“This is always the law for the interesting…. If one just knows how to surprise, one always wins the game.”
— Soren Kierkegaard
I have this vision of a perfect meal. But if I’m bring totally honest, what food is served has no bearing whatsoever on its perfection. Don’t get me wrong: all other things being equal, I want to eat my favorite foods (and as I sat here I struggled to think of anything in particular that fits that category, except for duck breast. And scallops. And butternut squash.)
But the reality is my most memorable meals weren’t made so by the quality of the food, but by the people, the occasions, the circumstances around them. Making an impromptu lunch of Brie and cherry jam with Grace and Johnny. Teaching Joel how to cook scallops with jalepeno-orange dressing at my aunt’s house so he could make them for his bride. Cooking the trout Jared had caught that morning in the Kinnickinnick. For every person I love, I have a memory of cooking for them.
Nothing quite brings people together like food. A love of making food is a love of people. As the great chef Escoffier said, “Cooking is a science and an art, and the man who puts all his heart into satisfying his fellow men deserves consideration.”
Now, obviously there is a little more to it than that. The challenge of perfecting a technique holds great appeal to me. The intellectual and creative toll of inventing a new dish or flavor pairing has proved endlessly fascinating. Can I vertically separate a drink into Gryffindor colors? Can I make a marshmallow that doesn’t toast? Or, for that matter, S’mores as good at home as around a campfire? (Maybe? Stay tuned!)
But ultimately, what it comes right down to is this. I only cook what I hope to one day share with someone. The great pleasure of the chef is satisfying his guest. So it makes me wonder if the perfect meal is one where the guests are so entranced by the food they forget to talk, or so ensnared in conversation they forget to eat.