Different Modes of Exploration – Experience # 5
I don’t mean to get all acid trip esoteric on you, but travel is not just about putting one foot in front of the other, or hopping a Greyhound bus on the great American Highway. Travel is about the journey, and there are multiple ways to take journeys without ever leaving a comfortable chair.
Wine maker and vintner, Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Vineyards, once conducted a workshop I attended entitled, “Wine: The Greatest Time Machine Ever Invented,” by which he meant the luscious fermented grape juice’s ability to take us to the terroir and time of a wine’s genesis in one sip. I believe food cooked right offers a similar journey.
Some context first. Friends who we have not seen in over a year generously hosted us for dinner at Denver’s #1 rated restaurant, Fruition. Our company is so delightful, filling us with chatter and smiles hello, that it takes nearly an hour to decide we’re ready to order. And this is the first lesson in food as a mode of exploration: it is meant to be shared . . . breaking bread with loved ones is an ancient symbol for community and hospitality.
Which brings us to the second lesson: always have plenty of warm, fresh, locally-baked bread on hand to serve to your guests from a wicker basket. For an added touch that demonstrates you’re truly providing a food frenzy, serve homemade butter mixed with fresh thyme and some gourmet sea salt. I ate an entire loaf before the wine even arrived at the table. Fruition brings every necessary detail to, well, fruition.
After another stretch of conversation that ranged from hysterical laughter to teary-eyed discussion about loved-ones gone, the first course arrived. Lesson 3: if you’re going to offer French Onion Soup, make it the best damn French Onion Soup anyone has ever tasted. I’m talking a wine-braised short-rib base, succulently sweet onions, and house-made Gruyere that waits until it hits your mouth to finish melting into a lavishly rich palette pleaser, by which I mean fireworks. Oh, the delights of Fruition.
And here comes Lesson 4: even when you think you’re feasting on the best appetizer of your life, grab a polite forkful of your neighbor’s dish. That six-minute egg carbonara, despite your wife’s Italian up-bringing and fancy feistiness in the kitchen, is hands-down the best pasta you’ve ever handed over to your taste buds, now reaching octaves like the London’s Boys Choir singing Hallelujah on Christmas Eve.
Lesson 5 (and this is more of an aside really) might be even simpler: don’t attempt to describe food you’ve eaten, not food like this anyway, for you will only fall short of the word justice it deserves. Instead, use silly metaphors to gesture towards the euphoria you experienced.
Before us now sits the main course: medium-rare duck served splendidly atop risotto and crispy arugula, New Zealand sea-bass with artichoke hearts, and Steak Oscar. You might say, “well this all sounds pretty gourmet straightforward.” Of course it does, but this is Lesson # 6 in our culinary journey: execution is everything.
Like the best damn French Onion Soup ever made, make sure your seasoning is beyond perfect, that every element on the plate compliments and dances lovingly with the others, and that each ingredient is fresh and cooked with profound care, love and flawless skill. These may not be piatti secondi complications of molecular gastronomy, but they explain to you exactly what each ingredient (your caveman self is currently scarfing down) should taste like. The Fruition Chefs execute rustic gourmet, perfectly.
Which leaves us at Lesson 7: dessert. Order it. Why would they put apple cobbler, lemon meringue pie or date cake on the menu if they weren’t the best? Especially with a pot of French press coffee on the side. But I won’t bother you with anymore details of this course . . . truly so decadent it’s almost pornographic.
But don’t rely on my words to experience this mode of exploration. Go for a food journey of your own by gathering around a table in a cuisine haven (your home’s kitchen will do) with dear friends, order everything that looks good, and dig in. Chefs everywhere are waiting. And their magic these days makes me speechless. Okay, 710 words, and then speechless (and full).