As part of a lesson tonight, I asked my students to think about the best meal they had ever tasted and the worst. It was based on a previous paper and so, they had to sit down for 25 minutes and write an article for a foodie website, telling about their best and worst meal experience.
This is mine and it took me 15 minutes……..eat yer heart out Gordon Ramsey.
The Best and The Worst
It was the best of worlds. It was the worst of worlds. It was the best meal I have ever tasted and yet, it was the worst, for I have never suffered so much from one meal time than on that day way back in the last century.
I was a young lad, a trusting teenager, a lad who could eat his way through the front end of a donkey, let alone the back end and on this day, I met my match in the indomitable form of Mama Romero and her culinary delights in St Etienne du Rouvray, northern France. She was my brother’s mother in law and let me tell you this, Gordon Ramsey and Heston Bloominthing had nothing on this lady. She could blow them out of the kitchen with a single beat of her wooden spoon. For she was and remains to this day, the lady who managed to out face this young piglet of a man in one sitting.
Imagine for a moment sitting down to a meal and thinking how wonderful this rustic French cuisine will be; home cooking at its French/Algerian best. Imagine sitting there thinking you could eat anything they threw at you and you would get somewhere close to my mentality on that day.
But I was wrong, for she cooked what turned out to be a ten course family meal, using aperitifs and starters that blew your palate apart with that glossy garlicky flavour. I was hooked from the very first bite. I devoured every little morsel and when she saw how much I was enjoying it, sampling robust French red wines per course, she asked me if I wanted some more. I answered in the affirmative rapidly on each occasion and before long, my brother was trying to warn me to slow down.
Did I listen? You guessed it right…
The first course slid effortlessly into the second and third; a fish dish to simply astound you in a ragout like sauce that to this day, defies all logic and sensitivities. The smooth, glossy and wonderful texture of that sauce as it went down is a taste sensation that I remember to this day, nearly four decades later. Then came the garlic potatoes and the Coquille St Jacques, or was it the other way around? I am not sure now as one thing effortlessly glided into the next and my stomach began to groan under the volume of food.
Papa Romero made comments about how much my liking of the food was a compliment to the chef at the time and she beamed that lovely smile she always had, serving up one thing after another in oblivious delight. By the time the sorbets and the dessert courses had been devoured, I had gone way past the ‘full’ stage and was heading into dangerous territory, somewhere this lad’s belly had never been, before or since.
You see, the trouble was that I did not, and still do not, know when to say enough is enough. And when you consider the different textures going down with all that magnificent Munster cheese, the smelliest but most gorgeous thing I know to come from a cow, you begin to see why it can be considered the worst meal.
I loved every second of it but as I climbed the stairs of their house to my bed, I knew I was in trouble and you know, I do not think I ate another thing for three days. The struggle to keep the food down was immense, but I would not succumb. I must have had 10,000 calories in that one magnificent meal, but I also know that if I had the chance all over again, I would still not want to make her feel awful and would still eat it all in the same way.
Well, perhaps every course, but not double portions! That perhaps, was a mistake, but one I remember now, with fondness and affection. It was after all, the best of meals and the worst of meals, all because my eyes are bigger than my belly. If you ever want to know just how glorious it was, go out to a swanky French restaurant and order the Coquille St Jacques.
That alone will astound you!