Sunday, September 2, 2007

Moussaka Meltdown

My wife and friend Andy tell me I need sensitivity training. Not sure if they're right (of course) but hey - the guy asked. There he was - in chef's whites, asking if everything was to our liking. Now Andy asserts that he didn't really want my opinion - he was just being polite. He's probably right, but insensitive bastard that I am - I told him.

We were a party of seven - four adults and three kids. We'd just climbed a mountain. We were hungry, there was a chill in the air, the restaurant represented itself to be "Greek-American" and, of course, they offered moussaka. Three of the four adults were drawn to it - but before going ahead with this plan, I expressly informed the server that I regarded moussaka as a serious matter and needed to know ... She assured me I would not be disappointed.

Why did I listen? I had a pretty clear impression that it was a mistake even as I placed the order. For one thing, the dish appeared under the beef section of the menu. This alone should have been a sufficient clue of what I was dealing with - but in this area, beef is often substituted for lamb and I was not put off. I guess this proves I am an optimist. Well...To the heart of the matter.

Never mind - the details don't matter. Bad restaurant, botched moussaka - life goes on.

But the incident did raise a number of perhaps important points.
1) Should they ask, and should you tell?
2) Is there a point along the authenticity and quality continuum at which a dish simply ceases to qualify as whatever they've had the temerity to call it?
3) Who first put potatoes in moussaka?
4) And assuming that you're prepared to accept their presence, are there limits as to their proportion in the dish?
5) Is some sort of b├ęchamel derived sauce or custard topping essential to moussakanesshood?
6) Why are chefs not subject to corporal punishment during the dinner service?
7) OK, I guess that's a tad harsh - but how about immediate dismissal and forfeiture of all public cooking privileges for some interval (like life)?
8) OK, perhaps still harsh - but how about at least... You know, it's just occurred to me that not everybody takes food - and especially the responsibility one takes on as chef to the public as seriously as I do. So how about this question - Am I simply a lunatic? Or do I have a right to expect at least a certain degree of care and respect in the conduct of the trade?

I'm asking, and I really want to know.

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