“Abstenir de chaussures à talons.” My recent dinner invitation to La Grande Table des Lausannois 2016 included specific instructions to not wear high heels. The reason? The location for this extraordinary meal, organized by six restaurateurs from Lausanne — an empty swimming pool!
La Grande Table des Lausannois, one of the many foodie events organized with support from Lausanne à Table, hosted its 5th annual event on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Each year, the team chooses a different location to hold the event. These unusual venues are often closed to the public or dedicated to a use not typically associated with fine dining. In previous years, an orangerie, a former SBB hall, a firehouse and a former chocolate factory all served as the sites for this event. Participation is limited — you have to get your ticket early before the event sells out!
Along with unusual locations each year, these dinners involve chefs from Lausanne — who might otherwise be considered competitors — joining together to plan and prepare a special meal. With a sense of humor, and an exceptional amount of skill, these chefs deliver an exciting meal as a team.
My Dinner in a Swimming Pool
That evening — wearing my flat sandals with rubber soles — I descended the stairs from the metro station and found the Piscine de Mon-Repos with a beautiful view of the mountains across the Lac Léman. I had been to this location only once before, for an art exhibition designed to help introduce a new planned museum complex for the city. Last time, I saw white spinning art installations out on the lawn. This time, the same lawn was used to host an outdoor apéritif, as well as dessert at the conclusion of the meal, for La Grande Table des Lausannois.
During the outdoor apéritif, I tried to eat as many of the passed appetizers as possible! I had nettle soup, grilled octopus with potatoes, veal tartare served on a crispy black curry cracker and a savory soy-based panna cotta with ginger and carrots. Everything I tried was delicious! I paired these starters with Chasselas from the Ville de Lausanne and La Blanche beer from Brasserie artisinale du Jorat.
After I filled up on appetizers, the chefs and servers — dressed sort of like lifeguards, with t-shirts from Lausanne’s “Service des Sports,” and in some cases, flip-flops and whistles around their necks — told us to take our seats. We entered the building and walked down the stairs into a bright blue pool equipped with long tables and white plastic chairs.
The atmosphere throughout the event was casual and fun. Once seated, my fellow tablemates and I started to feel water being sprayed at us, from an unknown location. Not long after, I started noticing people nearby carrying water pistols and spray bottles. We were in a pool, so people took advantage of it! Plus, it was quite warm inside the building, so I didn’t mind a spritz or two of cool water. A few times, I recognized Beach Boys tunes playing in the background.
Even though the atmosphere was casual and playful, just as during the outdoor apéritif, the food being served to us inside the pool didn’t resemble anything you would find at a poolside snack bar…
After the appetizers, came five separate and distinct dinner courses. Dishes like omble chevalier with fromage blanc, stuffed pasta shells, duck with cherry tomatoes and chanterelles (my favorite!) and a millefeuille made of cheese. My only suggestion for next year would be to consider serving smaller portions for the dinner. I wanted to eat my entire serving of several dishes — and I have a big appetite, but I just couldn’t finish everything and felt awful having to send back uneaten food to the kitchen!
After all the savory dishes, however, I still had room for dessert — as always. We retreated outside to cooler temperatures and dark skies — as well as honking car horns in celebration of France’s Euro ’16 semi-final victory… I had to catch the last train of the night back home, so I quickly grabbed a Sucette glacée croquante — an ice cream lollipop with a crunchy white chocolate shell — before departing. Even though I felt extremely full and satisfied, I was sorry to miss the final dessert course of mignardises, such as macarons, financiers and tartelettes à la raisinée.
“Lausanne always has been kind of cool and cutting edge, right?” A friend wrote that to me in response to an email where I mentioned my plans to dine in a swimming pool. Overall, I had a great evening in this city, at an event that must be attended on an empty stomach! La Grande Table des Lausannois offers delicious food that’s artfully prepared in intriguing locations that you may not otherwise have access to — at least for this year, unless you’re swimming.