The lure of a good meal

I would never have believed it if it hadn’t happened to me. What started off as a girl’s weekend in Paris ended with 2 lovely new friends, and a great adventure. I was out until way later than I should have been having drinks with someone I knew and someone I met at Verjus (a great restaurant in Paris; you must try it), run by two Americans, one of whom is an amazing young chef. The new person was minding her own business, eating alone. I somehow thought she might want to join me and my friend, so I timidly walked across the room and asked her if she wanted to have a glass of wine with us. I spoke French and realized immediately that she was American. But to my surprise she was born in Seattle and grew up in California – just like me! There must have been something in our common roots that silently vibrated between us. She too is an American living abroad; in Amsterdam.

Although the friend I came to Paris with to celebrate her birthday went back to our hotel after dinner (shocking the both of us as she is usually the last one standing!), my new friend and another one who had come to join us for after dinner drinks went with me to a bar. There it becomes a little fuzzy. I heard a couple of guys debating something in English at a table next to me and promptly jumped up to join in. At the time it seemed like a stimulating conversation. It may well have been the whiskey talking.

Turns out they were only in Paris for a few days. I remember telling these two young men at around 3 in the morning that they were welcome to come to dinner at my house if their travels brought them to London. “We’ll be there Monday,” I remember them saying. OK, deal. I didn’t think much more about it until Sunday when I was home recovering from two very busy days and nights in Paris. I got an email from one of these two asking the best way to travel to London from Paris. Hmmm… nothing like leaving travel from one country to another until the very last minute. I explained the options, and a few hours later received confirmation of their arrival in London the next morning and asking for my address.

I was a little worried. I didn’t even know these guys and yet they were coming to my house for dinner. That might come as a shock to some, since I open my house up to 24 strangers every week or two for dinners here. But my boxer boyfriend sous chef is always here and this particular evening he was out. And there is something reassuring about the fact that people have pre-paid for their meal at the Nomad Chef. I brushed aside whatever questions and doubts and went grocery shopping and cooked.

The first of the two arrived a little early, saying the other one would be right along. Finally I asked the question I should have asked when I met them in a bar: “What are you doing in Europe?” The first one began telling me that they were in Paris for 3 days of work.  He had barely started to explain when the second young man arrived. They are American service men; in the army. And they were in Paris working, but couldn’t reveal exactly what they were doing there.

They began telling me incredible stories about their work, their lives and their families. But what was even more inspiring than seeing how dedicated these two guys are to helping people, was hearing their stories about friends who have lost two and three limbs and still want to go back to war zones. I know about loss. But I’m not sure I know that kind of dedication and risk. Some of these wounded warriors are hoping that with the aid of technology they will get to go back to where they lost their limbs so they can help the others still there. These remarkable young men work in bomb disposal in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

And that was not the only surprise. They’d had no plans to come to London but on the offer of a home cooked meal thought it would be fun to come for their last 18 hours in Europe. This was their first time to Europe, to Paris and to London. They came to London for a meal!

The younger of the two got off the tube on his way here and somehow managed to leave his backpack in a restaurant toilet stall. Just before sitting down to dinner he realized it. Thanks to Google Maps satellite view, they figured out where it probably was. I piled the two of them in my smart car and we rushed off to find the pack. It was still there. This is one of the busiest places in London and no one stole his pack. Then after dinner and after a drink at a local club, they came back to my house and realized this younger one had lost his wallet. I gave them sheets and blankets and told them to go to sleep. They had worked and traveled and site seen for 4 days with no sleep. No wonder they were losing things. They crept out early in the morning to catch a train back to Paris and to board their flight back to the US. A few hours later an old man rang my bell and asked if the wallet belonged to me. He’d found it in the street and asked all of the nearby neighbors if it belonged to them.

These young men appear to have very good luck. In their line of work I am certain they need it. But looking back on our chance encounter and their truly adventuresome spirit, I realize it was me who had the good fortune to have met them. I meet the most amazing people because I love food and love cooking. They left having had a good home cooked meal and I was left with two new friends and a big heap of inspiration!

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