basil served with chanterelle mushrooms, mozzarella and capers. Richard and Charlie had the duck cooked two ways. The breast came separately – tender and juicy – followed by the legs which were served up in its confit. Jason had a lamb shoulder with asparagus and sesame seeds and I had the pigeon with thyme and garlic, squashed potatoes with a black pepper and chicken liver sauce. I had a taste of everything. Oh my!!!... This Tuscan food the chef made using French techniques was amazing. We couldn’t eat another morsel… well, except the cheese wheeled in on a cart by the chef. Not as extensive a selection as the restaurant in Beaune, but filled with some of the most delicious cheeses I’ve ever had.

Jason paid the tab, we thanked the chef, telling him that this was one of the greatest meals we’d ever had and walked back to our hotel.
Tomorrow was another day in Florence. I couldn’t wait.

Monday, June 21, 2010

FIVE GUYS & ME w/ The Lion of Lyon

With The Lion of Lyon

Our stomachs were filled with Edmund Fallot mustard sauces when the guys finished shooting our ‘lunch.’ We packed the van and began our caravan to Lyon where we were to meet one of France’s most famous chefs… Paul Bocuse, the father of nouvelle cuisine. He’s so famous, in fact, that his cooking earned him France’s highest civilian award, the French Medal of Honor, bestowed on him by President Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

By the time we reached Lyon it was after dark and we were hungry and tired. We were booked at the old-world Grand Hotel Mercure Chateau (a/k/a the ‘train station’ hotel) and when we saw the hotel sign from the autostrata, we gave out a group weary sigh of relief… However, finding the hotel once we left the autostrata was another matter altogether. The hotel seemed to have completely disappeared.

Driving through the streets of Lyon at night isn’t the best way to see the city. But here we were, once again ‘touring’ a town, as we tried to track down our lodgings. The van was behind us and Barry kept assuring Jim and Jason through a walkie-talkie that our hotel was just around the corner. He lied. Around every corner was just another dark street filled with French people in cafes eating cheese and sipping wine. Though we did discover a lovely carousel in the middle of some plaza we kept driving around.  But it's charm eluded me...

My stomach growled. I growled. Finally, even Charlie had had enough ‘touring’ and forced Barry to stop the Passat in front of a little hotel… not our hotel. The van stopped right behind us blocking the street. We didn’t care. Armed with a desire to end our endless search, or maybe just his strong desire to use the bathroom, Charlie jumped out of the car and ran inside. Ten minutes later he was back with directions to our hotel which, we discovered, really was just around the corner.

We pulled into a parking space in front of the hotel. We still couldn’t figure out how we lost it because there, just meters away, was the imposing old train station that the hotel was built to service tired travelers back ‘in the day.’ It was very dark standing there on the street barren of trees or foliage and the illumination from the hotel and street lights gave the whole area a mysterious aura. I expected a misty fog to waft down at any minute. We grabbed our bags and went inside.

Walking into the hotel was like walking into ‘old’ Europe. The name “Grand Hotel” suited it. I could visualize men in waistcoats and spats carrying silver-headed walking canes and women in form-fitting skirts to their ankles, high-buttoned shoes, gloves and large picture hats arriving at the station with their Vuitton steamer trunks that bellmen collected on baggage carts as they entered the lobby. High up over mahogany paneled walls and a substantial front desk were large, pastoral landscape murals.

I just wanted to sit in one of the lobby’s easy chairs and soak up the atmosphere. But food service in the hotel’s restaurant was about to end for the evening, so we all quickly settled into our rooms then met in the restaurant for dinner. With lush red carpets, red leather high back chairs surrounding tables covered with cream linen table cloths, the room was very elegant. Very – uh - ‘French.’

