A couple months ago, my mom told me that she had offered to cater a party for my grandma as a birthday gift and that I was invited to be her catering partner. The catering “service” would include brainstorming, preparing, plating, and serving a five-course, gourmet menu to eight hungry and self-claimed foodie guests. I was 100% on board.
So as soon as I got back home from my end-of-the-spring-semester activities, my mom and I started to prepare for the event. We worked on developing a few dish ideas by looking through all of our recipes from books, Word documents, online bookmarked pages, and collaged cutouts from magazines. We discussed and debated, and about a zillion ideas later, finally put them together into a cohesive and appetizing menu. A shopping list was written and a few days before D-day we began the incredibly long (and tiring) process that was the cooking.
However much time and energy it might have taken, the final result was well worth the effort that it took to develop the menu and then make it a reality—with a few exceptions of course. The gazpacho and avocado mousse with two Parmesan crisps was a much-enjoyed appetizer, but the tomato and avocado lollipops served alongside it, for example, were more of a failed experiment in molecular gastronomy than anything else. Visually, they were perfect, but their rubbery texture and imbalance between the flavorless avocado and acidic tomato was definitely a turnoff. At least we had the delicious and popular pancetta-wrapped fig skewers (stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey) and grilled eggplant dip served with rosemary flat bread to wash it down. Not to mention the paired rosé, whites, and port that my dad served throughout the meal.
Food successes and failures aside, the best part about this catering event was, oddly enough, everything but the taste of the food. I loved watching people decipher the menus we’d printed out when we brought out the mini croque-en-bouches and mixed berry sundaes, or listen to the “oohs” and “ahs” and diplomatic “very interestings” in reaction to tasty or not-so-great dishes. It was a time- and energy-consuming endeavor, and I am so glad that everything turned out well (or almost). But more so than that, it was amazing to experience the meal coming together and to then present and share it with my grandma and her closest friends and relatives.
So I was in the middle of a relatively relaxing flight to San Antonio, a copy of Cooking for Kings in hand, and the time came when the flight attendants come down the aisle to hand out little snacks and drinks. The lady took my order (ginger ale as always… it’s my typical flying drink ever since I can remember) and promptly handed me my drink with a little bag.
Ugh, airline food. I love how people always complained about how disgusting airline food was until airlines stopped serving food altogether. Now, everyone complains about the fact that the airlines DON’T serve food. The fact of the matter is that nowadays airlines serve something worse than airline food: mini pretzels and peanuts. These little snack packs, consisting of 12 pretzels or a small handful of nuts, are hardly big enough to feed a squirrel, much less a college student who has only had a Starbucks in the morning… bad planning on my part.
Of course, the airlines don’t stop there! They have to add insult to injury by calling the unappealing pretzels “gourmet.” What’s THAT supposed to mean? How is this miniscule tidbit, which is literally the size of my thumb nail, supposed to be interpreted as “gourmet?” I had to bite my tongue to refrain from asking the flight attendant (that would have been an extremely rude and pretentious thing to do). In my momentary frustration, I realized that the word “gourmet” has been under attack. Taking note in the market (one of the first stops after I landed), I saw tortilla chips, yogurts, lunch meats, rice, beans, juices, and other edibles committing the crime of the superfluous use of “gourmet.” Although some products are truly characterized by this word, the majority are not, and thus taint the meaning of the word. “Gourmet” has become commonplace, and it has been allowed to take on several meanings.
This word once meant “high-quality,” “fancy,” “exotic,” or involving “skilled preparation.” The noun once denoted a “connoisseur of fine food and drink.” It was once a mark of high-class to be called a gourmand. The term carried a hint of elitism (after all the word has French origins). The only modern vestige of this meaning was Gourmet magazine… which has suffered a demise of its own. What has happened? What can we do to regain the reputation of the word “gourmet?” Or is the true meaning of this word a thing of the past?