RHEIMS, France -- What to put on the stove if a great chef is coming to dinner? And if that's daunting, what about 120 chefs anointed with one, two or three stars by the Michelin guide, the arbiter of European restaurant quality?
That's who came to dinner Sunday evening, and on into the wee hours, in the old cooperage house at the Mumm Champagne works in Rheims, 80 miles east of Paris.
At the top of the list were almost a dozen venerable superstars, including Michel Roux of the Waterside Inn in Bray, outside London, and Jean-Pierre Haeberlin of Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace, which got the first of its three stars in 1952. Then came a raft of mostly young one-star chefs.
Arriving for a pre-dinner reception at City Hall, the chefs looked as if they would have much preferred to be in their toques and kitchen whites than in black tie or gowns. Out of consideration for those who must keep a close eye on their kitchens, the event was held on a day when most close their restaurants.
The dinner is a 20-year-old tradition begun in 1973, when Mumm, the second-largest Champagne house behind Moet & Chandon, decided to hold a cocktail party for the newly starred chefs of Paris. More recently, Mumm has held dinners on the home turf of many of the countries where Michelin now rates restaurants: England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Spain.
This year, in honor of Europe's efforts at economic integration, Mumm decided to invite all the newly promoted chefs, as well as any three-star chefs who could make it, to a single dinner in Rheims. That's the official version, anyway.
In fact, Europolitics pales alongside the fact that this is also the inaugural year of Euro Disneyland, the vast theme park a bare hour's drive from champagne country.
"We have chefs who've been to Rheims 20 times," said Jean-Francois Joliette, a Mumm official, explaining the huge turnout for the dinner. "They don't need to come again. But they haven't seen Euro Disney. Mumm made sure the chefs will not only see it in style, but stay there as well."