At dinner we met my sixth guy. Oliver. Because Paul Bocuse didn’t speak English and none of us spoke French that well, the show hired a translator who showed up in the form of a twenty-something Swiss student studying in France. Dressed in jeans and tee in that throw-away chic so many Europeans are born with (especially if they speak French), his dark brown hair tied back into a pony tail, his personality fit his appearance. Young ‘fluff,’ but charming. The meal was ordinary, but we didn’t care. Not every restaurant can be four stars… not even in France. The guys finalized the next day’s agenda then we were off to bed.

For the show Monsieur Bocuse was making his renowned truffle soup then priced at $50 a bowl (it's now $90) on his menu. But first we were to meet him at his favorite indoor farmer’s market where ‘we’ would tape him shopping for the ingredients of the day… then back to his restaurant to shoot him making the soup.

It was fun following him around as he talked to his extended ‘family’ of food merchants while Oliver translated and the guys taped. Well, it was fun until I had to go to the loo. I’m not crazy about public restrooms, especially public restrooms in such a big venue. But nothing compares to a public restroom in a big venue that has holes in the floor instead of toilets. Talk about your “old Europe.”

The shoot at the farmers’ market over, we drove to Bocuse’s restaurant… an exquisite space in an old stone building. We walked through the tall wooden gates and entered a tiled courtyard with carved frescos and mosaics on the stone walls. Atop the outside walls were large splashes of bright reds and greens.

Inside, there was a separate room for the bar and “cocktail lounge.”

 But it was the main dining room that left me speechless… lush fabrics on the tables and windows, upholstered chairs and banquettes. Everything was elegant, expensive, yet oddly home-like and cozy. The china, designed for the restaurant, has “Paul Bocuse” embossed on each piece and playful animals and landscapes in cornflower blue, yellows, greens and reds painted on the rim.

In the entry, the china was on display for sale for anyone wanting to take home a souvenir. I just had to buy a charger to use as a cake plate and a small cheese plate to bring home for a friend.

By the time Monsieur Bocuse was ready for his close-up, it was lunch time and the dining room was packed with people. The kitchen was too busy with cooks and sous chefs preparing meals, waiters bustling in and out and my guys: Jim working the audio; Richard directing Jason as they followed Bocuse from stove to counter preparing the soup; Oliver interpreting everything except “BAM” which Bocuse learned from his friend, Emeril; Charlie organizing things and doing paper work; and Barry overseeing everything. There was no room for me and nothing I was needed for. The bar was empty, so I sat down, pulled a paperback from my backpack and read while smells from the kitchen invaded my senses.

Finally the shoot was over, all the patrons had gone and Monsieur Bocuse invited us to sit down in the kitchen at the long picnic-style dining table used by the sous chefs, cooks and waiters on their food breaks. Chilled bottles of sancerre were opened and poured for me and my six guys.

I was admiring the Chagall-like artwork of the menus stacked on a nearby table...

when a waiter served each of us a bowl of truffle soup topped with a chicken pot pie-type of pastry crust.    We broke open the crust and dipped into the soup filled with carrots, mushroom, beef, celery, fois gras and hundreds of dollars an ounce black truffles. Bocuse uses black truffles because, unlike white truffles, one can cook with them. White truffles disintegrate. A bottle of Bordeaux appeared on the table… the only wine Monsieur Bocuse said should be served with this soup. I watched Jason look at the bowl wondering if he was going to at least give the soup a try. We explained that truffle was just a fancy word for mushroom. He tentatively put a spoonful in his mouth and as he chewed on a truffle he smiled. I don’t think he thought it was a mushroom, but I think he was the first one finished. I’m not surprised - it was the most amazing soup I’d ever tasted.

