Much as I have tried to pull together at least a preview of a project that I’m working on to share with you, it is not to be; there is much back burner simmering to be done before that column is ready to be savoured.
Hmmm… back burner simmering … sounds like something good to eat! Speaking of eating … here’s something I wrote in the Spring of 2013, and have revised and updated for your dining and dancing entertainment. Bon Appetit!
The Last Temptation
Mmm … food. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. For some, food is a sensual pleasure, as delicious and desirable as sex. To others, feeding themselves is a chore; if they could, they would be content to fill their nutritional needs by swallowing a tablet.
Gourmet or gourmand? That is the question. I believe the essence of human sensuality is embodied in one who not only enjoys good food, but revels in all its glories; heaven on the palate, a visual treat, and a tactile experience. To me, there is little as delightful as a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Good food, in all of its 3D wonderment, warms the cockles of my heart, quickens my breath, and eases the tensions of life.
Oh yes, I know. Everything in moderation, and if I ever figure out how to do that, I’ll get right on it! But the warring culinary DNA factors in my blood and heart crave lashings of French cooking, with a shanty Irish reliance on carbohydrates swimming in butter, and a British sensibility that encourages such brutal delicacies as steak and kidney pudding. I love food. No – I am in lust with good, honest, fresh, beautifully prepared, delicately seasoned, lovingly plated and brilliantly presented food.
I grew up when food was only available in season, and then just in the grocers for a very small window of time. Pomegranates, black cherries, tangerines … gifts from the gods! We snapped up these delicacies, pressed them to our breasts, and rushed them home to be enjoyed in the loving spirit in which they had been grown.
Times have changed, and for the most part, I applaud the growers of the world, who now bring old favourites and new sensations to our tables and taste buds all year ’round. I approached my first Dragon Fruit with apprehension, but fell to its creamy goodness. I still have yet to cook an artichoke, so fearful am I of bruising its delicate heart. I weep for the people of South America, whose primary staple grain and protein, quinoa, has fallen afoul of North American foodies and vegans – their lust for this important protein supplement is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in Brazil.
Oh brave new world that has such wonders in it!
The flip side of this global food consciousness is, of course, the prolific rise of fast food – an abomination in my eyes – and the voraciousness of the gaping maws of people who apparently no longer have an OFF switch on their hunger. A visit to the grocer the day before a holiday will have you convinced that we’ve just been alerted to an impending weather disaster, zombie apocalypse or nuclear holocaust. Carts crashing into each other, shoppers strip the aisles clean of all available food stuff like piranha. It is to weep.
Food has always been woven into our culture, enshrined in art, music and literature.
Today, trained and novice chefs compete for our attention in an orgy of food porn on their own television channels. From the likeable Jamie Oliver, intense and so well meaning, to the scatological ravings of kitchen madman Gordon Ramsey, to the ‘en garde!’ insanity of Iron Chef, or the folksy drawlings of now diabetic Paula Deen, you can scarcely spend an hour in the 500 channel universe without being reminded that you’ve not eaten in at least fifteen minutes.
Nigella Lawson is embraced and acknowledged as the courtesan of TV food; although neither a trained chef nor cook, her softly curving figure and clearly erotic attention to the food she prepares seduces the viewer into a relaxed and loving appreciation of goose fat and Riesling.
But it is in classic film that the connection between food and sensuality is best exhibited, in a veritable moveable feast.
In 1963, a lascivious dining scene in Tom Jones, of Albert Finney and Joyce Redman devouring a chicken, left movie goers gasping.
Or consider … Alan Bates describing the best way to eat a ripe fig in Women in Love (1969). Phew! “Like a prostitute, the bursting fig makes a show of her secret.”
In 9 ½ Weeks, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke played sensually with jello, pasta, grapes, cherries and strawberries and the surprise of an jalapeno until her face was sticky with juices and she begs, with mouth agape, for more. Not very subtle, but very effective.
Babette’s Feast, (1987,) a film based on a story written by Isaak Dinesen, showed the healing properties of glorious, delicious food on a religious community divided by fear of strangers. Big Night, (1996,) Stanley Tucci’s film about a New Jersey restaurant, exalted in the remarkable healing powers of a shared meal.
Is there a right way to eat ramen, that glorious noodle soup? Why yes – and Tampopo (1985) showed us how to give respect to the ingredients. “Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glimmering on the surface. Schinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. …” More than a haiku to the food, it is total appreciation. There’s also a nod to drink, with the sipping of sake from a woman’s navel.
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Goodfellas – a celebration of food! “Pauly … had this wonderful system for doing the garlic. He used a razor, and he used to slice it so thin that it used to liquefy in the pan.”
La Grande Bouffe is nothing more than a story of four friends who set out to eat and screw themselves to death in the French countryside. I’ll spare you the visuals on that one. Nor will I include scenes from the shocking waste of butter in Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider’s romp in Last Tango in Paris. Butter aficionados will find it on their own.
No Reservations (2007), starred Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sexy chef who made her puppy dog underling sit up and beg for treats.
You’ll never feel the same about quail after watching this scene from Like Water for Chocolate (1993) Tita uses her suitor’s gift, seasoned with her blood and longing, to make quail in rose petal sauce. Her passion is communicated through the delicious food to Pedro, her potential lover, while her haughty mother dines in salty disapproval. Eventually, her heat causes an outhouse to erupt into flames.
In the similarly themed Chocolat (2000), Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche enjoyed the magic of lovingly handmade chocolate candies. In Woman on Top (2000) Penelope Cruz, playing a chef, has phallic-looking chilli peppers rubbed on her lips.
You remember the shimmering, shadowed, shower, but do you remember Jennifer Beals devouring a lobster tail in the seduction scene in Flashdance (1983) ?
A full menu of films that piqued our appetites would leave us overstuffed, so I’ll stop there.
We all hope to age gracefully and beautifully, like a fine wine. But many of us will eventually come to the point where, for health or dietary reasons, we can only look longingly at a delicious spread, and whimper into our hands.
As harvest time nears, and before political correctness, weight gain, national health, and propriety wipe these elemental pleasures from our memories, bite into a ripe strawberry, bury your nose into a bushel of fresh tomatoes, nibble at the edges of a freshly cut pastrami or hold a mouthful of champagne against your taste buds, reveling in it’s effervescence.
And raise a glass and a fork to one of the most basic and natural joys of living … the enjoyment of food!