Monday, December 29, 2008

My Last Meal

The Last Meal game. It’s one games chefs like to play the most. And a question I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. There was a book published last year ("My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals", it's on my Christmas wish list!) where chefs were asked this very question. I was thinking about it again recently when I saw this post on Slashfood.

Because now it's my game, I get to set the rules. And my rules are? There are no rules. I get to pick whatever I want to eat (can be multiple dishes for the meal), made by whomever I choose to make it for me, and I get to eat this meal with anyone that I want to eat this meal with. The chefs and dinner company? Can be dead or alive.

What would your last meal be? Who would you eat it with?

For my last meal, a lot of thoughts come to my mind.

One of my first thoughts? I'd crave the simpler days of my childhood. Every Saturday, without fail, my parents and sister and I would climb into the car and drive the 45 min or so up the Peninsula to San Francisco to visit my grandparents. We’d spend the day grocery shopping in Chinatown, the afternoons playing in my grandparent's house with my cousins, and then at the end of the day, we’d all sit down around their long kitchen table and sit and have a meal together.
My grandfather and grandmother would have spent the last few days preparing this meal, doing the grocery shopping and prep work. Spending hours chopping and cutting, preparing stocks for soups. We’d feast of my grandfather’s delicious fish cakes, which weren’t flat and your typical fish cake. They were actually more cylindrical spheres, kind of puffy. He wouldn’t buy fish paste, he’d make his own. And actually spend the time chopping up the fish by hand until it was a paste. And they had finely minced dried shrimp and small pieces of Chinese sausage in them. They were delicious. And one of my most absolute favorite things to eat in the whole world. I can still see him standing there with his ratty old green apron.

Another thing on the table? We would have tons of veggies. Sometimes some roasted pork. And if we were lucky, my grandmother’s perfectly steamed eggs. Such a simple dish, and yet something that is so hard to make. I can still picture the dishes she had, white with simple purple flowers on the side.

Those family dinners rank pretty high up there for me…and if I could recreate one of those nights for my Last Meal, I’d be pretty happy.

The other contender? My family’s Christmas dinner. We typically had Christmas dinner just the four of us, and my mom would prepare a delicious roast beef. The entire house would smell so good, and my sister and I would walk by the stove and have to resist opening the oven door. Instead, we’d turn on the little light in the oven, and look in to see what progress the beef had made.

We'd have white rice and baked potatoes (which I would eat with my mom’s delicious gravy drizzled on all over.) There would always be vegetables, usually Chinese broccoli. Sometimes there might be a baked yam that we'd drizzle honey all over.

A simple meal, but that would leave us all satisfied and stuffed. When we were young, we’d get to drink sparkling apple cider in these special wine glasses that my dad had. And as we got older, the real wine came out, but we still used those special glasses.

The best part? The leftovers. After dinner, my mom would take the pieces of leftover roast beef and spend time dicing them all up into smaller pieces. The next day, we’d always have the leftover roast beef over a rice noodle soup. The steamy bowl filled with the simple rice noodles and roast beef that had spent the night soaking up the gravy was as equally delicious as our first meal.

That Christmas meal would be another Last Meal contender. I’d want it to be in our old house, with my whole family sitting around the table together in our 'usual spots', just like we use to.

It’s funny. They say that people’s Last Meal requests tend to either be extravagant or reminiscent of their childhood, or families. More of a comfort meal.

I’ve been lucky to have many extremely decadent and extravagant meals that anyone would be lucky to have as a last meal. To name a few, meals at: Chef Barbara Lynch’s No 9 Park (followed by cigars in Boston Common afterwards!), Chef Laurent Manrique’s debut menu at Fifth Floor (followed by a second meal at SPQR!), amazing meals at the Hong Kong University Club (where I ate the biggest shrimp I've ever seen in my life!), Chef Evan Rich’s delicious food at Quince, Chef Ravi Kapur’s special tasting menu at Boulevard, all of my meals at Postrio, dinner at The Dinning Room at the Ritz Carlton San Francisco, the Head to Tail Dinner Chef Chris Cosetino prepared at Incanto

I know that no matter how amazing each of those meals and experiences have been, what would ultimately satisfy me would be something more homely and familiar. And at the end of the day, it almost wouldn’t even so much be about the food, as the people that I’d want to surround myself with.

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