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Bon apetit in Amman

By Saleem Ayoub Quna

Food is not only for survival. According to staunch advocates and aficionados of gastronomy it is etiquette, sociability, art, culture, communication and lot more. It is a way of living the moment in unforgettable joy and pleasure.
Gastronomists’ simple argument lies in this line: Who can deny that a good meal can restore balance to the human, body and spirit? With this mix of the mundane and the spiritual perspective to cuisine in mind, five French Chefs (four men and a woman) arrived in Amman at the invitation of the French Institute, to show and share their talent and experience with their Jordanian counterparts and citizens at large who share similar inclinations.
As Director of the French Institute in Amman, Charles Henri Gros presented his five guests to the hand-picked media representatives there were already signs in the air the suit of the gathering would be rich with the necessary ingredients and spice.
“French Cuisine is different in style of preparation and presentation and has specific rituals of serving and for savoring it,” he said, “it has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010”.
He added this was the first time the French Institute has taken such a bold initiative, which hopefully will not be the last to enable more and more Jordanians to familiarize themselves with a typically French culinary tradition. He went further by saying: “We are pondering the idea of organizing special French markets in the future in different Jordanian locations and cities that would sell French products used in making food a la Francais”.
The five chefs who each in his turn gave a brief presentation about their backgrounds and experiences talked about their métier with such passion and humility, as if they were steady lovers whose only wish in life was to win the heart of their beloved ones.
“My ultimate objective and priority in whatever I do in this business is not to make more money, but to lure my clients into an atmosphere of satisfaction, reflection and joy that they will cherish as a precious souvenir forever” one of the Chefs confidently declared.
Jordanians and expatriates willingly suffering from a certain weakness when it comes to elaborate cuisine are offered this unique chance to test the grounds of their resistance against this weakness for a whole week starting 1st of April as these Chefs would prepare their special creations (dishes) in some 5-star hotels in town.

All of this talk about food associated with art, heritage and culture reminded me of a French film titled: “Festin de Babaet”. The French maid employed by an old Danish couple in a remote forgotten village in Denmark, upon the death of one of her patrons, decides to prepare a special dinner on this sad occasion. The less than dozen guests are the deceased’s peers and neighbors, men and women, all in their late 70s. Ms. Babet went the extra mile to transform that dinner into an unforgettable event for this elderly group. She did that as a token of her appreciation and friendship with her employers. She traveled to Paris by land to get the necessary products and other ingredients including the drinks for the occasion using her life-savings to the last penny. She took care of every minutest detail: the seating, glass-ware, drinks, appetizers, main course, dessert, flowers, decoration of the table, etc, etc.
Initially the guests reluctantly turned up, psychologically and physically prepared to spend another dull boring evening on such a gloomy occasion. There was nothing to talk about. But as Ms. Babet started the rituals of serving the dinner, step by step, plate after plate, the grim expression on their faces started disappearing, their somber mood slowly changed to that of relaxation, and their cold reserved attitude gradually began to loosen up. By the end of the hours-long evening the elderly guests were transformed to almost a wild gang full of energy vibrating with joy, while exchanging smiles and jokes, singing and clapping.
Ms. Babet, the French maid’s secret weapon to do that was not the food but the way it was prepared, presented and consumed.
According to the five French gastronomists visiting Amman today this is the closest to what they seriously call the allure, glamour and function of the French Cuisine!
Bon apetit!

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