Monday, September 9, 2013

Dinner with the World

About 3 years ago my senior government students were doing a research project. One student, Ian Bailey, decided to research "world hunger."  At some point in his research, an erroneous Google search led him to a story about a guy named Jim Haynes, an American ex-pat in Paris. Over 20 years ago he began having dinners at his house that grew from 10 people a night to up 70 these days. And anyone is invited. Just email Jim and you are on the list!  Ian thought this was pretty cool and showed the article to me. The concept sounded like my dream come true. Serve good food to great people to create amazing community. Ever since then I've had the idea in the back of my mind.  I actually had one impromptu dinner including my new neighbors I met that morning and one of their friends I did not know, my friends Elise and Sean (now living at my house...I love them and am so thankful to have them there! See my first blog post about them!) and Sean's roommate whom I did not know, and an old teacher friend Ashley Newman and her new boyfriend-now husband Michael, whom I barely knew. I loved it and I think what stopped me from having another was time, money and intentionality. Well... That will be changing as a result of dinner last night.

Of course, when our itinerary evolved to include Paris, I knew dinner with Jim was a must. I emailed him in June and in 5 hours our reservation was confirmed along with directions from the nearest metro stop (including a very precise "39 steps to the big green gate").  My anticipation for this event was pretty significant.  I have maybe verbalized that my purpose for the entire year could be fulfilled in this one evening (just 4 days into the trip) as I learn how this is done. But, on the metro to our destination, Annette asked what my expectations were. Earlier in the day she told me that she's a "worst case scenario" kind on person... meaning... prep yourself for whatever the worst case scenario might be and come to terms with that...and then when the worst doesn't happen you are pleasantly surprised. My response to her question: "Worst case scenario: we meet some crazy people and have an ok meal."  If that was the bar, I was exceptionally pleased with how the evening went... maybe I even did a little heal kick in the air once we turned the corner to go home. 

When we got to the gate, Tina and Steve from Austrailia were waiting as well. Then a jovial Parisian named Jean walked up and began typing the code for the big green gate. It didn't work. He asks if we're going to dinner with Jim.  Yes!  Do we have the code?  Yes!  And thus we met our first dinner companions. 

We were among the first ten to arrive. Jim was seated at the kitchen counter with a long guest list and a pile of envelopes to submit our 30 euro payment. Another man was working at the stove, preparing a chicken in a red sauce of sorts with a side of some seasoned rice (no proper name for the dish is coming to mind). There were already huge bowls of French bread, tortilla chips and an avocado salsa of sorts. It looked and smelled delicious. But we quickly learned that the evening was not about the food. We grabbed a drink and headed outside to the courtyard/patio/walkway to mingle and hear the stories of...

Erica and Katrina, marketers from Belgium... We talked about the difference between United States and European history, Belgium's history of being dominated by every other European nation and traveling to Guatemala. 

Pascal, doctor of pharmacology/ film writer / musician... He asks my favorite age in history, once he discovers my profession. I respond, correctly, with the World War 2 era.  Turns out he just finished a film on the fight over Strasbourg during WWII. Which leads to a discussion on Syria and Iran's new leadership.  Later Pascal serenades us with his guitar. 

David from Australia but has called Paris home for the last 20-some years... He is a regular attendee of dinners with Jim and his happy to introduce everyone to everyone else.  

Jerry and Diana traveling with their daughter Lisa and her husband Sean, from Salt Lake... They are celebrating Diane's 70th and Lisa's 50th with a trip to Paris.  They discovered the cheapest tour of the city is to take Bus Number 69. 

John, the Arabian horse endurance rider from Brisbane/Sydney, New York, Connecticut and sometime Paris, joins the conversation... I learn about the required diet of an endurance horse (only a little grain and a lot grassy hay) as well as other training techniques.  And that synthetic substance abuse can result in a lifetime ban of the sport. According to John there is an endurance horse race within 80 miles of every city in the U.S. News to me!

I go to refill my glass and discover dessert is being served. Pineapple upside down cake a la mode. A volunteer is required to take one dessert up the stairs and to the right to Madame Tussaud (not really but I can remember her name... she was a tiny woman who said many things to me, none of which I understood but was very grateful that she offered to turn the hallway light on so I could safely make it down the stairs). 

Percival, a graphic designer from Pasadena... He described the road rally that took him to all of the old haunts of Van Gogh throughout France that ended in a lovely 3 day stay at a chateau. He was lamenting his imminent return to reality. 

Yve, not Eve, a French filmmaker married to Catherine, an American... She was our cook for the evening and happened to be the very first cook for Jim's dinners. She moved to Paris in 1978 as a college student, found a room in Jim's upstairs studio with 4 others, and exchanged a place to sleep by cooking for Jim's friends. And thus this amazing gathering of people was formed. 

Adelaide, a writer and friend of Jim's, quickly produced a folded piece of paper from her purse, sharing her newest e-book available from Amazon, called "Black Soap"... Something about mysticism and the Basque country.  She claimed that the last book she published was such a hassle and that e-publishing was much easier. 

But our most delightful encounter of the evening was with the last people we met, just a short time before the evening was to come to an end. 

Kimber and Chuck, in law enforcement, from New York, traveling with their daughter Demi, a hunter/jumper trainer and recent grad of Coastal Carolina University.  They wanted to gift their daughter an "experience" for her graduation and this evening in Paris was the perfect opportunity.  They had been to Jim's 4 years before and they said not much about the evening had changed. When we told them our next stop was the Camino, Kimber give Chuck an Elaine Bennis shove and explains that she'd been wanting to do this...  Maybe our stories during the next two weeks will tip the scales in Kimber's favor to convince Chuck that they must take on the challenge. They were wonderful people who were excited for our adventures and gave an encouraging reminder that laughter is one of the most important keys to successful travel. When we met Demi, we informed her that she is so lucky to have such awesome parents. 

 And then Jim and his friends began to shut off the lights. Our amazing night was coming to a close and we were the last to leave. 

I'm doing a mental heal kick as I recount last nights events. And I cannot wait to begin, Invite the World to Dinner in Vail. I'll take reservations for the first 20 people for Sunday, July 6th, and each subsequent Sunday. A $20 contribution is requested to cover costs associated with the meal.  Email me at  

Actually, I'm thinking I have room for 19. Ian Bailey will be the guest of honor, as long as he's not too cool to have dinner at his old teacher's house. 

Check out the Magisto movie documenting the evening: 


  1. Ashley, what an amazing experience!!! What an adventurous spirit you have to make yourself available to such wonderful opportunities!!! I am actually in Colorado right now, and was only 20 miles or so from Vail over the weekend. Stephen and I went to Breckenridge for the weekend and had a wonderful time. He has been such a gracious host, taking me to many lovely places - the Denver Botanical Gardens, Rocky Mtn National Park, small towns and mtn passes off the beaten path, and today we went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We also wanted to go to the Denver Museum of Art, but they were closed today. All has been wonderful, except for the heat (which finally broke this evening) and motion sickness on all the mtn hwys and roads.

    Where are you now? How long will you be in Europe? I know you are going to Germany to visit w/ Sarah and fam, but not sure where else? I am going to send your blog info to Tasha. She would love your Dinner W/ The World story and concept. Plus, she lived in Paris her junior year in college, and she and Tom plan to take a trip there in the next couple of years. Maybe they could be Jim's guests as well!!!!

    Be safe, and blessings on all your future adventures!!!!

    Clair Kaufman

  2. RSVP for Julz for Sunday, July 20th. I'll chop, stir, pour, measure, scrub or anything else. Can't wait!