Food has always presented me with great joy, a joy sometimes bordering of hysteria. The first clear memory I have of an elevated food experience was at some fairground, I can’t remember where or what age, though it was an early age, probably around ten or so, having a turkey leg. It was an entirely new experience and one in which I was overcome with a sort of awe at the sensations that overcame me as I ate this, the absolute pleasure overwhelming me. It was a memory that stuck with me and an experience that I wanted to replicate. Whenever I was at a fair, not a common thing, I would keep my eye out for turkey legs, and would always get one if I was able to find one.
The other early culinary memory that I always think back to as one of my first heightened appreciations of food is when I was also a young child and went to the Minnesota State Fair with my family. There was delightful thing after delightful thing being sold at stand after stand. My mom ordered a big thing of fried cheese curds and immediately I experienced a bliss that food had never given me before. The easy analogy here is a sexual one with food. I am trying my best to avoid using them but it’s very difficult because sex is one of the few other times when you experience such physical and sensory delight. Food is just about the only thing that will make you moan with pleasure other than sex or a good massage.
It’s a mystery to me how food works, but indeed it does work. It is capable, when prepared certain ways, of inducing a range of emotions that when prepared expertly has a way of shutting everything else in the world down other than what is going on in your mouth as textures and flavors cross your tongue at that moment.
A couple nights ago, I went out to eat at Acme with some friends and I am still tasting some of the things I ate, trying to taste them again for as long as I can, holding on to these already fuzzy memories of taste before they fully fade away. There are times when spending a decent sum of money on dinner can seem extraordinarily wasteful and decadent, that you have nothing to show for it the next day, even at the end of the meal, that all you are left with are empty plates and a bill for a lot of money. But more and more those concerns have little hold on me, as I become more certain that the pleasure that food gives is worth it. Yes, there are memories that we will hold on to of the meal, though they will get foggier and foggier with time, maybe remembering what was ordered and that it gave you such pleasure that you were in fits of mmms, but the sensations of those fits will be secondhand, sketches of what the original was.
We started with the bread and some delicious cocktails, already luxuriating in the tastes that both offered. Next we had some oysters, which as oysters most usually are, were delicious and full of sensation. These, however, were paired with pickled cucumbers that added another layer or both taste and texture. This was followed by a plate of beets and a plate of shrimp and bison, the strings of the symphony starting to swell as I am became more and more overcome with delight, with happiness as I tasted bite after bite of perfectly prepared plates. Then we shared bites of the raviolo, which I can’t remember much about at this point, the filling for instance, but I do remember that this was the dish that began to elicit the mmms. Then we had the farmer’s eggs, which visually was the most stunning dish of the night, beautifully presented. It was egg foam, parmesan, and cauliflower whipped together and presented in hollowed-out eggshells and served on a bed of hay. The plating alone would have made me love this dish, but it was also so insanely delicious.
Round after round of cocktails were had, someone was Instagraming the meal of course, and we all talked about how delicious it all was as we shared stories about our lives as of late. We then split a couple of main courses, the chicken and eggs dish and the sea bass, both of which continued the mmms. The sea bass was cooked so well, in a way that I never understand how to do when I attempt to cook fish at home. The surface was a bit charred, covered in a buttery sauce, and the inside was perfectly flaky. The contrast of textures provided so much delight. And then this chicken and eggs dish – this is the one that I have been thinking about pretty much anytime I have found myself hungry over the last couple of days. Everything about this dish was so perfect. There were bits of chicken in an insanely delicious sauce, topped with deep-fried poached eggs served alongside fingerling potatoes, and all served in a clay pot. I have no idea why this dish works so well, but it tastes comfortable and then some, throws you bodily whole back into some childhood experience when you were sick and your mom served you chicken soup and you felt cared for and loved in a way that you probably never have since. Those memories wash around you, as well other less clear ones, as well as the absolute delight that this food brings about, its wonderful combination of flavors doing magic on your tongue, and by extension your whole body.
We then sampled three of the desserts, the Danish doughnuts, the chocolate crisps, and the beer and bread porridge. They were all fantastic but the beer and bread porridge was particularly so, doing some of that magic that good food is able to do, making you crawl into yourself, letting out moans, as you try to mentally hold on to what the moment feels like, this pleasure that you are experiencing, trying to hold the feeling as tightly to yourself as you can, not wanting to ever let it go.
This is why food is so meaningful. A good meal teaches us how to live, how to accept pleasure and its passing, how to let things go and how not to. Relationships and friendships that we have will end. People and things we love will die or disappear. So much work is put into a great meal, hours and hour of preparation, months or years of plants or animals growing and maturing. And all of that work will be expertly plated and consumed in a very short window of time. It will disappear, but what matters is knowing how to savor those moments that the food is still on your fork and enjoying every moment of that experience, every taste and sensation that crosses your tongue. What matters is knowing how to remember these experiences, to attempt to, and the seeking out of new ones, the plans for the next meal.