First in a rented room in a grand apartment on Avenue George V, just off the Champs-Élysées. I rented it from a skint Duke and Duchess (explaining why they would rent a room to a student). The duchess was a tough humorless woman, who didn’t allow me to use the lavatory after 10pm (the noise of the flush disturbed her sleep) and kept a tight rein on her husband and son. The Duke on the other hand was wonderful and mischievous. Whenever he would hear the telltale rustling of a plastic bag, heralding the arrival of my Lebanese takeaway from Al Diwan, he would make up an excuse to talk to me and linger so long that I would invite him to share my food. He would sit cross-legged on the floor in his suit, knees jutting ridiculously high. Afterwards, we would both light a cigarette until the Duchess smelled smoke and stormed into the room, whereby I would cover for him and apologise for my disgusting smoking habit.
Then, when I turned 18, I shared a flat with a tall, beautiful Russian / American girl at La Motte-Picquet Grenelle, (making me by default, the short, funny one, a comparison I did not enjoy). We lived over a cheese shop, which I would visit every morning, asking, “Which of these cheeses, besides the brie, would also be good for breakfast? “None!” The horrified shop assistant would say, as if I had said something unspeakable. I guess by their standards I had.
Then I found Giulia, or she found me. I never used to do my French homework (well, I never used to do any of my homework). Teachers would smell my indolence and swiftly pick me to answer a question. I squirmed around in my chair just long enough for Giulia to offer hers, neatly written out, with the right bits highlighted in helpful colours.
We moved into, a gorgeous and tiny one bedroom in Montparnasse. In this flat, the two of us became known as the feeders of our University, holding frequent dinner parties. When I was in charge, I would make things like tacos with the seasoning that comes in the box and the salsa that comes in the jar.
Sophisticated, I was not.
Giulia on the other hand, could roast a turkey, make stuffing and chocolate mousse. She may as well have pulled a rabbit out of her nostril, I was exceedingly impressed.
This isn’t Giulia’s recipe but one from The Complete Robuchon cookbook. It’s very rich and decadent, he goes as far as whipping melted butter into the yolks to pump up the exuberance factor.
The other thing about chocolate mousse is you can make it anywhere, you aren’t hampered by missing kitchen kit. All you need is a whisk.
Rich Chocolate Mousse adapted from Joel Robuchon’s The Complete Robuchon
(Serves 4 generously)
30g butter, cut into 1 cm pieces and chilled
150g 66% chocolate
4 large eggs, separated and kept well chilled
1 tablespoon sugar + 1 teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of brandy
60ml, whipping cream
1. Melt the chocolate in a baine marie or microwave, when it is almost completely melted, stir in the butter until smooth.
2. Put the yolks in a bowl with the sugar. With a whisk or handheld electric mixer, beat for 2 minutes, until the mixture foams and turns pale yellow. Stir in a tablespoon of brandy and then the melted chocolate until it is well mixed.
3. In another bowl, whisk the cream with whisk or handheld mixer. If using a handheld mixer, go slowly because it will whip up almost immediately, with a whisk you have more control. You just want it to thicken and start to pucker / wrinkle when you push your whisk through, don’t overwhip because you will be doing more mixing and it will continue to thicken.
4. Next, put the egg whites and a teaspoon of sugar into a clean bowl, whisk them until they just start to form stiff peaks.
5. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Make sure to go under and up, making figure 8’s and turning the bowl as you go. You are aiming for light and fluffy, so don’t overdo it.
6. Pour into bowls and allow to set for a couple of hours. Serve with some shaved chocolate on top. I can never get though an entire one of these in one sitting, so I spend the next 24 hours stealing a spoonful straight from the fridge now and again.