“All the knowledge that I possess, everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I make the same salad twice. The first time it tastes like sunshine and promise… second time, like a dull, hungover headache. This was today, and I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.
My boyfriend thinks it’s hilarious that at the Philly restaurant I managed, we served air. Not air alone, but with a woodsy, savory pumpkin soup, presented atop a painstakingly constructed bubble of pine-scented…air.
Tableside, the servers would pop the balloon and instruct guests to inhale. I loved the scent: fall and depth and promise. The idea was to create a truly multi-sensory experience. Smell, they say, is wildly evocative. The soup was garnished with pine nettles, which were charred and smoky.
But we were no Alineav— we didn’t have the budget for fancy gadgets — and the presentation fell sort of flat. If the waiter released the air a moment too soon or too late, it sputtered or wheezed instead of creating a neat burst. The kitchen went through cases and cases of Saran Wrap.
We sat in a circle, pre-shift, and discussed ways to explain the dish to our guests, but still we were greeted with unimpressed snickers, or utter confusion. Frustrated, we nixed it from the menu.
My fine dining days are behind me, although I wouldn’t say no to something dehydrated, condensed, jerky-fied, or spherical from wd-50. I respect food that pushes the mind, but I crave food that satisfies the soul. My new boss is all about that.
“I cook from the gut,” Chef April Bloomfield says. You can taste it: hers is heart food, not head food. Crunchy-salty-savory-fatty pig ear, tossed into a bright salad; not-quite-gamy lamb, earthy with cumin; springtime radishes, tangled in Parmesan for depth.
But she uses her brain, too. Even in April’s kitchens, there are tweezers. And my Philly chef, with his chemistry books and equations — had a fierce and giant heart.
I learned a lot about tasting wine with my first cheese mentor, Max McCalman,. He said it was one crucial thing to be able to pick up on body, tannins, acidity, and dryness; to detect notes of crystallized ginger, or man sweat, or springtime pear blossoms, or fresh-baked oatmeal cookies (the chewy kind) on the finish; to smell brambles and canned pineapple juice.
But loving the wine is a bigger story…maybe a love story. Perhaps you were falling for the (wo)man of your dreams, and watching the sun set in Provence, and your skin was hot and salty, and a bottle of rosé whispered to you with its mineral brightness, and tasted the way you felt. That’s what food and wine can be, when we are lucky. The grass fearlessly green, your mind as big as the ocean — proof we are home, proof we are alive.