The first seven seconds are crucial when you meet someone new, they say. That’s why I drew on a little French inspiration when coming up with a menu plan for our new lodger’s first meal with us. I was determined to make a good first impression on Vincent, who arrived this week.
The September issue of Olive magazine had just what I was looking for: cod en papillotte.
Vincent is a 20-year-old German-speaking Swiss student who’s come to Brighton for six weeks to improve his English. He plans to become a pilot.
I wondered if I was perhaps wasting my time. During his stay in this party city, he’ll almost certainly be more interested in high jinks than haute cuisine.
The reason I wanted him to enjoy his debut dinner with us on Monday isn’t really about him. It’s about the competition. I don’t usually consider myself competitive, but this is one challenge I couldn’t bear to lose.
You see, all the new students at the language college swap notes – and photos – of their dinners with their host families.
The cod en papillote I served used some of my favourite ingredients, including a sausage I had bought at the market in Castillonnès last month. Plus, there were some fresh black olives, some rosemary from the garden, butterbeans and three different types of tomatoes – and just a pinch of piment d’Espelette.
Cooked in a parchment paper, the dish really has the wow factor when brought to the table.
“All the new students at the language college swap notes – and photos – of their dinners with their host families”
As an accompaniment, we served a basil-flavoured mash. We followed it with a melting-middle chocolate dessert that Damon made using a recipe from Edd Kimber’s wonderful cookbook Pâtisserie Made Simple.
I knew from the look on Vincent’s face that the top prize was, quite literally, in the bag. He confirmed it on Tuesday – with tales of the £1 microwave meals that some of his classmates were served.
Even better, because he could see we had gone to an effort for him, he stacked the dishwasher after dinner and unloaded it later – a habit he’s kept all week. That’s what I call a win-win.