I spent last Christmas among Dutch family members. As is customary with them, everyone is responsible for making one dish and I was in charge of dessert. After much thinking and research, I set my heart on making a charlotte cake. A charlotte is a cousin of tiramisu; it is a creamy, moist, layered cake. Unlike tiramisu, it is most often made with fruit and must be presented in a bell shape, which calls for a bit of pastry acrobatics.
When the charlotte's big moment came close, I turned it upside on its plate, praying it would hold itself up, and put the fresh roses on top. I don't want to brag, but frankly it was gorgeous. That's when Dutch practicality really got in the way of French panache. My host insisted on putting a blue plastic cutting board under my precious cake as she feared for her tablecloth when I would serve it. I was floored. I felt not just disappointed but deeply insulted too. After so much care and work, the tablecloth took precedence over the beauty of my cake. I was far too polite to say anything so the matter was not taken further, but it was hard to digest.
To me, it was a vivid example of how food and the rituals around it are highly culturally sensitive matters - something you hear a lot studying here, though I'd never felt it so personally before. I've now realised how differently the French and the Dutch see things.
Emilie Cole from France, MSc Organic Agriculture