It was so quiet; you could hear a pin drop. Chef Richard walked me to my table for the remainder of “dinner” (it was really around noon, but we’d be pretending). He then dove right into a story about his life and everything leading up to this moment. The menu I’d be tasting would be a take on his life in prison and all he endured. I had to concentrate on his pronunciation, given the accent and speech impediment made it difficult to understand every single word. Also, some of the words he used aren’t commonly used in American English (for example, bloke). After the brief introduction, he walked back into the kitchen and assertively called for “Service!” A poised petite young woman walked side by side with the reappearing chef, holding a small plate which she passed to him once they arrived at my table. He then placed the plate in front of me and explained it was a caviar-topped quail egg. “In jail,” he clumsily began “I’d collect pigeon eggs to later use in the kitchen. Obviously, we didn’t have caviar there. This is just an interpretation.” Note: every dish that came out of the kitchen was placed in front of me and then taken away for the “beauty shot.” The camera guys would shoot several takes before it was returned to me, often causing the food to significantly cool off.
My thoughts: The egg looks smaller than most I’ve seen before, but hey…..caviar! This could never compare to a Thomas Keller caviar appetizer, but then again…apples and oranges. Shoot! Where do I place the knife? Why am I forgetting this when I’ve done this a million times! It tasted like, wait for it, a regular hard boiled egg and overly salted caviar. This might be tougher than I thought. How do I comment on this without lying or hurting this chef’s feelings?
What I said & did: Careful to not be quick to judge or say anything embarrassing and fully aware the cameras were focused solely on me, I commented on the obvious: “What’s not to like about eggs and caviar? ” I think I might have used the words “good,” “creamy,” and “salty” too.
The second amuse bouche came out almost immediately. For this one, he took a seat next to me. He spoke kindly, almost coyly, and appeared wide-eyed waiting for my reaction. He mentioned a steady diet of beans when he was in prison. Finding ways to season the beans for the population was always a challenge. He name-dropped inmate names as if I knew of them. In front of me sat four-square-inch pieces of toast with a single bean on top of each, seasoned differently.
What I thought: Beans? Really? Is this toast buttered at least? Let me not be quick to judge. To be fair, I’ve been to Alinea twice and Achatz has presented some pretty wild concepts I ended up loving. Maybe it’s incredible! Shouldn’t it be on a thin cracker at least so as to highlight the bean and not the toast? Oh boy, it does taste mostly like toast and overwhelms the bean. Friggin, toast, and beans. Whippidyfriggindo. But he’s so excited about this. How can I break his heart?
What I said & did: I nodded constantly as he explained and kept a constant amused facial expression as best I could. I took a bite of each and chose to comment solely on the ingredients I thought I tasted instead of what I thought of the dish. I wanted to remain as honest as I could under the odd circumstance. In return, he declared I must be a supertaster when I allegedly guessed some of the ingredients. In hindsight, clearly stroking my ego.
Back to back, he presented a small glass of tomato gazpacho as the third amuse bouche. Don’t remember much of a story to this one. Once again, I focused on describing the ingredients I tasted and recall stating “…it was a refreshing starter.” Anything would have been after the bean fiasco. Chunks of cucumber got in the way, making it hard to gracefully swallow. At this point, I tried to finish everything served so as to “not offend.”
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