Very well, I have said as much before, in a slightly different form. In fact, I've said it 100 times since it was said to me by a Communist delegate at a trade union annual conference on the south coast of England.
He was much too genteel a Communist (this, after all, was a white collar union, the one that used to be called ASTMS) to say it with his mouth full, but he was tucking heartily into lobster, washed down by Chablis and all - my meal included - at his union's expense, as he spoke.
In any case, that rather pleasant evening of 30+ years ago came back to my thoughts as I tackled the Evolution - Tradition menu brought to my terrace table at l'Oustau de Baumanière, one of southern France's most revered restaurants, set magnificently on the edge of the charming village of Les Baux de Provence.
My mission, of course, was entirely professional. Although l'Oustau is owned and run by Jean-André Charial, grandson of the founder Raymond Thuilier, the stars of his kitchen are a couple of brothers who began life in the dusty hills of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. Sylvestre (chef de cuisine) and Jonathan (chef pâtissier) Wahid they may now be, but until 1984, they were known as Shahzad and Jawad.
A few years earlier, their father (last photo) had gone off on a holiday to Europe, drawn by the flickering images he remembered of Robin Hood and war films watched in the Kohat fleapit, and promptly signed up with the French Foreign Legion. And he'd progressed well enough as a soldier to be entitled to bring his family to France. So everyone acquired French prénoms (dad's changing to Henry) and a stirring family tale of integration and self-improvement began.
I wrote not so much about the food the brothers prepare, or the hotel/restaurant they serve, but about their life stories in a piece published by The National, Abu Dhabi on Sunday. En passant, however, I did pluck a few names from the list of past diners: Winston Churchill, Gen de Gaulle, Queen Elizabeth, Clark Gable, the Aga Khan and a couple of rocking knights (Sir Paul and Sir Mick).
As can be seen from clicking on the menu, it was some banquet. M Charial played his part, not only as my host but with his delicious entrees of ravioli de poireaux et foie gras léger nuage aux truffes, as did his late grandfather (people come back year after year demanding favourite dishes he created) and, of course, les frères Wahid.
I have eaten in the Tour d'Argent, the London Ritz, the Jules Vernes high up inside the Eiffel Tower and at Paul Bocuse's Auberge du Pont de Collonges. I've even had, on three or four occasions, the incomparable plateau de fruits de mer served by good friends in Sunderland.
Menu Evolution - Tradition was the equal of them all, save perhaps for those seafood treats on Wearside.