Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chez Clément Celebrates Martinican Cuisine

The Comité Martiniquais de Tourisme (Martinique Tourism Committee) and the restaurant chain Chez Clément are hosting the first celebration of Martinican cuisine in Paris! From February 7 through March 1, 2015, the French dining public will find a Martinican menu at each of the restaurant’s seven locations in the French capital.

My partner and I recently dined at Chez Clément in Montparnasse. This establishment is located along the stretch of sidewalk that extends between two of the quartier’s most famous café-restaurants – Le Dôme and La Coupole. A banner above the entryway announces the 20-year anniversary of the chain.

Chez Clément Montparnasse
© Discover Paris!

A display consisting of a basket of limes, bananas, and oranges; several bottles of Clément rum; and dried slices of citrus fruits arranged on a large madras cloth dominated the bar and commanded our attention upon entry.

Martinique Gourmande display
© Discover Paris!

A waitress greeted us and issued us into one of the dining rooms adjacent to the sidewalk. There we were able to watch passersby while we savored our meal. And savor it, we did!

The Martinican menu consists of Ti’ Punch (white rum, lime, and cane syrup), a platter of accras de morue (cod fritters) and miniature boudins noirs (blood sausage) to share, Colombo de poulet (chicken stewed with curry and coconut milk), and flan de coco (flan with grated coconut). My partner and I elected to order everything on the menu.

Martinique Gourmande menu
© Discover Paris!

Our waitress placed a small basket of bread on the table after she took our drink order. The thick slices of baguette had a slightly yellowish crumb with small alveoli. The crust was golden brown but not especially crispy. The bread was fresh and quite good.

A man emerged from the kitchen with our ti’ punch, which was served in big rounded tumblers bearing the Clément rum label. Though traditionally served without ice, our server had taken the liberty of adding a single ice cube to each glass. As he set them before us, he hastened to explain that he had done so because the cocktail had not been previously chilled. He brought the bottle of rum over to our table to show us that it was 40° rhum agricole made by the centuries-old rum producer, Clément. (Although the name is the same, there is no relationship between the manufacturer of the rum and the restaurant chain.)

Ti' Punch with Clément rum
© Discover Paris!

The main ingredient
© Discover Paris!

A few minutes later, the same server came to the table bearing a wooden chopping board covered with crispy fresh accras de morue, mini boudins noirs, wedges of avocado and lime, chile peppers, lightly dressed lettuce, warm plantain chips, and a mildly spicy, salsa-type tomato sauce. We devoured these as we coaxed the last drops of our ti’ punch out of our glasses. While not peppery hot, the boudin was wonderfully perfumed. I increased the piquancy to the level I desired by pairing each boudin with some of the chile pepper that had been served alongside.

Accras and boudin noir
© Discover Paris!

Then our main dish arrived. Each of us received a plate of rice sprinkled with chopped chives, three thick morsels of cooked plantain, and an entire cooked cherry tomato. But where was the chicken?

Rice and plantains
© Discover Paris!

Once again, our server hastened to assure us that we were not to worry – he hadn’t finished serving us. He returned to the table moments later bearing cast iron crock pots containing chicken and sauce for each of us. Cautioning us that the pots were extremely hot, he removed the lids, releasing tantalizing aromas of curry and coconut milk.

Colombo de poulet
© Discover Paris!

My partner and I ordered another round of ti’ punch to accompany this course.

We tucked in, serving ourselves morsels of chicken from the pot (still on the bone) and ladling sauce over the rice and fowl. In general, I never finish the rice that I’m served in restaurants because I find it too filling, but on this day the sauce that accompanied this dish was so good that I ate every single grain and used the wonderful bread we were served to absorb every last drop of sauce in my crock pot.

Like the boudin noir, this dish lacked the spiciness that comes from using fresh chiles or chile powder in the preparation. But in my opinion, it was perfect in every other way.

The flan de coco provided a fairly light and satisfying finish for our meal. It was basically a crème caramel dusted with shredded coconut. Because I had eaten all of my rice, I couldn’t finish my portion, so my partner happily took it upon himself to eat it.

Flan de coco
© Discover Paris!

Our server brought my partner an espresso and placed two digestif glasses and two squares of chocolate in front of us. He then brought over the bottle of the amber Clément rum that we had seen displayed on the bar when we entered the restaurant. The complimentary after-dinner drink was a lovely surprise to top off an excellent meal!

