Since many of my friends are in a celebratory mood, I thought I’d add to the celebration with a formal dinner. But not just any old formal dinner, but a dinner created by designer Freddy Wittop for the Folies Bergère in the 1930s.
Wittop was Dutch born and worked in all the grand music halls of Paris between the two great wars; like many of the designers of the period, he moved to the USA with the outbreak of WWII. After a stint in the U.S. army he led a Spanish dance troupe that toured North America but returned to his first career as a designer in the 1960s. His iconic red dress and spray of feathers first worn by Carol Channing when Dolly was welcomed back where she belonged won him a Tony.
Anyone who designed for the Folies found that the restrictions of the stage on Rue Richer – it is only 36 feet deep – meant novel solutions had to be found to produce grand spectacle. Like Marco Montedoro in his Restaurant italian that I featured in a posting last year, Wittop used only a small portion of the stage to present his Grande menu.
The chairs, candelabra and most of the table are a painted backdrop with perhaps a 12 foot wide platform as the front of the table. Fortunately the Folies also had a promenade around the orchestra pit so the action could be moved out – to the delight of the gentlemen in the audience.
The menu started with a serving of crayfish – apparently to serve something as a Buisson is to serve it in a pile. Being chorus girls, not the nudes, they would have kept their shells on.
The appetizer was followed by a parade of main courses featuring, amongst other dishes, salmon and pheasant. Perhaps this would have given a few of the danseuses nués a chance to shine.
At most French meals the salad is served after the main course and this one was no exception as the chorus girls took to the stage as lettuce and some rather saucy tomatoes. Most of the chorus girls were troupes of English dancers – the Tiller Girls and Bluebell Girls being the two most famous. There is still a troupe of Bluebells at the Lido de Paris.
Dessert would have started with the stately showgirls parading in feathered finery as Meringues. Very few of the girls were French though most of them learned to shout out “Oh La La” like female versions of Pepe Le Peu. Then the chorus girls – they sometimes had only minutes to make complicated costume changes – took over once again but this time as luscious Crêpes Suzettes.
And of course no meal would be complete without a bowl of fruit. One is tempted to say that there are apples and pairs on these plates!
The glorious frivolity of it all – and the incredible imagination.
22gennaio – San Vincenzo e Sant’Anastasio