Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Aha! Food Moments

Every so often, each of us experiences an "Aha!" moment. During these brief flashes of insight, you make a quantum leap and suddenly have a profound revelation that changes the way you view the world. Over the past few days, I've been thinking about the "Aha!" food moments that I've experienced. I came up with a list of five such moments which I would like to share with you.

Date: July 9, 2005
Place: Sushi Ran, Sausalito, CA
During the summer of 2005, I had my first encounter with o-toro, the most luscious cut of maguro available. I can still remember that piece of tuna belly just melting away in my mouth like it just happened yesterday. The taste and texture were simply amazing and unlike anything else that I had ever eaten before. That utterly decadent slice of fish changed the way that I think about eating sushi. Since then, every time that I eat o-toro (which is nearly every time I eat sushi), I close my eyes and hope that I can once again experience the feeling of eating o-toro for the first time.

The Complete Dining Experience
Date: August 17, 2005
Place: Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, CO
It was during my dinner at Frasca when I first understood how exquisite service combined with exceptional food executed with culinary precision can elevate a simple meal into an out-of-this-world dining experience.

The Corn Croquette
Date: October 1, 2005
Place: Manresa, Los Gatos, CA
Karen and I celebrated our first year together with a fabulous dinner at Manresa. Ordering the tasting menu, we were treated to a series of amuse bouche prior to our main courses. One of these amuse bouche offerings was a croquette, a small, breaded morsel meant to be eaten in a single bite. When I bit down on the croquette, I was completely surprised by its warm liquid center which released the pure and unadulterated taste of sweet corn into my mouth. Its sun-soaked flavor simply made my taste buds sing. The croquette utterly captured the delectable essence of corn and demonstrated that little packages can be full of wonderful surprises.

The Cheese Plate
Date: November 21, 2005
Place: Le Bistro de l'Olivier, Paris, France
At the end of an otherwise ordinary meal at a mostly empty bistro in the 8th arrondissement, Karen and I were both blown away by the cheese course. The plate had a couple types of cheeses and was served with a smear of honey sprinkled with lavender. The cheeses tasted fine, but combined with the honey and lavender, their flavors were elevated to extraordinary level. For the first time, I understood how good a cheese plate could be, the elements of the plate coming together to show how the whole can be far greater than the sum of its parts.

And there is one more moment, but it's certainly not the least important. In fact, it probably is one of the defining moments of my life as a foodie.

Beer Can Chicken
Date: Early Summer, 2002
Place: Chez moi, Silicon Valley, CA
One afternoon, I pulled out my copy of Steve Raichlen's How to Grill book and found the recipe for beer-can chicken. It looked simple enough, so I followed the recipe and set up my gas grill to hot smoke the poultry until it was golden brown. Taking my first bite of chicken, I was utterly amazed by the exceptional flavor and juiciness. I asked myself if I could have actually made that bird myself. It was better than any rotisserie chicken that I had ever bought at a store and it was so easy and simple to make. I even remember calling my mom to tell her about what I had made and how good it was.

The important point of this "Aha!" moment is that up until this point in my life, I considered myself to be an adequate, though unexceptional cook. Sure, I knew how to keep myself well-fed and even improvise a bit on existing recipes, but I never strayed too far from the tried and true. However, at this moment, I realized that I might have some potential in the kitchen. Perhaps I always had it in me, but this moment gave me the confidence to believe in my own culinary abilities and set me off on a course to being a foodie, a path that I'm still following today.

One of my favorite quotes from Julia Child is:

"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."
This moment gave me that "what-the-hell" attitude.

So folks, I'd love to hear some of your "Aha!" food moments. I hope that you will share them with me!


Kelli said...

I agree with your "complete dining experience". My first one was in college during the early 90s at a now-defunct fancy place in Lawrence KS.

Loren said...


I hope that you've had some other fabulous dining experiences since your first one back in your college years. I expect that I will be wowed once again when I head out to dinner on Saturday.

Jack Nutting said...

I can't believe you didn't include schlorg on this list! Actually I take it back, I can believe it. Some things you just have to keep to yourself.

Loren said...

Indeed, Jack, indeed. Schlorg is one of those foodstuffs that should be lost in the annals of time.