Monday, February 11, 2008

Eating Habits

As I mentioned yesterday, I had lunch with my agent. The restaurant was lovely but I couldn’t eat much. Eating regular-sized portions after visiting a spa, as I recently did, presents a rather tricky adjustment. Here in the real world, you can eat as much as you want. At the spa, well, you can eat at much as you want there too, but how much tempeh do you really want?

I’ve been through this before. I eat small, till my spa conditioning wears off. In the meantime, however, my diminished appetite makes a problem I normally have eating in restaurants even worse.

I don’t know if this is just me, or what? That feels like some comic’s set-up line, doesn’t it?

“Is this just me?”

He then goes on to talk about something that isn’t just him, and you laugh because you identify, or it is just him, and you laugh because he’s crazy. The comedian wins either way.

Hopefully, this isn’t just me. It’ll be embarrassing if it is. Maybe I shouldn’t bother with this. Aw, what the heck. I already started.

Okay, here goes. Sorry for the inner dialogue. It’s something I can’t always control.

Okay. Now.

Sometimes, in a restaurant, I’ll eat more food than I really want, because I don’t want the chef to feel bad. Is that too weird? It isn’t to me; I do it all the time. I’ll eat my fill, look down at the plate, and it’s like I hardly made a dent. A substantial portion of the food is still sitting there, and it’s even more substantial if I’ve recently come back from a spa.

Waitpeople will invariably come by, notice the sizable amount of uneaten food and ask, in a sympathetic tone, “Didn’t you like it?” I sometimes question the sincerity of that tone, not only because the waitpeople are bucking for a tip, but because, at least in L.A., most waitpeople are actors.

I realize many restaurants serve enormous portions, but some people finish them. I can’t. That’s why, disturbed by the amount of food remaining on my plate, I find myself picking my up knife and fork and digging back in, eating food I don’t want, to spare the feelings of someone in the kitchen I don’t even know.

I’m eating for the chef.

Let me be clear here. My sympathy towards the feelings of chefs is not some self-deluding subterfuge to push past “I’m full”, because I am, in reality, a compulsive overeater. I’m not. I’m simply someone who’s uncomfortable bringing pain to others, and will willingly gorge myself with unwanted foodstuffs to keep that misfortune from taking place.

Hard as I try, however, I can never clean my plate, defeated once again by portion size. Restaurants could make the portions smaller – they should – but if they did, they’d have to lower their prices. Who’s going to pay the same price for a smaller portion? Nobody. They’d rather eat what they give you and die.

Of course, there are “Doggie Bags.” But to wrap up the leftovers, the waitperson must often carry the unfinished meal in the kitchen.

The kitchen.

Where the chef is.

Oh, no.

Though harried and overworked, the chef would almost certainly catch sight of the uneaten clump of food, remnants of a dish he prepared.

How is he going to react?

Like this?

“How dare they”?

“Quel nerve”?

“I’m cooking for idiots”?

Maybe the chef’ll say nothing, smoldering inwardly. That one troubles me the most. – the chef presenting a gallant facade of “Like I care” to the kitchen staff, while inside, their confidence has been seismically shaken. Nagging doubts may arise, emerging in stages:

Stage One – “Did I forget the oregano?”

Stage Two – “Do I really know what I’m doing?”
and finally…

Stage Three – “I am not a chef. I am a fraud!”

The chef becomes unhinged. Somebody has to pay!

Cleavers within reach. The chef runs amok. Loppings and beheadings. Blood everywhere!

And then, it’s done.

A horrible tragedy. And so easily avoided.

If only I’d finished my food.


Sally Roll said...

So great to see you blogging, Earl!! I'm a slow eater. Those waitpeople keep trying to take away my half-eaten salad. Sometimes on their third attempt I just let them. But I miss it when it's gone...

Anonymous said...

Here's what I do: Pretend I'm paranoid (pretend?) and ask the server to bring me a styrofoam box so I can bag the food myself.

I'm a big fan of your nascent blog. And ignore all those cracks about the Leafs ... the Buds will bloom again!!!

Anonymous said...

Earl - thank you so much for this piece! I am planning to use it as justification to always order dessert. I would hate to see a pastry chef come unhinged.

Max Clarke said...

Eating Habits. Soon as I read that, I laughed.

I eat all the food on my restaurant plate, but I don't just do it for the chef. If I don't eat it, they'll just serve the food to another diner on a new plate. It's something I learned at summer camp. Might as well clear the food out of the pipeline.

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