When the individual soup tureens were removed, we all started to get up to leave, but quickly sat back down when a platter of ripe, stinky cheeses was brought to the table… followed by a salad… followed by red mullet topped with a potato crust which was scalloped to look like the scales of a fish (the presentation was only matched by the taste of the fish and potato mixture)… followed by a chocolate bombe dessert… and many bottles of white and red wine. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

As we were about to leave, Richard and Monsieur Bocuse wanted to have a picture taken together. They had bonded. Bocuse in his two foot high chef’s hat, arms folded across his chest in his famous pose and Richard standing beside him. I snapped. No flash. I tried again. Still no flash. No one else had a ‘snapshot’ camera. But Bocuse wasn’t about to give up. He went to his private rooms on the second story above the kitchen and brought down his own personal camera and gave it to me. He and Richard posed again. I snapped. No flash. We gave up, made our good byes and headed back to the hotel and early to bed. We were off to Provence in the morning except Charlie, who went ahead on the train to do a bit of location scouting for our next shoot: that olive grove with a 1,000 year old tree I wrote about recently. The grove’s olives make a very delicious and very expensive olive oil… But olives were the last thing on my mind as I fell asleep with visions of truffle soup dancing in my head.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

FIVE GUYS & ME - Cut to the "Beaune"

Cut to the "Beaune"

Though reluctant to say goodbye to the beauty of champagne country, we left Reims early the next morning for the medieval walled city of Beaune in the Dijon area of France.

After endlessly driving around the narrow, cobblestoned streets searching for our hotel, Barry quipped that this was the last totally walled-in city left in France, so we needed to tour the city a few times to really capture its old-world glory. Ha, ha.

Charlie eventually figured out that our hotel was not within the city walls, but beyond them on the other side of the autostrada. Our Beaune “tour” finally ended and we arrived at the Hostellerie de Levernois, a member of the Relaix & Chateaux Group some of the finest hotels and restaurants in the world. We drove onto wooden bridge over a storybook brook to enter the property that was nestled in acres of gardens. I immediately wanted to move in. The rooms, decorated in country French florals (well, we were in country France), were set apart from the main building that housed the check-in desk and restaurant. Each room had a lovely terrace overlooking those gardens and, unlike any of our other hotels in Europe, this one had wash cloths. I was in heaven.

After settling in, we drove back to Beaune for lunch and more sightseeing… this time on foot. The city is truly out of an Alexander Dumas novel with worn cobble-stone streets...

and courtyards.

I half-expected to see D’Artanagn, Athos, Porthos or Aramis come flying off one of the geranium-covered balconies at any moment.

A light lunch in the plaza at a charming cafe

and a whole roll of film later...

we returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner in the hotel’s world-class restaurant.

When I had packed for this trip I knew we’d be on our feet working ‘on location’ most of the time so I basically threw in “crew” clothes: cargo pants, jeans, tee shirts and comfortable ‘tie shoes’ and sneakers. But, just in case we had a fancy night out, I packed my DKNY black pants suit and a couple of silk shells. This was the night for DKNY and a strand of pearls.

Jason’s room offered the best garden view so we met on his terrace before dinner to share the bottle of vintage Ruinart champagne that Guy had given us as a farewell gift.

We sipped the smooth as silk wine and watched the sunset. As our reservation witching hour approached we finished the bubbly and strolled to dinner through the gardens

 and over the expansive front lawn.

The hotel’s multi-star restaurant didn’t disappoint in upscale elegance and amazing food. Richard and Charlie each had the five course tasting menu that included sweetbreads. Richard had never before tried sweetbreads and wasn’t all that excited to see them included as one of his courses. Innards! Shiver! But in the spirit of our food adventure, he tasted them. He liked them. He really liked them. When Jason asked what they were, none of us had the heart to tell him. Jim had Bresse chicken with a sauce reduction that must have taken hours. Barry had a three course dinner that included red mullet sautéed with Provencal herbs. My dinner was baby rack of lamb and included a fois gras appetizer that I still dream about today. Jason? He ventured out of his shoe-leather-meat comfort zone and tried a filet of sole dinner which contained no food or ingredient that he hadn’t eaten in some way, shape or form back home in Knoxville.

The wines: Burgogne and Sancerre.

