A person might think that a job as a food editor entails downing metric tons of beluga caviar and silver-plated Big Gulps of vintage Krug Champagne at lunch (Double Big Gulp at dinner) seven days a week. That person would be wrong - for the most part.
While the vast majority of my meals are taken while huddled over a plastic clamshell of CNN cafeteria salad bar scraps, I’m occasionally let out of my crate and allowed to sup amongst the humans. And yeah - sometimes it gets fancy. For some reason, this usually necessitates the presence of archaic silverware.
It’s not that I don’t know what it’s for (getting the last of the delicious sauce from your plate) – rather that I can never figure out why this task warrants a specialized implement or quite manage to deploy said implement gracefully. I’m not alone in this.
I escaped from my cage earlier this week to partake in a lovely lunch at the sixth best restaurant in the world (there’s an official list and everything) for a lunch honoring its chef, his recent accolades and his contribution to the world of dining.
You bet your sweet duck press that there were special utensils involved.
Passed hors d'oeuvres were in my wheelhouse: exquisite bites crafted specially to be dispatched from hand to soul in a single bite. First course: easy peasy mother-of-pearl caviar spoon (for the record, metal is verboten because it taints the delicate flavor of the eggs). Scoop, swoon, repeat. Second course, it arrived: fork, knife and my enemy, the sauce spoon.
I turned to my neighbor - the co-owner of the restaurant with Most Outstanding Chef in America (as calculated by a different group of people who rank these sorts of things), and opened my big, fat mouth.
"Do you use these at your restaurant? I mean, I mostly think of them as a harbinger of fanciness, but...why?"
He smiled and started to laugh, but God bless him, not at me. " I actually had a contest with my staff a few years ago," he said, "and I held up one of these and offered a prize to whoever could figure out why restaurants use these. They came back with something like twelve different answers and we never did figure out which one was right."
The rest of Table One joined in - the aforementioned Outstanding Chef, a few food writers, an executive for a prominent restaurant group - and not a single one of us could with any certainty pin down the origin, purpose of the design's distinctive notch or necessity for an extra utensil when a fork, spoon or piece of bread would do just fine. Most seemed unsure how to actually deploy it. So we did the 21st century thing and tweeted questions across the room to the people who'd seem most likely to know.
Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation answered our cry (and Chef Eric Ripert retweeted with gusto). "Appears the cuillère à sauce individuelle was invented at Laserre in Paris in 1950 for...sauce...the notch said to be to drain excess fat, but I don't believe that. Popularized w/la nouvelle cuisine...All a plot to reduce bread consumption (while increasing flatware consumption), which I am opposed to."
Mystery (somewhat) solved, I surveyed the table - plates ravaged, very slight stains remaining. Not a one of my fellow professional-level eaters had employed the services of the vaunted spoon, leaned over to lick the china or gone without sufficient sauce.
I bring all this up because when I was a less confident diner, I'd occasionally let my own intimidation and food know-it-alls get in the way of my enjoyment - perhaps fretting and sliding the sauce spoon around on the plate a little so no one would think I was rube enough not to know how to use it. I'm sure that says an awful lot about me (at least back then), but also about a breed of eater that particularly vexes me: the food bully.
I don't mean food scolds who tell us that whatever we're eating is not sufficiently sustainalocaganivore or that we should be consuming fewer carbs. I'm talking about the spouters of, "Well, you haven't really had [insert dish] until you've have it hand-crafted by a grandmother down a dingy alley in [insert country] - but only on the third Friday in September when the [insert ingredient] is in peak season," the folks tricking their unwilling friends to eat casu marzu (that'd be maggot cheese), and the plain old jerks who'd make a fellow diner feel small for not knowing how to use a cuillère à sauce individuelle or incorrectly pronouncing "quinoa."*
Don't know why they do it and don't much care. When there's good food sitting right there, is it less delicious because you used the wrong spoon or someone at the table had a more "authentic" version elsewhere? If the people with whom you are eating are not approaching food with a generosity of spirit, willingness to share or respect your boundaries, they do not deserve the pleasure of your dining companionship.
And if they've got a problem with that, refer them to Table One. We're armed with squeaky clean sauce spoons, and we (mostly) know how to use 'em.
Previously - Of romantic meals, fibbers and fish knives
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