By Cathy Free
You won't find any hot dogs or barbecued ribs at Catherine Thorpe's annual summer French potluck, and anyone with the gumption to show up with Jell-O salad or funeral potatoes risks being banned from the fete forever. By now, it's a rare associate of Thorpe's who doesn't know what is required on July 14:
A fresh salad nicoise, perhaps, or a caramelized onion tart and a lemon soufflé. The more adventurous might show up with a steaming pot of bouillabaisse or a platter of crepes made with Grand Marnier.
And of course, champagne is always welcome – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — so that everyone can properly celebrate Bastille Day, the beloved holiday honoring the beginning of the French Revolution.
But Thorpe's annual bash has become much more than an excuse to sample gourmet cuisine made with the three French staples of cheese, cream and butter.
It's a way for
French natives and French wannabes to hold on to traditions and savor a little
me from getting homesick," says Thorpe, a mother of five from
French and listening to French music is a way to retain my heritage and pass it
along to somebody else," she says. "I have friends from
There is little
danger of that, since for the past 18 years, Thorpe has run
country-French living room filled with photos of
On yearly treks
When I joined
her for a Lunch of roast lamb with baby potatoes and carrots at the Paris
Bistro, she had just returned from two weeks in
An only child, Thorpe grew up in an apartment near the Paris Opera, surrounded by beautiful Baroque buildings and open-air flower markets. She never dreamed that she would trade Paris for a high-desert American town, but romance had her packing her bags for Utah at age 25.
convert, she married
As soon as she stepped off the plane, "I was in demand to teach French and translate," she recalls, "so my husband encouraged me to open a school. I didn't think there would be enough interest, but I was wrong."
With dozens of former and current students joining her to sing the French national anthem on Bastille Day, "it's very heartwarming," says Thorpe. "They are learning the French traditions of enjoying life, relaxing, not worrying so much about making money."
Not to mention a few tips on throwing the perfect potluck. "Chips and salsa? No, nobody would dare bring that," says Thorpe with a laugh. "They know better." But potatoes Lyonnaise and fruit with fromage? "Of course," she says. "The more cheese and cream, the better."