Desserts ran the gamut from chocolate delights to fruit pastries. But as delicious at it was, what I remember most about the meal was the cheese tray… though ‘tray’ is a gross understatement. It was a cheese cart. A big cheese cart. Two tiers! Filled with every imaginable French cheese. I realized that when the waiter asked me what cheeses I’d like to try I was suppose to select three or four – perhaps five at the most, but nooooooooo. I wasn’t going to be dining there again any time soon, so I went for it and asked to taste everything… the stinkier the cheese the better. I was in cheese heaven. All-in-all the restaurant, considered one of France’s greatest, lived up to its reputation.

The next morning we ventured to the gourmet mustard-making facility of Edmond Fallot to shoot the making of his renowned mustard.

As soon as we arrived we were given clear plastic cover-ups designed like scrubs to cover our clothes, shower caps to contain our hair and face masks to filter our breath. The plant was very sanitary.

The guys shot the bottling room, the labeling room and the packing room.

When they finished, we were led to the second floor where the 20 + varieties of mustard are made, including gingerbread mustard and black currant mustard and my personal favorite, walnut mustard.

The fermenting fumes of vinegar and peppers were overwhelming.

As Jason climbed a ladder to shoot inside one of the huge stainless steel vats, his eyes began to burn and tears rushed down his cheeks. He couldn’t see – not a good thing if you’re a cameraman. Every other guy was busy doing something, so I grabbed some tissues from a nearby table, climbed up a second ladder and wiped his eyes… then wiped my eyes… then his again, as he leaned over the vat and rolled tape. 

There wasn't a dry eye in the house!  But Jason was finally able to see his way through the taping.

The shoot ended with our Fallot tour guide taking us all to Le Benaton for lunch where ‘my’ guys shot the chef making a langoustine (tiny baby lobster) dish that he layered in tiers on our plates with Fallot mustards of the Gods.  The dish was heavenly.

Lunch over, good byes said, it was onto Lyon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

FIVE GUYS & ME - Reims, France

In Champagne County

 Reims, France

That drive from Germany to France took about three - four hours without “practicing” or any other driving incident… though hilltop castles whizzing by while going 90 mph on the autobaun never let me forget that we were not on the 405 in Los Angeles. However, by the time we reached the city of Reims, we re-entered our “practicing” mode and had to retrace our driving steps around what seemed like a million round-abouts.

(one of the million round-abouts)

Never one to be deterred from his goal (in this case keeping us calm while trying to find our hotel), Barry dipped into his bag of explanations and came up with: “We aren’t lost… I just wanted us to all share the experience of being in this beautiful city from both sides of the streets.” Consequently we arrived late at the “inn” and only had time for a quick meal in the hotel restaurant. Though Europeans are accustomed to eating dinner after ten o’clock, I’m not, and I didn’t want to eat anything too heavy before going to bed. I ordered a shrimp salad. By the time the salad reached my table I had downed two glasses of wine so I didn’t care that the black, beady eyes of the shrimp stared up from the plate as if pleading for a stay of execution. I was hungry and, since they’d already been boiled and chilled, I ignored their pleas, plucked out their eyes and scarfed them down.

At 6:00 am sharp the next day we were at Ruinart, the oldest champagne house in the world...

founded by a monk just before a “rival” monk established Dom Perignon.

Guy (not to be confused with one of “my guys” as his name is pronounced “gee” with a hard ‘g’) DeRivoire, a senior executive at the winery, was our tall and elegant host.

He introduced us to Ruinart’s cellar master, whose nose and taste buds make him one of, if not the most important person at the champagne house. It is the cellar master who chooses the blend of grapes that make up the champagne.

After shooting a demonstration of the master at work...

Guy took us down into the cruyeres (“caves”) where literally millions of bottles of champagne are stored.

(original cave entrance - we took an elevator)

Ruinart uses these cruyeres because the temperature is consistently cool, thus preserving the wine. So cool, in fact, we needed sweaters and jackets. These spectacular caves, one as deep at 150 feet, are actually ancient chalk quarries the Romans had dug and mined in 200AD to use for constructing roads and buildings. It was down there where we met the riddler. Not the “Batman” Riddler, but a man whose sole job is to turn the champagne bottles an eighth to a quarter of an inch each time so that the sediment from the wine’s second fermentation slowly makes its way to the neck of the bottle.

