Spreading Goodwill All Over The World

Brazilian School Girls  at Cristo Redentor

Brazilian School Girls at Cristo Redentor

Lovely Tree House Lobby, Negril Jamaica

Lovely Tree House Lobby, Negril Jamaica

Apostolic Church Children in Soweto

Apostolic Church Children in Soweto

Gourmet lunch and  Wine Tasting at Mont Rochelle, South Africa

Gourmet lunch and Wine Tasting at Mont Rochelle, South Africa

Victor Verster Prison,  House Arrest for Mandela

Victor Verster Prison, House Arrest for Mandela

These past 3 decades that I’ve been in this travel game has afforded me the opportunity to take some of you with me to experience the rich cultures of foreign lands and to meet the people of those countries  up close and personal –  France, Italy, Amsterdam, Switzerland, Spain, Copenhagen, North Africa,  South Africa, South America, Egypt, Vietnam, Bangkok, Singapore ,Dubai,  Abu Dhabi, The Caribbean Islands and many other distant places.

My mission has been to connect people to people and  to expose those who have not travelled abroad to beautiful memories that will last forever. In doing so, we’ve earned a reputation,  “When Kat’s groups come, they put food on our tables”.  How heartwarming is it  when an African restaurant owner in Paris  who speaks no English, says, ”  Your groups not only make me have a good night but a good 3 weeks”. How touching is it to see a smile that lights up the City of Light on the face of an Indian doorman at our Paris hotel when he’s handed a tip envelope?  Then there is the French woman in the breakfast room who knows our group will always remember her  with a euro or 2 at breakfast when other folks do not and she is always so eager to serve us.  One of our African  maids at our Paris hotel who has been working at this same hotel for 15 years, divorced mother of 4,  speaks no English, it  takes her 1 hr ea way on the train to go to work, told her boss she had something for me, took her meager earnings and presented me with 2 lovely pashminas and a bottle of Chanel Allure.  How special is that?  I cannot forget our guides from Soweto, Rio, Cape Town, Bahia who always manage to show Kat’s groups what others never get to see because of their connections.  And of course, I cannot forget all our drivers, hotel staff, restaurant owners in Jamaica who love to see us coming and take such good care of us.

To all my past travelers these 3 decades and future travelers yet to come; a big thank you from the depths of my heart for taking this journey with me.  Paris 2015, Asia 2015, Montreux & North Sea Jazz Fests 2015 are now accepting reservations. We still have space for 2014 Jamaica, 2014 Italy and 2014 Dubai. There just may be another Greek Isles cruise for 2015 in the works  — Stay tuned!

To Market, To Market, Then A Cookin’ With Class Experience

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Sue Stirring a The Creme for the Brûlée

Sue Stirring The Creme for the Brûlée

Chef Bryan

Chef Bryan

The Dining Begins

The Dining Begins

Baby Turnips Flamin' In Apple Brandy

Baby Turnips Flamin’ In Apple Brandy

Duck Breast  Encrusted in Pistachios and Walnuts

Duck Breast Encrusted in Pistachios and Walnuts

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Chef Bruce Torching Creme Brûlée

Chef Bruce Torching Creme Brûlée

The Lavendar Took This Creme Brûlée  To Another Level

The Lavendar Took This Creme Brûlée To Another Level

Four of us; myself, Marcia, Sue and Bruce  signed up for this $250 per person, 5-6 hour  class today. We took the metro up to the 18th Arrondissement to meet Chef Bryan. We were very early so we waited. Picture this:  4 black people sitting on a bench all wearing sunglasses.  I guess we looked like a motley crew for real.  First stop was at the boulangerie for bread and a quick lesson on the fermentation.    We not only visited the outdoor markets for meat, vegetables, and cheeses but also the fish monger.  At each market we learned  so much about the various products and then our  class of 8 came together to plan the perfect menu; something we all could deal with. Actually I prefer for the chef to already have selections picked out but this worked out fine. When we entered the school,  the  smell of  baked breads filled our nostrils because the French Bread making class was in session next to our classroom.   Part way through our class,  the chef from the baking class brought over a plate of freshly baked focaccia — yummy! 

