All images by Nicholas Calcott for Paris By Appointment Only™
Over the last few years there’s been an influx of American chefs in Paris. Fusing American-style entrepreneurialism and experimentation with France’s gastronomic history, they have carved out a cross-cultural niche in Paris’ contemporary dining scene.
Two pioneers in this delicious movement are American chefs Braden and Laura. In 2007, the couple moved from Seattle to Paris to set up Hidden Kitchen, an underground, word-of-mouth, dining destination located in their Parisian flat. Modeled after the elaborate dinner parties that Braden and Laura would hold back home, HK is a sophisticated supper club where food-loving strangers come to meet and eat.
So how does it work?
Twice a week, Braden and Laura host elaborate, market inspired, ten-course meals with wine pairing for 16 diners at their swanky, super central Parisian pad (their address remains “hidden” until your reservation is confirmed via e-mail). The adorable couple greets guests with a refreshing aperitif before leading them to the communal table to meet the evening’s eclectic company, which include gourmet globetrotters, visiting friends and American expats to yes, a smattering of French!
At Hidden Kitchen, the fabulous food is the gastronomic glue that binds the diverse crowd.
At the beginning of each exciting course, Braden steals away from his tiny kitchen to explain the inner workings of his Franco-American fusion fare, fielding questions about the perfectly formed poached eggs (heat-resistant plastic wrap) and the French translation for sunchokes (topinambours) to the contents of his addictive white salad (fennel, endive, celery, cucumber, white truffle, lemon and parmesan). Meanwhile, Laura moves around the table to fill glasses and give the inside scoop on each accompanying wine.
Despite the complexity and elegance of the 5-hour meal, the atmosphere and energy at the table is amazingly relaxed. Mid-way through dinner you’ve forgotten that your tablemates began the evening as absolute strangers. By dessert, you’re exchanging phone numbers and emails. By the time you go to pay, you wish someone would plan a follow-up party to keep the spirit alive. One night, one guest was so charmed by the evening’s company he insisted on picking up the tab for the entire table.
“Complete strangers who have met at our table have decided to go have drinks together the following night,” says Braden.
But the true champions of this cuisine-led community are the hosts themselves. “Almost everyone that we know in Paris has come from Hidden Kitchen,” says Braden, who in between HK events holds more casual, comfort food dinner parties of pea soup with dill dumplings and handmade pizza with home cured meats, ricotta and pickled cherry peppers for his and Laura’s group of friends.
Unfortunately, those events are by invitation, not reservation, only.
Suggested Donation: 80€/person, not including gratuities