Paris is at its buzziest during fashion week, held six times a year including haute couture and men's shows. But there's an extra, mood-boosting ingredient in the air at the mid-year shows – warmth. It's summer in the city, but not yet at the stifling temperatures it can reach in late July and August – perfect for getting about in the new season's limb-baring fashions without having to worry about heat-induced faux pas like sweaty brows or sticking to your seat.
For the Belgian beer brand Stella Artois, who have been successfully hosting their Sensorium dining experiences around the world since 2015, often tied to style-focused events, Paris men's fashion week in June provided the perfect opportunity to get a bunch of fashion-forward personalities together in the world's most stylish city, at one of its leading restaurants.
Excitement in the air
Event organiser David Abela said that amidst the excitement of Virgil Abloh's first show as creative director for Louis Vuitton and Kim Jones' maiden outing as the artistic director of Dior Men, it was the right setting for the brand to hold the first Australian-helmed, international Stella Artois event in Paris.
"There was a lot of anticipation around this fashion week and we wanted our own "first" to reflect that excitement in the air and also be reflective of the quality of surrounding events in Paris," he said.
"We are hosting fourteen Stella Artois sensorium events in Australia this year and it is a thrill to be making our international debut at Paris Fashion Week with great guests, in a fabulous restaurant and with two of the world's best chefs."
Jean Imbert was the French chef chosen to host the event at his L'Acajou restaurant in Paris' upmarket 16th arrondissement. Imbert, who won Top Chef (France's answer to MasterChef, featuring up-and-coming chefs instead of home cooks) in 2012 and opened L'Acajou as a 22-year-old, has gone on to become one of France's most celebrated chefs and something of an Instagram celebrity. He counts the likes of Pharrell Williams, Robert De Niro, Marion Cotillard and Jay-Z and Beyonce among his friends and fans, and will soon open a second restaurant in New York called Encore.
Joining Imbert to co-create the menu was fellow celebrated French chef Guillaume Brahimi, who flew over from his adopted home of Sydney (he currently has Bistro Guillaume restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth) especially for the occasion.
"I've been to your restaurant in Sydney and you didn't even know it," joked Imbert to Brahimi in a brief speech at the beginning of the night.
The romantically-lit L'Acajou centred around one long communal table. Guests sitting down to enjoy the six-course degustation, complemented by chalices of chilled, free-flowing Stella Artois, included Tom Simpson, head of menswear at The Iconic, jewellery designer Lucy Folk, and Melbourne influencer Sam Wines. Bouquets of fresh white blooms from Parisian florist De Beau Lieu offset the restaurant's noirish interior and and filled the room with their sweet scent.
Brahimi kicked off the meal with his light, tart and fresh entree of sea bass tartare with finger lime, caviar and oyster cream.
To follow, Imbert served lobster from the region where he grew up, Brittany, with string beans, grapefruit, Parisian sprouts (brussels sprouts from Paris) and a caramel sauce made with Stella Artois especially for the occasion, chased by goats cheese ravioli in tomato consomme, dotted with gooseberries.
Imbert also looked after the main; Bresse chicken (the champagne of chickens, from France's historic region of Bresse) with polenta, grilled corn, asparagus curls and another unctuous, slightly sweet Stella Artois sauce.
For dessert, Brahimi prepared a symphonious spread of deconstructed vanilla cake, strawberry sorbet, white chocolate and fraise de bois (tiny, wild French strawberries); while Imbert finished the meal with domes of peach meringue encasing a lemon basil sorbet and zesty passionfruit mascarpone.
Rien ne se compare
Brahimi is back in Paris regularly for work and to visit his French partner. He says that when it comes to fine dining, no other city can compare. "It's in Paris' DNA, they just have incredibly high standards here and it means that the restaurants are of the highest quality too," he says.
"It's a pleasure to cook here and have access to the best quality local produce, as you know how important quality is to the French."
Imbert was equally chuffed to work with Brahimi, and on the first international sensorium for Stella Artois Australia.
"Coming from Brittany, we cook a lot with beer so I was very excited by this task, especially the entree dish of Brittany lobster which is paired with a special Stella Artois caramel sauce to highlight the simplicity," he says.
He hopes to return to Australia soon and enjoy more of the country's food and wine.
"I have been to Australia once before and was very excited by the restaurant scene and the creativity."