— From the pages of FLL#35
New Holland native, Maurice Gatto, speaks about his time in France and life in Quebec while filming “Un Souper Presque Parfait” (“An Almost Perfect Dinner”).
Not everyone is mentally equipped to attend college immediately after graduating high school. “College” means piles of heavy books, half listening to long-winded lectures, and undertaking insurmountable stacks of homework assignments. On the other hand, not everyone is willing to uproot their entire life and move to France, either. But that’s exactly what now 41- year old New Holland Native, Maurice Gatto, did at the young age of 18.
Maurice became close with a French exchange student, Bernard, at Garden Spot High School. After graduating, Bernard asked Maurice to come live with his family for a year in France. Through the French exchange program, Maurice had to take yet another senior year of high school. He occupied some random jobs, such as picking grapes for wine and champagne. About a week in, the young men both became ill from the food they were eating. Having made good money, they hitchhiked their way from above Paris to northern France, cash in hand, over the course of three days.
Maurice then transitioned from the fields into retail. His three years of French equated to absolutely nothing when he moved there, and he didn’t understand much, but he survived. After two months, and having virtually one friend who spoke English (Bernard), he began to think and even dream in French.
“My life is now ninety-five percent in French. Sometimes I find myself struggling to find the right word in English.” The real culture shock, Maurice says, happened in the summer of 1993 when he moved back home. “My mom said I had an accent,” he laughs. It was difficult to adapt to the American life he had left just years before.
Maurice then lived in Lancaster for several years, working for a company as a telemarketing inside sales representative involving Quebec accounts which required fluency in both French and English. He moved to Toronto for five and a half years, still working for the same company. In that time he also met the apple of his eye, a Quebec girl named Mathilde. He eventually convinced his job to create a position for him in Quebec, and it turned out to be the perfect transition which further enriched his adult life.
“Everything out of life that I really enjoyed and had been seeking after my year in France, I found in Quebec,” he says with nostalgia in his voice.
Maurice and Mathilde now live in Montreal together. Although television had not been part of their daily routine, they did grow an addiction to a show called “Un Souper Presque Parfait” (“An Almost Perfect Dinner”). The show, which is considered a reality t.v. game show, follows five new individuals each week as they cook dinner for each other in their own homes. The five people, all strangers, get rated by one another and at the end of the week, a winner is chosen with a prize of $2,000. Maurice applied for the show, not actually thinking he would make the cut. To his surprise, he was accepted and scheduled as a contestant.
The show’s concept is based on people who are confident in the kitchen but not chefs; the contestants are your ordinary, everyday people. The winner must be hospitable, making their guests feel as comfortable as possible from the moment they arrive and through three courses: an appetizer, a main dish, and (of course) dessert. What made Maurice most nervous was the possibility of a harmonious blend of personalities, or total friction and awkwardness. Thankfully, Maurice’s group blended well, and they were constantly joking around and laughing throughout the week. Even though filming occurs from 6 p.m. to midnight, the footage edits down to just thirty minutes of showtime.
Each contestant is assigned a night of the week to host the rest of the cast. Maurice’s night was Thursday. “It was perfect, because I definitely didn’t want Monday. That’s when you meet everyone for the first time. I was fortunate to have my dinner later in the week,” he says. Maurice’s ultimate goal was to create a family meal with excellent service (pulling from his years of experience as a server). And so, his filming began at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Let’s review the menu and what happened with each course…
Appetizer: Pureed Cauliflower with Scallops and Bacon
“Mathilde was so sweet. She organized the refrigerator for me so I could pull from it easily in the order of each course. But somehow, we had two bags of sprouts, one new (which I was supposed to use) and one old and wilted.” And which one did he choose? The wilted one. However, everyone seemed to enjoy the first course.
Entrée: Spaghetti and Meatballs
“My nana made the absolute best meatballs on the planet. She took the recipe to the grave with her, so my four older brothers and I each think we have formulated the most identical recipe. This is what I decided to make for my main course. The image of her stirring the big pot of meatballs with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth is ingrained in my head. The big joke is that the ash is the secret ingredient. So, I made what I think is the closest recipe to my nana’s for my dinner guests.” Normally he would have made his own pasta, but he used store bought pasta, which (in his words) he f***ed up. “I simply forgot about it. I placed the pasta in boiling water, half submerged and half exposed. By the time I realized it, the submerged half was cooked while the other half was still rigid.”
Dessert: Pumpkin-Orange Pie
“The one thing you’re allowed to do is pre-make a pie crust. I had my dough in a ball, ready to go, but when I unwrapped a tacky, sticky mess, I knew something was not right. At this point I was trying to play everything off, but as I spread the dough into the pan all I could think was, This is totally not right. I still talked to the camera as if nothing was wrong. At one point, as I was doing other things around the kitchen, one of the staff members asked how my pie crust was doing. I was like a deer in the headlights; I opened up the oven and the smoke detector went off. The crust was black and burnt. I had no choice but to make another one.” And the second one was even worse than the first.
Even though Maurice had a few hiccups during his dinner, his quality service and being present with the guests really paid off. It was obvious to the guests that he had experience in serving, and they were pleased with both his food, his hospitality, and his presence as the host during their meal. Friday came, and a silver platter with a scroll underneath was unveiled to reveal the winner.
So, how did he do?
Maurice came in second place.
“I was stressed the entire time, but it was a beautiful experience. I made new friends and the show helped me integrate more into Quebec culture.” Despite his placement, Maurice is now considered a fan favorite. If he gets enough public votes, he will have the chance to compete against four more people!
Many of us make decisions with no idea of the outcome, and it can be scary. Maurice chose to leave his life in America to experience another culture and become immersed in it, and through it he obtained fulfilling experiences which he now centers his life around.