We had fish roll ups for appetizers — a flat white fish rolled up with fresh herbs then baked, a salad,  and our main course was  duck breast encrusted with ground pistachios and walnuts.  It was accompanied with an onion jam , sautéed baby turnips cooked with Apple brandy then tossed with fresh spinach leaves, followed by a cheese course of  which we shopped for at the market.  Finally , dessert  was a  creme brûlée with a hint of Lavendar which was very different.   Each student  had their turn at  torching the top of theirs.  Some were better than others .  I didn’t think I had the skill so Marcia was gracious enough to do mine for me. 

When all was prepared  the group dined sufficiently.  The red and white wines seemed to never stop flowing.  I hated to eat and run but I had things to do. The group paid attention getting there so I knew they could handle the metro back to the Louis Vuitton landmark on the Champs Élysées.  

As I bring this blog to a close I must mention 2 of my very enjoyable dining experiences.  Dedie, my assistant for the last 2 weeks, and myself  went to Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecote at Porte Maillot,   one of her favorite eating joints in Paris.  The line is usually out the door, no reservations, no menu needed ——everybody is getting the same thing;  steak, fries and salad with walnuts.  All they want to know is how you want your steak cooked. They bring  a portion and keep the remaining portion warm until you’re ready for it.  It’s phenomenal!   If you can’t make it to Paris, there is one in Manhattan and 3 in London. 

Tuesday, Sue and I had a taste for some good guacamole and a good margarita so off we went  to Fajitas in the Latin Quarter.  This place never disappoints me and had we needed to, we could have walked with the margarita.  I had the chicken fajita and Sue had the chicken  enchilada. Both servings were more than generous and this place run by an American has no problem giving you a to go container.   

If you are planning to join us in the future, please know that  BPD tries to leave a few days in the week for individuals to do their own thing. There are so many things to do and see in Paris  We offer “suggestions” with a description. These options are not a part of our tour so if you are unhappy with your choice or you fail to read the description then that’s on you.  Please choose  responsibly, be it Amsterdam, London, The Champagne Region,  Geneva, Cooking Classes,  or Josephine Baker’s Mansion.  Inbox me if you are interested in getting on the wait list for April 15-23 or April 22-30, 2015.  

A bientot !

 

 

 

The Black Madonna and a Visit to Josephine Baker’s Mansion

The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna

One of the nuns

One of the nuns

Going to La Chapelle

Going to La Chapelle

Religious Order

Religious Order

Kat at the Mansion

Kat at the Mansion

The Mansion, Le Beau Chene

The Mansion, Le Beau Chene

The Sprawling Grounds

The Sprawling Grounds

Outdoor Bandstand

Outdoor Bandstand

Chicquita's Cage

Chicquita’s Cage

The Aviary

The Aviary

The Restored Foyer

The Restored Foyer

Restored Staircase -- 4 Floors

Restored Staircase — 4 Floors

Indoor Fountain

Indoor Fountain

Part of Living Room

Part of Living Room

Her Bedroom, New Floor

Her Bedroom, New Floor

Stainless Steel Bathtub

Stainless Steel Bathtub

Face Basin/Counter

Face Basin/Counter

Today was my off day but some members in our week 3 tour spent the morning and afternoon with Ricki Stevenson of Black Paris Tours so of course,  after Robin and I have spent 7 years taking guests 5 hrs by train from Paris to  the Chateau in Sarlat, where Ms Baker raised  her Rainbow Tribe, I was anxious and excited to see what her mansion was like –a mere 20 minutes from Paris.  

