The Meaning of the Party
In January, France lost a beloved actor and director, Jean-Pierre Bacri. Often teaming up in films with his erstwhile wife, Agnès Jaoui, the pair were dubbed “Jacri” by the press, a little like a French equivalent of “Brangelina” (Jacri being more of an intellectual couple than Brangelina, which is code for “less beautiful”).
Jean-Pierre Bacri’s most famous performances and directorial efforts were films like the 1997 On connaît la chanson (Same Old Song) and Le goût des autres (The Taste of Others). But his last starring role was in Le Sens de la Fête (known as C’est La Vie in other countries) and the movie portrays the ups and downs of a wedding caterer’s life.
Jokesters and hotheads
In the film, Bacri plays Max, the irascible owner of a catering and events planning company. His employees and colleagues are jokesters, hotheads, sometimes irresponsible, and generally not very sérieux. In French, we’d call them une bande de bras cassés – a bunch of broken arms.
The movie centers around a chateau wedding, which takes place at the Château de Courances in the Ile de France region. I’ve actually visited this lovely home, and its water features alone are worth the visit!
The wedding turns out to be one catastrophe after another: the photographer is eating all the petits fours, the wedding singer takes himself too seriously, the fiancé is a jackass, and a surprise visit from an alleged work inspection officer rattles everyone’s nerves, since they’re almost all working under the table (non-déclaré).
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The oldest trick in the book
One of the film’s major mishaps involves the main course being inedible: the refrigerator was accidentally unplugged and the meat goes bad. To make sure the guests don’t go hungry and start wondering where the main course is, Max uses the “oldest trick in the book” according to him: le coup des feuilletés aux anchois, or the old “anchovies in puff pastry” trick.
Served in large portions, the puff pastry “plasters the stomach” and with the salty anchovies, guests become parched. Servers bring out plenty of sparkling water to wash down the savory pastries. The bubbles on top of all that puff pastry render guests listless and bloated for hours.
Does the trick work? Do French caterers really resort to such techniques? According to this article in the quick-read newspaper 20 Minutes, real-life caterers say no, the trick is a myth.
One caterer did mention using an improvised intermezzo, or what the French call le trou normand, if guests need to wait a little while the next dish is coming out of the kitchen. They might “pull out a mandarin sorbet with a pipette of limoncello” (like this heart-shaped pipette to the right!). I sometimes saw little tricks of the trade like that when I worked in catering in the Loire Valley, but never the anchovies in puff pastry trick!
By the end of the movie, we become attached to this gang of broken arms, for all their ignorance, humanity, and humor. The final blow (literally – a power outage) gets Max thinking he’ll just hang it up and retire. But those broken arms all band together to save the day, and what happens next is just magical! I hope you’ll watch the movie and find out the meaning of the party, or le sens de la fête.
Anchovy and Red Pesto Pinwheels
In the movie, servers hand out to guests allumettes aux anchois, or large puff pastry matchsticks. These pinwheels are slightly more delicate, but still quite salty and strong. Remember that this is an apéro snack, one that accompanies a pre-dinner drink – preferably not sparkling water!
The number of actual anchovies you use in this recipe will depend on your taste. Ten anchovies will leave no doubt in your guests’ mouths about the recipe, and is definitely intense! But if you love anchovies, it’s not too much. (And if you don’t like anchovies at all, well, I suspect you won’t be making this recipe!)
- 6 – 10 anchovies in oil, blotted on paper towels
- ½ cup red (sun-dried tomato) pesto, store-bought, or homemade red pesto (see below)
- 1 package frozen puff pastry, or fresh homemade puff pastry
- 1 egg, for the egg wash
for the red pesto:
- 1 scant cup shelled walnut halves (80 g)
- 2 cloves garlic, green germ removed if necessary, coarsely chopped
- 1 generous cup sun-dried tomatoes without oil (200 g drained weight), blotted on paper towels
- ¼ cup (20 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) cheese
- ½ cup (100 g) best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
how to make it:
- If you’re making the red pesto yourself, preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Otherwise, skip to step 5.
- Spread the walnuts on a shallow baking sheet and slow-roast them for 25-30 minutes, or until you smell a lovely walnut odor emanating from your oven. Let the walnuts cool directly on the baking sheet – after cooling, they should be crispy all the way through.
- In a food processor, combine the cooled walnuts, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and cheese, and process several times to make a paste. It will look a bit dry. Continue to process and slowly add the olive oil.
- Reserve ⅓ cup pesto for this puff pastry recipe, and transfer the rest of the pesto to an air-tight container. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top. The pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.
- Dice the anchovies finely and mix them with the pesto in a small bowl. Spread out the puff pastry on a lightly floured countertop (or on a piece of parchment paper). Using a rubber spatula, spread the anchovy-pesto mixture evenly over the entire surface of the puff pastry.
- Roll up the puff pastry tightly in a sheet of parchment paper, and place in the freezer for about 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400° F (205° C).
- Remove the puff pastry roll from the freezer – it should be firm. Using a serrated knife in long strokes, cut the roll crossways into slices about ½-inch (1.3 cm) thick. If the ends aren’t pretty or don’t have enough anchovy-pesto mixture because your puff pastry is round, that’s okay – you can bake these too, and they’ll make up the base of your “pile” on the plate.
- Using your hands (with gloves, if you like), carefully transfer the pinwheels to a baking sheet, reshaping them into circles as you go if necessary. Separate the egg, placing the yolk in a small bowl and reserving the white for another use. Using a pastry brush, stir about 3-4 drops of water into the yolk. Brush the tops of the pinwheels lightly in the middle and then all around the top, but being careful so that the egg wash doesn’t drip onto the baking sheet.
- Bake the pinwheels on a rack in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until they’re a deep golden-brown on top.
- Remove from oven. Stack ‘em high on a small plate and serve immediately. Bon app’!
makes 15-18 bite-sized pinwheels