There it’s “disgorged” by de-corking the bottle and expelling the sediment. The bottle is then re-corked and stored till it’s ready for the consumer. A good riddler can turn as many as 40,000 bottles a day. Talk about a job made for carpel-tunnel syndrome.

As the guys videotaped the riddler riddling and the disgorger disgorging ...

 I explored the caves and discovered a tunnel lined with thousands of bottles of champagne, then another tunnel and then another.

However, away from the crew’s lights, the cold air was seeping through my jean jacket so I returned to watch the remainder of the shoot and bask in the warmth of the camera’s lights.

When the guys were finished, Guy took us to lunch at Flor Brasserie, a sunny bistro where we had oysters, baked shrimp casseroles, fresh sautéed fish, faux grois, cheeses (Jason basically stuck w/ the cheese and eyeless shrimp) and champagne…very good, very expensive Ruinart champagne.

We started with the rouge, a slightly pink champagne the color of which comes from the skins of the pinot noir grape. The juice is clear, however, and part of the champagne blend. This champagne was delicious and way up the ladder from any pink champagne you might have had before. After the rouge, we moved to the Ruinart non-vintage champagne. A non-vintage champagne, I learned, is the winery’s “house blend” and is consistent in its taste from year to year. The cellar master is totally responsible for this consistency. Ruinart’s non-vintage champagne is truly delicious. Its vintage champagne (which we got to taste the next day) is spectacular. A champagne is ‘vintage’ when grapes from only a certain year are used. This is where the cellar master can be creative, as it has nothing to do with the winery’s “house blend.” He can blend the grapes anyway he sees fit to get the taste he wants. One bottle on display in the tasting room was a $2,000 vintage champagne in a clear glass bottle to highlight the amber color of the wine encased in a spider web of silver designed by Kristof.

After lunch the guys shot a bumper w/ two lovely French girls welcoming the TV audience to France...

 then we off to shoot a champagne vineyard...


 and discovered a magical little town just outside Reims

Champagne fact: All grapes for all French champagne come only from the Champagne district in France. And, according to Guy, champagne made with grapes from anywhere else, be it Italy, Germany or Napa Valley, is not champagne, but sparkling wine.

On our last day in Reims we toured the city shooting B roll...


and I found a new job as part of the crew: the “sit in the van guarding the equipment reading a trash novel” job. Actually, it wasn’t really a ‘trash’ novel, but the latest paperback alphabet mystery by Sue Grafton. So for a couple of hours I was back in California with Kinsey Millhone. Finally, Charlie knocked on the van window. I was relieved of my duties and could now wonder around and see some of the city’s sights. Reims is filled with stone archways where gilded coaches led by black stallions and driven by velvet clad coachmen once rode through as they entered the cobbled stone plazas.


But the city’s real claim to history is a breathtaking cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) finished in 1211 and considered one of the most beautiful in the world...

with stained glasses windows designed by Marc Chagall during its restoration some years ago.

According to the church’s literature, every king in France had been crowned in that cathedral.

As was fast becoming our tradition, we had to celebrate the end of our second shoot and decided to go back to Flo Brasserie for dinner. Jason was in the mood for beef, but was afraid it would still be mooing on his plate if he ordered it. However, he threw caution to the wind (he was a world traveler now) and ordered chateaubriand--- well-done. Of course, it was still walking and talking when he got it, but we convinced him to send it back. He did and when it was served to him again, it only seemed rarer. Afraid the chef would come out and de-bone him, Jason bravely carved himself a bite, but we stopped him from eating it and again convinced him to send it back. This time the steak returned medium-well and he was a happy guy. If only he could have tasted it as it should be… Oh well, we still had a couple of more weeks to convince him.

Back in our hotel sated and happy, we packed for our morning departure and our next culinary adventure... Beaune, in Dijon, the mustard capital of the world.