Aged Clément rum
© Discover Paris!

Our after-dinner drinks
© Discover Paris!

The entire meal – one platter of accras and boudin, two chicken dishes, two desserts, and four ti’ punches – came to only 81.90€

Diners who want a gentle introduction to the flavors of Martinican cuisine should waste no time in getting over to Chez Clément before the end of the week!

Chez Clément
106 boulevard du Montparnasse
75014 Paris
Tel. :
Metro : Vavin (Line 4)
Open 7 days a week


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Brothers In Exile: Three African-American Writers in Paris

To celebrate Black History Month this year, the American Library has mounted an exhibit that features the three most important African-American expatriate writers of the post-World War II era in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes.

Triptych from American Library in Paris Web site
Photo credits: Richard Wright, Rue Jacob, Paris, 1949 | Portraits | Todd Webb; Chester Himes, portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 28 Jun 1955; James Baldwin, image from

The name for the exhibit was inspired by the play Brothers in Exile, written by contemporary writer and long-time Paris resident, Jake Lamar. On the evening of February 17, the Library hosted Lamar for a reading from the play and an interview of him conducted by the exhibit's curator, Naida Culshaw.

Jake read to a full house, reincarnating in English what had been presented in French to another packed house at the Théâtre du Rond Point almost a year ago to the day.

Jake Lamar reads from Brothers in Exile
© Discover Paris!

His interview with Naida explored his inspiration for writing the play and the creative process behind it.

Answering an interview question
© Discover Paris!

The display case in which the exhibit is presented consists of nine compartments, seven of which focus on Wright, Baldwin, and Himes. One of them highlights the play, Brothers in Exile. Another contains photos and information about four female writers: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Terry McMillan.

Chester Himes: Brothers in Exile exhibit
© Discover Paris!

Brothers in Exile: Brothers in Exile exhibit
© Discover Paris!

Women authors: Brothers in Exile exhibit
© Discover Paris!

When asked why she selected "Brothers in Exile" as the topic for this year's Black History Month exhibit, Naida responded:

After curating several exhibits focused on historical experiences of African Americans inside the United States – such as their roles in the civil war, the legendary Negro baseball league, and the many stories of blacks in the Wild West – I was looking for a topic where being both an expat and an African American played a role.

Around that time I became aware of a reading at the American University of Paris featuring Jake Lamar which mentioned his play. It only took reviewing the synopsis of the play to confirm this was the next topic! I contacted Jake and he was open to the idea, so we went from there.

During the interview, Jake was pleased to announce that the radio station France Culture will produce Brothers in Exile as part of its Fiction / Théâtre et Companie series. Laurence Courtois, the literary advisor for Théâtre et Companie, will direct the audio production.

Laurence Courtois and Jake Lamar
© Discover Paris!

The Brothers in Exile exhibit runs through March 22, 2015. The day before it closes, Jake will moderate a literary discussion at the library called "Writers and their Heroes," at which participants will take a close look at protagonists in four seminal novels by Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Chester Himes. Space is limited, RSVP required.

For information about past Black History Month events at the American Library, click on the links below.

Black History Month at the American Library
Black History Month 2014 at the American Library


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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Black History Month Celebrated at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence

The U. S. State Department in Paris has hosted several events in celebration of Black History Month in Paris over the years. This year, Ambassador Jane D. Hartley opened the Ambassador's residence for a screening of the Claude Ribbe documentary on the first African-American military pilot, Eugene Bullard.

Bullard (1895-1961) was an American expatriate whose life in Paris spanned World War I, the interwar years, and the early part of World War II. He was a boxer, vaudeville performer, drummer, and entrepreneur. He owned and operated night clubs, and even owned an athletic club. As a member of the Foreign Legion, he was wounded in battle at Verdun during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with a bronze star for heroism. He then became the first ever African-American fighter pilot—training with the French and joining the Lafayette Escadrille, an American flying corps under French command. Despite valorous service, Dr. Edmund Gros of the American Hospital arranged to have him permanently grounded because of Gros’ own race prejudice.

Eugene Bullard and his monkey, Jimmy

The screening was attended largely by U. S. and French military personnel—including the Military Governor of Paris, Hervé Charpentier—as the State Department wanted to make Bullard's story known to the men and women in American and French uniform who are stationed in and around Paris.

