Monday, July 17, 2006

Yvonne, my partner in crime (& overconsumption)


Yvonne and I met at the California Culinary Academy about four years ago. I recognized immediately that she was someone I wanted to get to know and actually had an appreciation and knowledge of good food and culture. (Suprisingly, that it is actually rare at CCA--they advertise on daytime television and I think a lot of applicants just flip a coin to decide between cooking school and learning to drive a tractor-trailer or being a dental hygenist.) With a few other friends, we made a conscious effort to visit some of the finer dining establishments in San Francisco during our year at school. Yvonne also always knew where the cool bars, parties, artshows, etc. were after being involved in the SF art scene for a few years. I was quite distressed when in 2004 she up and moved to Hong Kong, where her parents live, to see if it was somewhere she could call home. When we met up in France, she had just spent the past six months in Italy working in kitchens. She is still trying to find that place to call home, which is a struggle I understand and sympathize with, but at least I am pretty sure what continent I want to live on.

On my arrival in Grenoble, France I was introduced to a few members of Yvonne's large extended family. Yvonne's paternal grandmother moved to France about 30 years ago and brought all of her children (I think there are seven brothers and sisters) with her. With the exception of Yvonne's dad, they all live in France, and a few of the aunts even live down the street from Grandma. Yvonne's dad has a lovely house in Grenoble which he visits a few times a year when he goes on his annual wine purchasing trips to France. We used this house as homebase for our adventure, beginning and ending the roadtrip there. The day I landed in Lyon, I was met at the airport by Yvonne and her cousin Benjamin and we went to one of the aunt's houses for lunch. We ate lunch with her grandma, cousin, aunt, uncle and their two exchange students. It was a very unique multi-cultural experience. The conversation took place in French, English and Cantonese with a few people at the table switching back and forth between the different languages to involve different people in the conversation. Yvonne's aunt kept forgetting what language to speak to what person, and Benjamin and Yvonne kept throwing in Italian to add to the confusion. Our lunch consisted of kongee (Chinese rice porridge with dried scallops in it), a salad of treviso chicory, apples, corn and Dijon dressing, then pork with Chinese five spice and rice, and finished with Comte cheese, all accompanied with Rhone wine and rustic French bread.



Yvonne's grandma is 89 years old and going strong. Although she only speaks Cantonese I got some translations of some of her comments and she is pretty funny. She went on at some length about how Yvonne's clunky boots were going to break all of the floor tile at her father' house. When we returned from our roadtrip, Yvonne went to Grandma's house for dinner with the aunties and did not come home until 5 am. This was because they played mah jong and Grandma would not let anyone quit until she started winning, even if it meant staying up all night. I hope I can pull an all night gambling spree when I'm 89!

I was quite fortunate that Yvonne was available and willing to join me on my adventure. She proved an asset with her numerous skills and talents: French language skills; excellent sense of direction (most of the time); appreciation and knowledge of fine wines; ability to challenge all of my broad, baseless statements; good choice in driving music; love of ham and cheese; willingness to eat any of the "challenging" food items I ordered by mistake (like baby lamb knuckles); and most importantly sense of humor. As with any time you spend 24 hours a day with for 30 days straight with the same person we did occasionally become aware of each other's less attractive features, but I will refrain from mentioning any of those here as I should hope Yvonne has already conveniently forgotten all of my annoying habits.

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