Independence Day, Français Edition
Bleu, blanc & rouge: How to throw the perfect Bastille Day party (hint: servelots of bubbly)
Didn’t get your party on quite enough in celebrating the red, white and blue? How about a celebrating the bleu, blanc and rouge as a festive reprise? Although we Americans certainly know how to revel in our Independence Day festivities, the French aren’t too shabby in hosting their own independence holiday festivities called Bastille Day.
It seems that the French took notes when les Américains rebelled and declared our independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, because on July 14, 1789, the people of Paris administered a coup d'état of their own. French commoners stormed the Bastille (a fortress in where prisoners of influence were held) as an act of rebellion against imperial rule.
So why should the French have all of the fun? This year, Bastille Day falls on a Saturday, a perfect opportunity.
Today, Parisians commemorate Bastille Day, or "La Fête Nationale" as it is so chicly called, as a national holiday with a grand military parade up the Champs-Elysées, colorful arts festivals, and raucous parties. Even the French President gets in on the festivities by hosting a garden party at the Palais de l'Elysée.
So why should the French have all of the fun?
This year, Bastille Day falls on a Saturday, a perfect opportunity to celebrate Independence Day, Part Deux by hosting a Bastille Day “Bubbles and Bites” cocktail fête. This is a simple, yet chic party to throw that only requires a trip to your local wine shop, a pit stop at your favorite specialty/gourmet store, and a little bit of creative attention to detail. Below is a simple game plan for taking care of the food, sips and ambiance.
First up: Décor elements
Establish a “francophilian” theme by creating a custom-made toile tablecloth hand trimmed in red, white and blue ribbon. Toile is a fabric with a white or off-white background and a repeating, decorative pattern that generally depicts pastoral theme such as a couple having a picnic by a lake.
Purchase navy or red toile and blue, white and red striped ribbon from your local fabric store. You can then either get a seamstress to stitch the ribbon onto the toile or go the do-it-yourself route by whipping out your glue gun. Other decorative elements can include vintage champagne glasses, floral arrangements incorporating the colors of the French flag, and art/objects that encapsulate iconic French places, people and things, like the Eiffel Tower or Palace of Versailles.
Let’s talk music
Music is important because it not only sets the tone for your party but it also entertains guests as well. Boring music = boring event, so it’s always a great idea to mix in some unexpected surprises with the crowd favorites in your selection of tunes. A few suggestions to queue up include:
• "Michelle (My Belle)" - The Beatles
• "Makeda" - Les Nubians
• "Ne Me Quitte Pas" – Nina Simone
• "My Cherie Amour" - Stevie Wonder
• "Champagne Supernova" - Oasis
• "C’est Si Bon" - Eartha Kitt
As for the food selections, it is important to have some good nibbles and substantial bites thrown in to keep guests sated, but what would a French affair be without delicate and sweet French confections? Grab some of the quintessentially French macarons from your local specialty bakeshop, along with Madeleines (butter cakes), fruit tarts, and chocolate pot de crème.
Next make a pit stop at the grocer and pick up figs, French cheeses, ham, shrimp or smoked salmon, green olives, and sliced baguettes. Don’t forget to also get some raspberries, strawberries and blueberries (which also play into the blue, white and red color scheme) and then artfully arrange everything on a couple of serving platters.
Finally, the most important element of all: the bubbly. Since this is a French-inspired event, splurge a little and get true champagne instead of sparkling wine (since real champagne only comes from France).
Since this is a French-inspired event, splurge a little and get true champagne instead of sparkling wine (since real champagne only comes from France).
Champagnes are classified as follows: “Extra Brut” is the driest (read: extremely low sugar levels and not at all sweet), followed by “Brut,” “Extra Dry,” “Dry/Sec,” “Demi-Sec,” and “Doux,” in ascending order of sweetness. Less sweet wines work well with savory food while those with higher sugar content should be matched with fruit and desserts.
One bottle of champagne will serve two-three people for the duration of a two-hour affair. To avoid breaking the bank the best bet is to stick with non-vintage offerings from different Champagne Houses (brands), which also gives guests the excitement of sampling different champagne styles.
Here are some great suggested champagnes as well as food pairings:
Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Brut: Nutty and citrusy on the taste buds. Full flavored, but not sweet. Pairs especially well with French fries and potato chips.
Ruinart Blanc de Blanc: Clean, balanced and smooth with fruity, fresh aromatics. Pairs well with seafood such as cold, boiled shrimp with a squeeze of lemon.
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut: Light and fresh. Good match with cheese, especially creamy ones.
Moët & Chandon NV Imperial (formerly White Star): Delicate and soft with pear flavored notes. Smoked salmon, fruit and cheese are good matchups.
Pommery: Dry with a bright, slightly mineral taste. Sip on its own.
Piper Heisdsieck Brut: Pleasant aromas of vanilla and coconut with flavors of honey and pear. Excellent with cheeses.
Billecart-Salmon Demi-Sec: Floral notes highlight a perfect balance between sugar, alcohol and acidity. Match this one with macarons and chocolate.
You shouldn’t have trouble finding these popular brands, but another option is to ask your local wine shop for recommendations. Just let then know that you’re looking for actual champagne, and not sparkling wine, and that you need a combination of brut and demi-sec options.
See? It’s as easy at that. With minimal effort and a little panache, you can easily host a chic affair that will have mon amis saying "C'est, si bon!" and "Vive La Fête Nationale!" in no time.
Davon D.E. Hatchett is a Houston lawyer and freelance writer with a keen interest in food, entertaining and travel. This is her first article for CultureMap.