If You Like Food … !

August 20, 2014

I was having a drink Wednesday evening with my friend Stephen Caine. The chatter wandered, aided by a decent dose of very fine, very cold gin. At a point in time, probably about two-thirds of the way into the conversation, we hit our marks. (Ever notice how most any discussion has its really important dialogue during the last 30% of the time, plus or minus. Almost like a law of nature!)

And what were our marks? Well, Stephen shared being at Woodstock for one night. Cold, smelly, wet, but an experience never to be forgotten. Or encountered/replicated again! And it’s that last part that mattered, as we wandered into the realm of “you can’t trap light in a jar,” experience anything again the way you did the first time, etc.

The concept has fascinated me for many years. We, all of us, want to go home again, whether home was a first love, a great concert, seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, or an amazing meal! (Back to the last one in a few paragraphs!) We all want to feel good, and if feeling good means reliving something we remember fondly, we’re there. And almost always disappointed, for it’s not “what’s her name” or Three Dog Night that captured us me; no, it was being in love—or whatever love was at 13 or 14—and being at a rock-n-roll concert at age 11. And the Grand Canyon? Amazing, and I’m sure I’d have a different experience if I hiked in, but for standing near the lodges on the South Rim, no other time has matched my first time.

Which brings me to Thomas Keller and food! (Rush Limbaugh managed to tie Ferguson, MO to Benghazi, and for me it’s “anything” and food.) Thomas Keller owns Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, which includes The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, and Ad Hoc. Amazing restaurants, by all accounts, although I’ve never eaten at any of them. On the bucket list, and I do have three Keller cookbooks. All include tough recipes, but I use them for inspiration and have made a recipe or two “strictly by the book.”

Thomas Keller is one of my heroes. His dedication to excellence matters, but that’s not the main reason why I admire him. Rather, I have focused on a couple of passages in The French Laundry Cookbook.

First point? Making people happy is “the real purpose of striving toward perfection.” Down with that, for sure; it’s really what I live for, deep down!!!

Second point (and the big takeaway)?

The initial bite is fabulous. The second bite is great. But by the third bite–with many more to come–the flavors begin to deaden, and the diner loses interest. It’s like getting into a hot bath or jumping into a cold pool. At first, the temperature is shocking, but after a few minutes, you get so used to it that you don’t even notice it.

The man understands life. How do we make the third bite fresh and new? Mr. Keller knows what he’s doing with food, with his fine dining establishments focused on tasting menus that offer a bite or two, and no more, many times over. And with food, changing it up can makes things work.

With work and love, though, things get trickier. But, if you understand the issue and stay focused, solutions often appear. Changing routines, getting away, leaving old personas aside for a day or so; they’re all ways to liven up life!

So, before I return to meals, I’ve got art. (My art is meals, yes! And you’re complaining?) Here’s lucky lady Megan Willett, reporting for businessinsider.com, on What It’s Like to Eat a $445-Per-Person, 5-Hour Dinner at The French Laundry in Napa Valley. And here’s Kevin Hsu from kevineats.com, recounting meals at Ad Hoc and Bouchon. Finally, and I just ran across this piece today at thebolditalic.com, titled A Four-Year-Old Reviews The French Laundry. One of the most charming things I’ve ever read!

So here’s the “back to” on amazing meals. I’m working on something that may or may not come to fruition, involving food. To make it happen though, I need a data pool of “best meal ever” or “best thing I ever ate” remembrances. They’re memories and I know they probably can’t be recreated, but I have readers—thank you all—and you all eat, and many of you care deeply about what you eat. Spill! You can comment directly if you like, post on the Mark Rubin Writes page on Facebook, or send me an email at markdrubin@gmail.com. Thanks.

P.S. Please let me know whether I can share your remembrance and, if so, whether I can identify you.

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