The first time I saw Jim Haynes it was when my dad leaned forwards to turn up the sound of a new After Eights advert and cried ‘That’s Jim!” He’d been a customer at the Paperback Bookshop, started by Jim, in the sixties. He describes a visit to the bookshop as more like a social event than a purchase.
Jim cofounded the Traverse Theatre and the Writer’s Conference, which later transformed into the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and later moved to Paris teaching Media Studies and Sexual Politics at the University of Paris.
He’s lived in Paris ever since and when a house guest offered to cook for Jim and his friends the precursor to his weekly dinner parties started. Over thirty years later more than 100,000 people from around the world have dined at Jim’s on a Sunday night. Every week he opens his home to nearly a hundred people, most of them strangers to him and each other, and invites them to enjoy good food and better conversation.
I have been lucky enough to attend four dinner parties, so far, and stay with Jim for two weeks. I have fond memories of helping the cooks prepare a meal big enough for one hundred people with just one or two to help in a small kitchen stocked with catering sized equipment. I was taught to separate eggs for the first time before separating all 48 of the yolks the trays of trifle required. I scrubbed potatoes and chopped chocolate and at one point ended up serving when a certain Icelandic volcano’s eruption resulted in the Irishman who often serves being stranded at home on the Emerald Isle. What made the experience so incredible wasn’t the food or my first real taste of cooking that would later become a passion. It was the people I was surrounded by. Each one from a different place, with a different background and a different character but somehow all coming together into one seamless evening.
When I returned to Paris two weeks ago I took my friend to Jim’s party. We slipped through the gate into the long lane lined with ateliers and then eased our way through the chattering, multicultural crowd to reach the door.
“Hi, I’m Jim.” He smiled as we entered, then suddenly recognised me and cried “Oh, my God!” He ticked our names off on his guest list and introduced us to everyone in the room.
As the evening progresses you can always hear Jim crying, “Who doesn’t know Antonia?” or “Joanna, meet Aude!” before encouraging said guests to talk and get to know one another. He somehow manages to turn a crowd of strangers into groups of friends engaged in passionate debate and exchanging contact details in no time, and build an indescribable atmosphere to support them. Perhaps it’s the way he goes about introducing people or maybe it’s the fact that he seems to radiate hospitality and enthusiasm. Whichever it is I’m sure people have made lifelong friends or met future partners at his parties. Eating with others has always been a social affair but Jim takes this to a whole other level. This incredible person is a one-man social network; facebook has nothing on Jim Haynes.
This soup was served at the first dinner party I attended and sounds bizarre but tastes lovely.
Broccoli and Ginger Soup (serves 3)
500g broccoli, roughly chopped
400ml chicken stock
10-15g fresh ginger, finely chopped
Put all the ingredients in a medium sized saucepan and boil until the broccoli is cooked.
Use an immersion blender to blend the mixture into a thick soup then serve.