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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Best Meal You Ever Had?

Not a recipe today, just a story!

When I was in cooking school, students were encouraged to ask  questions.  On one particular occasion, this very interesting question was asked:

''Chef, what was the best meal you ever had?''

The chef teaching the course that day was a wonderful and talented chef who was just a few years away from retirement.  His knowledge about food and history was amazing.  He had cooked in some of the best kitchens in France, with the best ingredients and was well travelled.   He is a man I have much respect for in that he always showed us great generosity in sharing his skills, techniques and knowledge.  

This was a great question and even those who weren't paying attention perked up to know what amazing gastronomic experience he would share with us.  He thought about it a minute and this was his answer:

The best thing I have ever eaten was when I was in the south of France with some friends and we had the privilege of visiting a gentleman who pressed his own olive oil.  We were shown the press, how it worked and he collected the fresh pressed oil for us.  We sat right there at an old table with a basket of bread and some wine and tasted it. This was the best meal I have ever had!

Needless to say, that this is not what we were expecting.  However, when he told the story, I could kind of imagine the moment and understood what he was saying.  This led me to think about the best meal I have ever had.  For me, two very different occasions clearly stood out.

The first is when I was young and lived in Montreal.  After school, my sister, some friends and I would often go skating at the park across from our house.  Some days we would skate for a little while and sometimes we could stay there for hours.  On this particular evening, we did skate for a very long time and when we got home, dinner was ready.  The house was warm and smelled wonderful.  My mother had made a dinner of ham and boiled potatoes.  I remember very vividly sitting at the kitchen table with my family, laughing, talking and warming up and thinking: this is so good!  To this day, ham is one of my favorite meals.

A little Canadian humour :)

Powerful and beautiful Canadian winters

The second was in a very wonderful restaurant in Paris that we went to with our daughters to celebrate our birthdays (my husband and I are 2 days apart).  The food was wonderful and we had a great time, although I do not remember exactly what we ate.  The thing that I do remember however is that, as we were leaving the restaurant, the waiter rushed over to us and handed each of the women a little gift bag.  He told us that this was from the chef.  We were each given a little cake for the next morning's breakfast!  We were so surprised (really when was the last time you received a little gift when leaving a restaurant) and touched that we still talk about it today.  That restaurant will always be on our list of favorites.

I have eaten some wonderful meals on many different occasions that I have thoroughly loved and enjoyed.  What stands out for me however, is not how expensive or complicated it was, but rather that it triggered an emotion and a wonderful feeling!  The food itself, the events surrounding it and the joy and generosity with which it is prepared are all key to a great meal.  After all, I think that taking the time to prepare food is really about trying to bring joy to someone (le plaisir de faire plaisir) and my mother and that chef nailed it!