By a stroke of luck, Sunday had me dining with the legendary Jim Haynes at his studio apartment in Paris. Far, far ahead of London and our own pop-up diner movement, Jim has been entertaining and hosting hoards of unknown guests every Sunday evening for the last 30 years. Over the years, he’s had a staggering 100,000 diners from all corners of the globe sit against his floor-to-ceiling glass windows, perch by the ovens and spill out into the alleyway garden filled with potted geraniums. By his own account, the waiting list is weeks long and Sunday evening’s guest list totalled 100 people. Among them were a large number of Americans, all blouses and swept hair – mainly retirees – who had heard about Jim on long-ago aired radio programmes and were thrilled to be a part of this European phenomenon. In other corners, food bloggers met with university students and travellers, while long-standing friends of Jim’s delighted in winning a weekly seat after a 9-year wait. On the walls were propped stylised photographs of young blondes, piles of books and self-written cooking manuals and a run of printed propaganda endorsing free love and sexual openness.
At the centre of the open plan kitchen 75-year old Jim sat enthroned, handlebar moustache reaching to the bottom of his chin, blue apron loosely tied beneath his stomach and for the most part of the night, surrounded by women. Amongst the convivial clamour of conversation, Jim was heard several times to pipe up: ‘Are you talking? Is everyone talking to each other?’ Aside from a delicious and simple meal of Indian pea soup, slow-roasted aniseed pork belly with parsley potatoes and salad, followed by strawberries in balsamic vinegar with pine nut cookies, Jim seemed to have effortlessly created a kind of frothing keenness amongst his guests, in part thanks to the small confines of his space but largely due to the importance of bringing people together from around the world to share a meal. The kitchen, which was visible to most diners, bore no sign of strain. Rather, each buffet course was served and cleared in a seamless run of actions: the queue moved, bowls were filled. The queue returned, plates were stacked. I didn’t once hear the dropping of a glass or the fierce expletive from a burned hand. One hundred guests.
The result was energetic and inspiring, cueing many of the guests to consider setting up their own version of the supper club, if they hadn’t already got underway. I took away a number of enriching, prompting ideas for Salad Club’s imminent secret suppers, namely the need to keep very cool when juggling slippery plates and hot vats. I was also lucky, having grasped a last minute place on the fortuitous claim that I was staying 3 minutes’ walk away and wanted to take home Jim’s ideas, to meet Food Rambler. Between us, we swapped some great ideas. Watch this space for further developments.
Meanwhile in Paris, and just for your ocular delectation, these glazed beauties – so unlike anything we’d find in Gregg’s – adorned nearby boulangerie shelves:
and Le Marais provided us with a damp Sunday’s fill of Jewish Salad Club crudités: