It is not that common to go to a dinner party and invite yourself and then have to introduce yourself to the host on the night because you have never met them before. However, this is the situation that most guests are in when they go for dinner on Sunday night at Jim Haynes Parisian home. Before the latest trend of “underground” restaurants were even a twinkle in their fathers eye Jim was serving dinner to up to sixty strangers every Sunday night at his atelier in Paris. In fact, Jim has been putting on Sunday dinners for the last 30 years.
Dinner at Jim’s is a Paris institution and since I was in Paris by myself I decided it would be a great way to meet people. To secure an invitation to dinner the process is really quite simple. You just email Jim and ask if you can come (email details here
). You then receive an email from Jim detailing the location of the atelier he lives in and asking you to turn up on Sunday night at 8pm with a contribution (€25 is the suggested rate).
So on a beautiful Paris summers evening I strolled down to Jim’s atelier in the 14eme. The atelier is set in a little laneway which people spill out onto in summer time. Already there were people milling outside but I made my way in and introduced myself to Jim who was seated at one end of the kitchen holding court. At this stage you hand over your contribution (in an envelope) and Jim finds you on his list of guests and crosses you off. The suggested contribution is €25 however it is entirely up to you what and whether you pay. This is where it gets interesting as Jim has an amazing memory and despite only having a brief conversation with him at a later stage in the night he introduced me to another guest and later again to the chef. I saw him do this with quite a few people so it was not that I was particularly memorable.
Beer, wine and soft drink is also included and so clutching a plastic beaker of wine for Dutch courage I made my way outside and started to mingle. It was like being at a party where you don’t know anyone except the great thing is that lots of other people are in the same position. There were a few Parisians in attendance who said that they came every Sunday but the rest of the guests are quite random and included a mixture of French and English speakers although the English speakers were in the majority.
The spread at Jim’s (lots of bread)
Dinner itself is fairly basic. It changes from week to week depending who is doing the cooking but on my visit we were served chilli with salad. However, just like dinner at home you could go back for seconds. Dessert was pecan pie so you could say there was a bit of an American theme to dinner although I heard that the week before the meal was Indian.
Although Gourmet Chick is mainly about food, food is not really the focus of Sunday dinners at Jim’s. Rather the emphasis is on the experience of dining with a group of total strangers and also the generosity and slight eccentricity of Jim himself. The story goes that the tradition of Sunday dinners happened quite accidentally. The way Jim tells it, in the 1970’s an American dancer knocked at Jim’s door and said that she had been recommended by a friend and asked if she could stay. In return, the dancer offered to cook dinner for Jim and his friends. The dinners have been going ever since and Jim estimates 120,000 people have dined with him over the years. If you are in Paris on a Sunday you can go too. All you have to do is email or call and invite yourself. If only all dinner parties were that easy.
Details: 14eme, Paris, France (Ph + 33 1 43 27 17 67).
Jim attends the Edinburgh festival every year in the latter half of August but otherwise dinner is every Sunday night.
Gourmet Traveller Tips
I stayed at hip hotel Mama Shelter
, a Phillipe Starck designed wonder out in the 20th. Housed in a converted garage each room has a slick imac which you can watch DVDs on, TV or use the internet, there are Kiehls toiletries in the bathroom and basically it is designer heaven. Rooms from €89.
If you liked reading this you can read about more Parisian adventures – tackling snails
for the first time and scouring the outer arrondissiments for L’Entredgeu