Paris in summertime is hot, sweaty, romantic and overwhelming. The city is full of people walking around, sitting down by the Seine, and watching the Eiffel tower late at night when the city lightens up. Of course, there’s croissants and coffees during the day, cheese and wine in the evening, and the always happy buzz from early morning until late at night. All buildings are gorgeous, the French balconies so romantic – it is a city to keep coming back to, and to always leave without wanting to leave.
I had the magial opportunity to go to Paris and visit the private garden of Versailles – le jardin de la Reine – followed by a lunch at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée. It was an experience offered to me by American Express, who, if you lunch or dine at the restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris and pay with your AMEX card, invites you to a special experience. For me, this was to come and see the private gardens where vegetables and fruits are grown for the dishes you are being served.
There is no more direct, or rather confronting, way to know and appreciate what we eat by seeing (and tasting!) the ingredients only a couple of hours before you have them on your plate. It is a direct link from seeing and feeling the plants, the dirt, the way they grow, to pulling them out of the ground or picking them from their bushes, and taking them back to the restaurant where the kitchen team does their magic.
The private garden is gorgeous; on the same property of the Palace of Versailles, but in the middle of green fields with lots of trees and centuries-old stone walls. There’s no other sound than birds singing and leaves rustling, there is a beautiful old orangerie with big windows, and a big classic French door. The inside is empty, with all the equipment for gardening, some little vegetables to be planted and a little kitchen for breaks. The garden is structured, but natural and full of growing vegetables and fruits looking colorful, fresh and ripe.
It is one of those gardens where you stroll around, smell the (edible) flowers and the fresh herbs, and pick a raspberry here and a snow pea there. You can taste how fresh the vegetables are and how juicy the fruits, and when they are ready to be harvested for the restaurant – like head chef Romain Meder and I did that morning.
Alain Ducasse has many amazing restaurants, but Plaza Athénée is different. Here, they only serve you what is in season, what grows in the garden, and combine some of those dishes with fresh fish. There’s no meat, there’s no vegetables or fruits which aren’t in season – it’s all about natural, fresh, and real. They want you to realise what you eat, where it comes from, and how good it tastes because it has literally been taken from the garden earlier.
Every dish was amazing – so full of flavour, with peas still crunchy and rhubarb so sweet from the French summer sun. It was a lunch of dreams, with the amazing experience of seeing the beautiful garden, harvesting my own vegetables and having them on my plate only a few hours later.