We were picked up at the hotel at 10 am  where we were joined by 6 of Ricki’s guests including the infamous Randy Garrett of the famed “Randy and Jays Barbeque ” which became “Randy’s Rib Joint” and both were  tres popular Paris eating spots back  in the day. Lord knows I spent many a night hanging out eating and drinking good at his place in the early 80’s.  We had Hotlanta, Harlem, Miami, and  of course our west coast aggregation in the house.  A very cool group that was formed impromptu.

We had to hurry  to  the first stop because we needed to arrive before Mass began.  We visited the black Madonna. It was an awesome experience to be there on this  Palm Sunday.  The chapel had already begun to fill up when we arrived. We were all solemn and respectful as some sat, some stood, some prayed and others snapped photos.  Afterwards some got candles, palm leaves and received a blessing from the Priest.  

Soon we were on our way to the Marche’ in Neuilly where shoppers had a great time browsing and buying. There were fresh meats, fish, fruits and vegetables on one side and on the other everything from beautiful cashmere sweaters to tiny leather skirts to shoes, beautiful, soft leather handbags and other lovely accessories.

Lunch would be 2 blocks away at a quaint Swiss-themed restaurant, Le Chalet. My choice was swordfish with steamed veggies while others had steak, fries and sipped red wine. Lunch conversations were animated amongst the newly formed acquaintances; mainly travel related including hearing Randy talk about his travels across the Sahara Desert and more recently Madagascar. Randy has been living in Paris since ’72. He has seen folks come and go in the Black Paris community and he’s always down for the talk. He is quite a colorful character.

After lunch we boarded our bus to Le Vesinet to visit Le Beau Chene, Josephine Baker’s Mansion. She was 19 when she arrived in Paris and by the time she was 23 she had purchased this magnificent mansion where she would entertain heads of state, President Charles de Gaulle and numerous celebrities and entertainers.

The current owner, Phillipe Beaudry, an engaging, soft spoken gentleman, met us inside the gates, gave us a tour of the grounds, passing what was once the stables, fountains and ponds, the open bandstand where bands and orchestras would perform for her guests, the aviary for her exotic birds, her greenhouse and the huge cage where she kept her pet Cheetah, Chiquita. Imagine this beautiful, rich, black woman strolling the boulevard with her pet cheetah.

Finally we entered the mansion which was built in 1891, and listened to Phillipe tell us what prompted him to purchase the mansion and commit to the very costly undertaking of renovating; first beginning with the electrical and water system, then replacing floors, bathroom fixtures, chandeliers, etc. we actually thought we would only see the library and a salon, however, we were treated to the viewing of at least 8 rooms including her bedroom and a bathroom with a 2.5 ft deep stainless steel bathtub —–incredible.

This was a most interesting and very full day; my day off, however, I was looking forward to a wonderful dinner at Le Speakeasy along with some Chicago blues. It was quite an enjoyable evening but I can’t stay anywhere very long so by 1130pm Kat St Thomas Williams called it a night.

News flash !! Reservations for April 2015 have been coming in at an alarming rate and both weeks are now WAITlISTED. Yes, this is before paperwork has even been sent out. Let me know if you would like a spot on our wait list.

An Afternoon in Le Vesinet

On our way to Le Vesinet

On our way to Le Vesinet

In Front of Villa La Riante

In Front of Villa La Riante

Kat Toasting it Up

Kat Toasting it Up

One of the most exquisite suburbs, located 20 minutes west of Paris, lies Le Vesinet, known for its lavish homes, parks, lakes and rivers. It was here that Josephine Baker  purchased her mansion, “Le Beau Chene” in 1929.  Even though Sunday is a free day for everybody; I couldn’t pass up this excursion with Monique and Tom of Discover Paris!  

We had a complement of 13 guests that signed up for this activity. Today was the annual Paris Marathon so the town was alive with thousands of of people.  Our meeting time on the Champs Élysées was at 1130 am , the race had been in progress for a couple of hours so there was no congestion. Tom, a great photographer, took a group photo with the Arc de  Triomphe in the backdrop..

