An Illegal & Secret Supper

July 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

I recognize the men at the bar. And the one woman.

They’re some of the most respected chefs in America. Most of them are French, but all of them made their bones here.

They are, each and every one of them, heroes to me – as they are to up-and-coming line cooks, wannabe chefs, and culinary students everywhere. They’re clearly surprised to see each other here, to recognize their peers strung out along the limited number of barstools.

Like me, they were summoned by a trusted friend to this late-night meeting at this celebrated New York restaurant for ambiguous reasons under conditions of utmost secrecy.

They have been told, as I was, not to tell anyone of this gathering. It goes without saying that none of us will blab about it later.

…I still get the vapors being in the same room with these guys. I’m doing my best to conceal the fact that I’m, frankly, starstruck – atwitter with anticipation. My palms are sweaty as I order a drink, and I’m aware that my voice sounds oddly high and squeaky as the words “vodka on the rocks” come out.

…If a gas leak blew up this building? Fine dining as we know it would be nearly wiped out in one stroke.

…The large double doors to a private banquet room swing open and we are summoned.

There’s a long table, set for thirteen people, in the middle of the room. Against the wall is a sideboard, absolutely groaning under the weight of charcuterie – the likes of which few of us (even in this group) have seen in decades: classic Careme-era terrines of wild game, gallantines of various birds, paté and rillettes. The centerpiece is a wild boar paté en croute, the narrow area between forcemeat and crust filled with clear, amber-tined aspic.

Waiters are pouring wine. We help ourselves.

One by one, we take our seats. A door at the far end of the room opens and we are joined by our host.

It’s like that scene in The Godfather, where Marlon Brando welcomes the representatives of the five families.

…There is a welcome – and a thank-you to the person who procured what we are about to eat (and successfully smuggled it into the country). There is a course of ravioli in consommé (quite wonderful) and a civet of wild hare. But these go by in a blur.

Our dirty plates are removed. The uniformed waiters, struggling to conceal their smiles, reset our places.

Our host rises and a gueridon is rolled out bearing thirteen cast-iron cocottes. Inside each, a tiny, still-sizzling roasted bird – head, beak, and feet still attached, guts intact inside its plump little belly.

All of us lean forward, head turned in the same direction as our host high pours from a bottle of Armagnac, dousing the birds – then ignites them.

This is it.

The grand slam of rare and forbidden meals.

If this assemblage of notable chefs is not reason enough to pinch myself, then this surely is.

This is a once-in-a-fucking-lifetime meal – a never-in-a-lifetime meal for most mortals, even in France!

What we’re about to eat is illegal there as it’s illegal here.

Ortolan.

~ excerpt from “Medium Raw” by Anthony Bourdain ~

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