My family is really into food. Like… really into food. Last night at the Hise-Hargis-Lindquist household my step-father served crab cakes with an arugula and white bean salad with blistered shishitos and a kimchi remoulade. Nothing particularly unusual when you’re sharing the table with a professional food blogger and a chef. Every night we eat dinner as a family and often conclude by watching an episode of Chef’s Table or Chopped.
Obviously we are weirdos… but I don’t actually think our interest in food is that far off from the rest of the world. Why do shows like Chopped, Master Chef, The Great British Bake-Off, or Cooked exist if not for this unexplainable obsession with food?
I can get on board with that. Foodporn is a real thing and I pride myself on being independent enough to feed myself, but what I don’t understand is how we get from a home cooked meal to almost cult-like obsession. “Where’s the value? You eat it and it’s done!” I raged at the dinner table one night. We were discussing a friend who was back from a trip to Italy where he paid about $265 to eat at one of the world’s best restaurants.
“How much are tickets to Hamilton?” My step-dad asked.
“How much are…? What?”
“Hamilton. The new musical.”
“I mean… $850 which is insane but it’s different!”
“There’s plot… you take something away intellectually… they are telling me a story and there’s an arc and humor. You don’t just eat it and think about how butter is your favorite food group.”
This prompted a huge discussion and I came away with my mind completely blown. Is it possible for restaurants to provide an experience that is at all comparable to theatre?
Dominique Crenn who is the head chef behind Atelier Crenn would probably agree. Her menu reads like this:
“I touch the earth and play, in its cool milky light
Noir sur Noir
Where the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land
I remember an oceanic feeling
Strolling along the beach, in its whimsically ebullient innocence…”
Do I know what it means intellectually? No, but how many times do I leave a play speechless, but moved nonetheless?
So then, if a tasting menu is a play, then the amuse-bouche served before the meal to awaken your palate is the dramatic question. It hooks into your imagination and tugs. Then we move into the appetizer or rising action. The chef is prepping your palate and building the tension for the climax! The entrée! The main delectable beef of the story. Then there’s the dessert, a comforting dish meant to return the restaurant goers to a new stasis, the resolution of the journey. Sometimes there’s even a digestif, an alcoholic drink served post-meal, around which people gather to discuss their shared experience. It’s the tasting menu’s talkback!
My mother has cried eating fish in a ratatouille-esque moment at dinner, I have cried watching good theatre for similar reasons. The more I open myself up to see the art in unlikely places, the more I am impressed with people’s abilities to put their creativity and need for storytelling into what they love.