Kristie and Jim, owners of Villa La Riante, were expecting us for lunch at 1230pm.  Upon entering the villa ,aromas of Thanksgiving filled the air.  The table was set beautifully and an incredible spread was prepared for us.  It took them 5 years to renovate this villa that was built in 1869 and it is now a magnificent Bed and Breakfast.  We began with an aperitif —–a kir, followed by an assortment of hors d’oeurves, followed by a salad of mixed baby greens, cranberries, and nuts.  The main course consisted of baked Cornish hens stuffed with foie gras accompanied by wild rice and mushrooms and carrots.  Next came an assortment if the best cheeses. Red and white wines flowed abundantly and my 3 lovely couples from Las Vegas kept my table of 10 well entertained  with animated conversation.  Dessert was a slice of decadent chocolate and Kailua cake, all prepared by our gracious hostess, Kristie.  This is the place if you want that bed and breakfast experience and still be close to the city 

Wow! What a culinary delight.  We all enjoyed the afternoon tremendously and those continuing on would visit the grounds of  Josephine Baker’s mansion and stroll and learn about this lovely town. 

C’est Mon Plaisir ( It’s My Pleasure)

This was truly a Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday) for the Black Paris Divas’ group. The morning began with a leisurely walk from the trendy 4 star boutique hotel in the upscale 16th arrondissement to the museum Quai Branly (quai is pronounced kay and means along the river; as this fairly new museum which opened in 2006 is situated along the Seine river.  It features indigenous art, cultures and civilizations  from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. It became the project of then president, Jacques Chirac.

It was such a warm, lovely day as we strolled past the “Flame of Liberty” which symbolizes the Franco-American friendship. It has since become the unofficial memorial for Princess Diana who died in 1997 in the tunnel beneath the Pont de l’ Alma. As we crossed the bridge, I stopped to admire the boats cruising down the Seine river along with the majestic Eiffel Tower in the not so far distance.

One of the current exhibitions on display is  “L’Atlantique Noire”,  A negro anthology.  They are known to always have interesting exhibits and collections. A few years ago there was an exhibit called “100 years of Jazz”. It was phenomenal! Yes, my friends, right here in the City of Light.

Since everyone is not into museums plus after a couple of days in Paris, folks start working on their personal agendas so only half the group went to the museum. In the future, we plan to allow everyone a choice of either Quai Branly or the Louvre to visit on their own. After dropping them off this day, I took a taxi back up to the Champs, had some lunch, topped it off with a wonderful lemon tart, sat on one of the benches on the boulevard and did some serious people watching.

Tonight dinner was at C’est Mon Plaisir”, a delightful French restaurant with a super cozy ambiance. The evening began with an “amuse bouche” – translated: Something that makes the mouth feel happy in anticipation of the courses to follow. This is always a gift from the chef and it gives the chef an opportunity to show off his creativity. Ours was indeed different. It was a soup of pureed asparagus, celery & leeks served in a demitasse. My appetizer was smoked salmon with a light whipped cream and mustard seeds, my main course was cod roasted with teriyaki sauce and sesame oil on a bed of a vegetable mix and for dessert I chose the clafoutis (kla foo tee) of Pineapple which was like the best warm bread pudding with bits of pineapple that I’ve ever tasted. All of the choices were great and I so look forward to the coming weeks so I can taste some of the others.
Dinner was leisurely and service did not disappoint. It was absolutely on point. The group was all dolled up in their jazzy numbers in anticipation of our signature “Paris by Night” in limos, 4 super stretch no less. We had a professional photographer on deck snapping photos as our guests stepped into their respective limos. Mes amis, (my friends) this is the only way BPD rolls. Imagine, being in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a handsome chauffeur at the wheel as you and your friends sip champagne and watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle like diamonds in the night.

It had been a very full day for me. It was now after midnight, I was tired but I had a smile on my face as the 4 limos rolled up in front of my apartment on the Champs Élysées. I stepped out then watched the limos drive away as I disappeared onto the busy boulevard.

