Last week, a business trip took me outside of New York, a real adventure for the Europe-based Manhattanite – and therefore a welcome occasion for musings about food, as it relates to the meaning of life. Bear with me if, as an Italian lover of poetry, I tell you that for Dante, the bad is the mere absence of the good. The deeper down in hell you are, the further away you are from God. Beware, the bad is not a counter-force to the good! It’s merely the lack of the good. Now, looking at one’s plate at a number of restaurants all over the world, the phrase ‘absence of good’ rings very true. But is Dante right? Isn’t there more to bad food?
So, one of these evenings, I’m sitting in the most ridiculously over-ambitious restaurant in my hotel, with nothing less than a harp player entertaining me and the only other, single female diner in the whole room. Given the fact that I was going to sit there on my own, I thought I was going to order two small dishes, so as to give me something to do with my lonely evening. The first was shrimp in a herb sauce. Sounds like a safe bet. But wait until some chef (why is no one simply a cook?) puts the shrimp on rosemary branches, and grills them all for the same amount of time, irrespective of the fact that they differ in size. So one shrimp was uneatably raw, and the rest were uneatably well done. The second course, which I expected to be a selection of cheese with fruit (you see the reasoning here, I was going for the simplest possible), turned out to be a whole brie baked in some terrible crust, with something perhaps best described as strawberry jam around it.
Now here I’m sitting, pitying the harp player, a harmless student, put into this depressing position of playing for an empty room by the restaurant’s hopeless pretensions. My thoughts drift back to the good and the bad: Is the bad a force that aims to assert itself, even if it has to come in the guise of ambition for the good?