At the other end of the spectrum from the Hamburger Casserole of Bliss was a dinner Alan and I shared many years ago on vacation.
He had just finished up at Chef School and we were taking our first vacation in three years, which felt like huge deprivation to us, because, before starting Chef School, he had worked at General Motors and had three weeks of paid vacation every year.
Because he was working 60 hours a week and I was unemployed at the time, it was my job to plan the trip. I booked us in to what looked like it should have been quite a nice little lodge in the Muskokas.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the hype and by the third day we knew we had to leave. Luckily, it was the end of the season and the couple running the lodge were as happy to see us go as were were to move on. But where would we go?
We were near the inn that Alan’s then-boss had trained at. The head chef there had an amazing reputation, so Alan phoned on the off-chance that they would have a room for us. What they had was only really suitable for one person, but since the, thankfully inexperienced, young lady working the phone had already let that slip, the owner said she would let us have the room for free if we agreed to buy dinner. And since dinner was our real reason for going, we eagerly agreed.
Expecting to be sleeping in a broom closet, we were thrilled by the room that awaited us. A wall of windows overlooking the lake more than made up for the fact that our bed was actually a sofa-bed that spanned the room. The bathroom was also quite small, but had little bottles of pretty-smelling shampoos and lotions.
At the allotted time, we headed in to dinner. As we waited in the lounge, we were given a glass of sherry and introduced ourselves to the owners. They were happy to hear who Alan was working for and sent their best. But, they regretted to tell us, the head chef was not cooking that night because there was a guest chef in the kitchen: Susur Lee.
We were shown in to a beautiful dining room and sat down to an eight course, silver service dinner. It was like something out of a 1930’s musical. Every time I took a sip of water, someone would magically appear to refill my glass. Alan and I smiled happily at each other, toasted our good fortune and prepared to be dazzled.
Maybe it was because we had just spent more time together than we had in years, or maybe we were just enjoying our surroundings but conversation between us lagged. Which allowed me to notice what was happening over his shoulder on the other side of the room. Two couples were seated at a table, one couple being treated by the other. And the wife of the couple being treated was deeply suspicious of the food being served to her.
The first plates appeared with a little description of what we were about to enjoy. We smiled and inhaled and toasted each other again.
Across the room, the woman said, “We’re having WHAT?!??!? I can’t eat that!”
“What are you staring at?” Alan asked me.
“Sorry,” I said and then told him.
After a few words of encouragement from her table mates, she took a tentative lick of what was on her fork. Not dying, she decided to eat it.
I took my first bite and became engrossed in my plate and my dinner companion, tasting and savouring and enjoying the attention of the wait staff. I felt a little sad as I wiped the last bit of sauce from my plate. That course was over, never to be repeated. But a few minutes later, another plate materialized in front of me.
And from across the room, I heard her say, “What is THAT??!??!?” with the most disgusted expression on her face.
“Staring,” Alan said.
It continued like this for the entire meal. At no point did she relax and realize that the previous courses having proven edible, what was appearing in front of her might just possibly do so as well.
I like to think that my running commentary added much to Alan’s enjoyment of his dinner, but that may just be the magically appearing wine talking.
I don’t remember everything we ate that night (Alan has a list somewhere), but I do remember some of it and the tastes and the textures will stay with me forever. As will, unfortunately, the look of disgust on the face of the woman across the room from me. And the uncomfortable squirming of her dinner companions.