Oh La La….Par-ee

Bonjour mes amis,
I have been in this fair city for 5 days and the weather has been absolutely magnificent. After everyone got settled in and rested up, our private bus picked us up to go to dinner at Le Babylone. Its a French West Indian restaurant that I’ve been frequenting since the early 90’s and they never disappoint. The décor, our warm reception and most of all the food is tres magnifique!. Pictures of past celebrity guests adorn the walls —- Snoop, Danny Glover, Marvin Gaye, Wil I AM, models, and right there with the rest of them you will even see yours truly — Kat.

Day 2 the group met with Ricki Stevenson of Black Paris Tours who would enlighten them with a wealth of knowledge on blacks that have come to and made their marks here in Paris. After a brief orientation by Ricki, we were picked up by our private bus and treated to a full days tour of the sights. Ricki led the morning tour of the historical sights and after lunch the tour was devoted to the African American portion, ending in Little Africa. Most were amazed at the facts they learned. At the end of the day, the group rested and then they were ready for part 2 at the jazz club where the performer for the evening was a blue eyed blues brother who could play his guitar just like ringing a bell.

Saturday and Sunday are 2 of the 3 free days the group has to do their own thing. Some went to London, some to Amsterdam (both less than 3 hrs away) some spent a day in Le Vesinet the town Josephine Baker lived in while working in Paris. She had a mansion there which is currently under renovations. Monique Wells and her husband Tom of Discover Paris! arranged this great afternoon tour. The group had a wonderful lunch spread laid out for them at Villa La Riante. Sunday night is always a good night to hit Le Speakeasy for drinks and appetizers or even dinner. They usually have a brother from Chicago, Boney Fields jammin’ there. Sundays find a lot of Paris restaurants closed so when you make the trip on your own make certain you know what’s for dinner on a Sunday. Le Babylone Bis is a good standby —- open most of the time.

Monday was our shopping excursion for those that wanted to do souvenir and department store shopping. Robin with great talents such as being totally fluent in French and having studied at the Sorbonne University, being our “shopping Diva” kept the shoppers under her watchful eye and was there for them for whatever need may have arisen.

We’ve replaced our last African restaurant with Le Dogon. The Dogon is a tribe in the country of Mali, where you will find the city of Timbuktu. The décor of the restaurant is typically African with masks, skins and prints on the wall. Here you will find a tropical setting. The fare is from various west African countries (Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast).
Choices tonight were either Thieboudienne (pronounced ceebu jen) a traditional fish dish from Senegal prepared with onions, carrots, cabbage in a tomato sauce served with white rice
or Poulet Yassa (pronounced poo lay yah sah) also from Senegal is a marinated chicken dish prepared with onions and lemon and served with rice. The owner had a Griot from West Africa come in playing a 21 string instrument. Dessert was presented in old fashioned sundae glasses and was a delightful sorbet of mango and passion fruit, so refreshing to the palate.

Tuesday was a another beautiful day in Paris. After taking the group to the museum Quai Branly to see the exhibit, “L’Atlantique Noire” A Negro Anthology, I headed back up to my studio apartment on the Champs Elysees where I sat at a sidewalk café, Le Deauville. I had lunch, enjoyed the warm shirt sleeve weather and people watched for as long as I wanted. I’ve stayed at over 15 different Paris apartments but this one by far has the best location; just down from the famous Fouquets Café, H&M, next door to Starbucks and Sephora, upstairs from MAC Cosmetics and Biodini Shoes. The unit is on the 5th floor with security cameras and everything one would need in an apartment.

This afternoon was our rendezvous with author Jake Lamar. A brother, an author who grew up in the Bronx, went to Harvard, worked for Time magazine, came to Paris on a Fellowship for a year and has been here 21 years. Jake comes to our hotel and discusses his 6 books and his life in Paris as a black man. Oh the group so enjoys this time with Jake.

Tomorrow: C’est Mon Plaisir (It’s My Pleasure)