The Trouble With Luxury Happy Meals
Being male, and my age, I am not the Nouvelle Cuisine, “perched on a bed of this with just a splash of that” person. Not for me the oversized but basically empty white plate, decorated with a pattern of smears and petals.
To me, and countless other men, that is not the basis of a happy meal in sumptuous surroundings. More, a pretend meal, fiddled to the nth degree. No matter how many flourishes the waiter makes, it hardly leaves me happy.
Call me boorish, ignorant, and insensitive if you must, but I cannot get excited about smears, drips, froths, and foams. If anything, they conjure up things I’d rather not think about when eating, and they reveal everything that’s wrong with high-end food.
In an attempt to impress, so much luxury dining ends up being high farce. Waiters tip-toing around with hushed voices to revere the most high meal. Plates full of air and over-fussed, over-rich dainties, priced high enough to feed a hundred poor. To cap it off, respectful diners receive it all in a hushed, somber silence; like some high-minded food church.
Taking Ruth out to dinner at just such a restaurant last night, I found myself wanting to laugh at every turn. The entree Ruth ordered that came with three ravioli stuffed with mashed peas and decorously served with runny carrot broth poured from a tiny jug by a large waiter. Or the mains minus vegetables, which basically amounted to a well cooked steak with a few chips (fries) and mustard. But done with such solemnity that receiving it felt like taking communion.
Food, good food, should certainly be an experience. But not this. At least, not to me. Food should be fresh, cooked with skill, and served with a generosity of spirit and sociability. If you want a little, enjoy a little. If you want more, well, go ahead.
Compare this to the snobbery of supposedly exclusive food. Consider getting a bean perched on a tower of double-smoked conger eel in aspic, with a reduction of fish stock brushed around the plate in even squiggly patterns. That may be clever but it isn’t a meal. It makes about as much sense as “a delicately balanced three legged bed, complimented by one overstuffed pillow, and a miniature blanket, with just a hint of linen artfully shredded around the bed edges” would to somebody wanting a good night’s sleep.
That’s why, when my dessert minimally called “Chocolate” came, I expected something silly. But what I got took “fiddled food” to a new high. Served before me were two small but perfectly formed pieces of doggy doo-shaped chocolate sitting on a sandy sort of powder. I didn’t laugh aloud but it did look vividly like two turds on a plate of dirt.
Spooning off one of the “turds” was an exercise in mental self-control. But I did it, thinking “Don’t be ridiculous, Feegs. Just quell your imaginative mind and stick to the job at hand.”
Okay, I confess me barking quietly at the table, giving Ruth the giggles, was in poor taste. But when I tasted these ominously firm lumps, the flavor was nose-wrinklingly sour. Rolling these offending articles in the “dirt” produced a gritty, slightly sweetened version of the same thing. Though I tried pressing on, in the end I had to give up. Some things just aren’t meant to be eaten at whatever price.
So when the waiter came around, she politely asked if we enjoyed our desserts. Smiling, I had to confess I didn’t (Australians, by the way almost never say how bad anything really is, so as not to give offense). So when she asked why, I told her the tale of the two turds. Taking one look she immediately agreed, apologized, and said there’d be no charge. Given this dessert treat really did look like something unwelcome on your lawn, I fell to wondering if the chef was secretly making fun of everyone.
Which leads to my point. When food becomes froth and fluff, it ceases to be anything like a happy meal of sustenance and pleasure. Like the Emperor’s new clothes, it becomes an elegant fraud of what real food is meant to be: wholesome, pleasurable, and undeniably satisfying.
But what do you think? What makes a happy meal out for you? Are you a fan of froth and petals? Or do you see things in a different way?
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