Screening attendees at the Ambassador's residence
© Discover Paris!

Commander John Q. Quartey, USN and Chief Warrant Officer Four David Smeigh, USA
© Discover Paris!

Colonel Brendan B. McAloon, the attaché de defense for the U.S. Army, was responsible for organizing the evening. He worked closely with Ambassador Hartley and her team.

Ambassador Jane D. Hartley and Colonel Brendan B. McAloon
© Discover Paris!

Eugene Bullard is a 52-minute TV documentary directed by Claude Ribbe. It was produced by Ortheal, a film and television production studio in Paris, with the participation of the French National Public Television (France 3). Prior to the screening, Ribbe gave a brief introduction of the documentary and his motivation for creating it.

Claude Ribbe, director of Eugene Bullard
© Discover Paris!

Afterward, the Ambassador’s residence resounded with conversations about how touched the attendees were by Bullard's story. Bullard's history was particularly compelling for Michelle M. McAloon, a military pilot who retired from the U.S. Army as a captain and went on to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Lieutenant Colonel Michelle M. McAloon, USAR, ret. and
Colonel Brendan B. McAloon, USA
© Discover Paris!

Eugene Bullard was released for French television in 2013. An English-language version will be released this year and a feature film is currently in production. Ribbe's hope is that the full-length film will be ready for release in time for the 2017 commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I and the creation of the Lafayette Escadrille flying corps.

Watch a trailer for the English-language documentary here: Eugene Bullard


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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Postérité: A Review

I am a huge fan of Jake Lamar’s writing. I’ve read his memoir and all of his novels and I attended the reading for his stage play Brothers in Exile.

Jake's most recent book, Postérité (Rivages, 2014), is the only work of his that I’ve read in French. In fact, this is the first book by Jake that has been released in French prior to being published in English.

Postérité represents additional firsts for Jake as well. It is his first novel that cannot be categorized as a thriller. It is his first novel that does not revolve around a black character or examine race relations. It delves deeply into the subject of modern/contemporary art and the tragedy of the Rotterdam Blitz of World War II.

Postérité is the story of two protagonists – a Dutch abstract expressionist painter, Femke Versloot, and an American art history professor, Toby White, who wants to write a book about her. White can be viewed as an intellectual “stalker” of sorts. He desperately wants to expose the “life behind the art” of the enigmatic painter in a scholarly publication, which he believes will open the doors to a prestigious appointment at a major American university. In the hope of getting close to his subject, he begins an intimate relationship with Versloot’s granddaughter (who also happens to be his student).

During the course of the story, we learn that Versloot is a contemporary of Jackson Pollack and countryman Willem de Kooning and that her art does not receive the same level of recognition and accolades as the works of these male colleagues until very late in her life. As Jake “pulls back the curtain” on her world, we discover an artist who is completely obsessed with her work and whose personal life is shrouded in mystery.

Jake signing a copy of Postérité
© Discover Paris!

In his inimitable way, Jake weaves back and forth between past and present, giving us tantalizing glances into events that have molded Femke Versloot into the artist that White pursues. He introduces us to Joop, the younger brother whom Versloot abandoned in Rotterdam at the end of the war. As his story unfolds, the reader almost wills him to expose the secrets that his sister has kept buried for over 50 years. Jake presents the men in Versloot’s life, her daughter, her granddaughter, and friends and acquaintances who provide glimpses the psyche of this impenetrable character. And he includes several twists in the plot that are reminiscent of the thrillers that he’s published in the past.

Versloot’s art takes on the role of a character in the book as well:

“a painting that seemed to seethe, from corner to corner, with molten red and brown”

September 1949, a churning whirlpool in viscous mud tones”

“ this unsettling tableau, with its purplish epicenter surrounded by expanding greenish-bluish rings that seem to seep through the canvas. Ultra fine blue tentacles snaking through the rings . . .”

Jake’s description of the paintings renders them vivid in the mind’s eye and gives them a soul and a purpose independent of the person who created them. Not only can you see them, you can FEEL them.

For Francophone readers, I highly recommend this well-woven tale of intrigue.

For Anglophone readers, look for a follow-up post on this blog when the original (English-language) version of the book (entitled Posthumous) is published.


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