Wednesday, October 24, 2012

nearly there

nearly there
[from the archive]

R&D in food is frustrating in ways that are not obvious (or, perhaps, even frustrating) to anyone outside that quite small domain. above, a new dish when it was "90% there."

one of the chefs had made particularly rapid progress: just a few days of work and a couple of flashes of intuition had brought his side project from an offhand remark by the head chef to a refined set of preparations with unusual but complementary flavours. everyone thought it was on the verge of being polished enough to make it onto the regular menu: an astonishingly quick development process. being so close, why not try it out for a visiting Important Chef of great renown dining in the restaurant tonight?

there is great excitement, and much needs to be done to prepare enough of the ingredients to serve everyone in the Important Chef's party. our protagonist, the R&D chef, comes in early on his day off to prep and will stay through dinner service to personally cook the dish. there is stress, there is pressure: the Important Chef is Very Famous in some circles. our protagonist feels the mixture of privilege and dread from having an opportunity to show his quality to "someone whose food i've idolized for years." mid-day, the head chef joins our protagonist and the rest of the R&D team to work out the presentation and plating of the dish. after an hour, they have gotten nowhere. no presentation seems to work, and they are running out of the laboriously prepared ingredients. there is no time today to make more.

several other special courses have been prepared in Important Chef's honour and, with less than an hour to go before he sits down to dinner, the team decides to pull this new dish from his already overstuffed menu. so that the ingredients are not wasted, some friends of the house who are also dining tonight will get it at their table instead. the word "crestfallen" is not inappropriate in this situation. our protagonist is packing the prepared ingredients from his R&D lab bench to bring them over to the service kitchen. as he walks out the door, he calls over to me: "in your notes, you could write down that 'he was a little upset at burning his day off to not cook this new thing for the Man Himself."

nearly there, but no cigar.

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