What Do You Mean “Salon” Anyway?

Some months back, my cousin Jeff presented me with the idea of co-hosting a series of “salons” in his home.  The idea being that, since I love to cook and enjoy entertaining, it would be great fun to plan a menu for a dinner each month and invite different people from different walks of life to the table. I thought this was a tremendous idea.

As the weeks went by, the ideas began to formulate and a plan of action began taking shape.  I proposed that we visit a different country each month and prepare traditional foods, listen to the music of that particular place, and, in general, immerse ourselves in their story and become more knowledgeable while conversing and exchanging ideas.  I thought we were really on to something new and wonderful.

The first “salon” took us to Morocco.  We delved into the Persian and French influences and devised a menu that included Tagine of Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives, Persian Jeweled Rice, Fattoush (shepherd’s salad), pita bread toasted, and variety of pastries and butter cookies from a Middle Eastern bakery.  It was a very impressive menu and quite an undertaking, but the outcome was magnificent.

We also served multiple bottles of Bordeaux and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Port with dessert.  The food was a success with the dinner guests, the wine was down to “not a drop left” at the end of the evening, and everyone appeared happy.  Yet, I had a problem.

The original idea my cousin had was to have everyone come early and participate in the preparation and cooking process.  I wasn’t really keen on this.  I love having everyone around while I am cooking, but too many chefs in the kitchen….well, you see my point.  Oddly enough, that didn’t turn into a problem.  One couple had to come a little late due to work constraints, and two were late because they couldn’t find us.  Jeff went to get them.  The conversations seemed to be moving right along while everyone was milling around the kitchen, library, living, and dining rooms, but once we all moved to the table, it became a little “broken down.”  “What happened?”, I thought to myself.  There was no real discourse that everyone could be involved in and I didn’t know what to do, but with the evening adjourning, I just pushed it to the back of my mind and figured we could direct it better next time.

Fast forward to the second month and it seems we are looking at a very similar guest list as we head to Sweden for a sample of their gastronomic delights.  The menu was set and we were serving Venison Steaks and Pork Loin Steaks rubbed in crushed juniper berries and peppercorns and then topped with a Blackberry and Lingonberry sauce, roasted potatoes with rosemary and sea salt, and a salad of apple,walnut, and celery with an apple cider vinaigrette, and rustic rye bread.  For dessert, we decided on a German Chocolate Cake.

Right out of the gate, three people begged off the day of the salon.  I called four people who had been with us before.  Two came and two didn’t.  The two who were late for being lost before (actually, one of the two did make it both times, but was stuck waiting for the one who said “lost”, “traffic”, “accident”…..) were late again for the same person and same reasons.  There was considerably less milling around and conversing and help in the kitchen this time, but I decided to take matters into my own hands at the table.  I tried culture of Sweden, ingredients of the food we were eating and the importance to me for fresh and organically produced, Monsanto, what country would you most like to travel to, etc.

I really got nowhere.  So, I came home thinking to myself, “What the hell is a ‘salon’ anyway?”  Now, I understand the source of my frustration and, hopefully, so will you.  Here is what I found:

From Wikipedia –

The salon was an Italian invention of the 16th century which flourished in France throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The salon continued to flourish in Italy throughout the 19th century. In 16th-century Italy, some brilliant circles formed in the smaller courts which resembled salons, often galvanized by the presence of a beautiful and educated patroness.

One important place for the exchange of ideas was the salon. The word salon first appeared in France in 1664 (from the Italian word salone, itself from sala, the large reception hall of Italian mansions). Literary gatherings before this were often referred to by using the name of the room in which they occurred, like cabinet, réduit, ruelle, and alcôve. Before the end of the 17th century, these gatherings were frequently held in the bedroom (treated as a more private form of drawing room): a lady, reclining on her bed, would receive close friends who would sit on chairs or stools drawn around. This practice may be contrasted with the greater formalities of Louis XIV’s petit lever, where all stood. Ruelle, literally meaning “narrow street” or “lane”, designates the space between a bed and the wall in a bedroom; it was used commonly to designate the gatherings of the “precieuces”, the intellectual and literary circles that formed around women in the first half of the 17th century. The first renowned salon in France was the Hotel de Rambouillet, not far from the Palais de Louvre in Paris, which its hostess, Roman-born Catherine Vivonne de Rambouillet (1588–1665), ran from 1607 until her death. She established the rules of etiquette of the salon which resembled the earlier codes of Italian chivalry.  —

From now on, I think I will forego cooking and just recline on my bed and invite people over!  To learn a little more about Salons, you can follow this link:  http://www.bdavetian.com/salonhistory.html

Recipes for the dinners thus far will be posted on the Recipe page.


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