Post 300: “Chez Mister Revisited” Revisited

After roughly three years of writing about food I have arrived at my 300th post published on this thing called MyAmusedBouche. And while I am not generally the sentimental type when it comes to benchmarks or anniversaries, I did spend some time thinking about a post to make this special. At any given time I have roughly 5-6 unpublished articles with photos fully edited and captioned, pending and ready to be published like colorful little islands in a sea of text. This morning I was browsing through them, trying to decide between a Korean Taco from Union Market or a wonderfully meaningful 4-course meal at 1789 with my mother, when I came across a folder titled “Drafts.”

I have a tendency to not look back on past material when it comes to my food writing. I experience something. I indulge in it, savor it, and put it in a place others can have access to it. I write articles for people to read, post pictures for people to see and drool over. I even sometimes get published to a platform where people can take my experiences as advice on what to eat and where. But I myself never press the backwards arrow, never reread what I’ve written, never analyze the progress of my writing style (which I probably should, to improve…) That is, not until this morning, when I tumbled across this particular folder of drafts, containing only 3 unpublished articles. Two of these were articles I started and then thought better not to publish due to photo quality that was not really up to standard (the age of Blackberry…).

The third draft, however, was an artifact and a relic of the past, which revealed to me truths that I’m still trying to digest. It was an article written about a meal I had exactly one year ago today in Buenos Aires, after returning from my time spent living in Hong Kong. The meal was prepared by a man I was hopelessly in love with after months of being separated by an equator and a prime meridian, by two grand and 27 hours of travel time, by a 12-hour time difference and, the most lasting of all divisors, a general inequality in our ambitions for the future. It was a meal that became part of our playing house, two emotionally undeveloped individuals striving to convince themselves that this was love and that this is what people that love do. Since then a lot has happened; it has been a year dense with places and faces. This person and I pushed ourselves aggressively apart and said words that will take years to dissolve, poison with a half-life longer than that of uranium. But after re-reading this article a few hours ago, none of that negativity remains and it feels like the venom has been sucked out of this year-old wound. I remember only how regal and loved and lucky I felt and how delicious all of it tasted.

I think more so than any destination dining article about the work of some famed chef would be able to, this article underlines the power that food and the sense of taste can have over folks in general, me in particular. Photos make me just as angry and sad as they do after a disaster. Songs conjure up nothing but regret and alligator tears. It is only the familiarity of a flavor from the past and the feelings that come with it that have the ability to make things right in my mind, to forgive and let go of the bad while keeping all the good for myself.

So anyway, #300, written by a different me, one year ago:

In my white silk Shenzhen kimono I reclined on the couch with a glass of wine and stared idly at the Spanish subtitles underneath a rerun of The Big Bang Theory, my head automatically swinging to the right like a bobble-head every once in a while to soak in something I had imagined every day for months, an image that had always made me smile no matter the circumstances. A window across which a man with a calm strength in his eyes is looking downwards at steady hands moving. And I know what is happening in there. Ingredients are being sliced, drizzled, arranged meticulously, bound for my stomach with their only task being to make me smile. When those ingredients have reached the peak of what they can possibly be when combined together, they are brought out and placed before me. My eyes bulge and a rush comes over me. It is not the sense of enthrallment of trying something new and weird in a foreign land, nor is it taking a bite of art, famed in the world of haute cuisine. It is something stronger, the rush that comes with the act of a person, one that isn’t genetically endowed with the reflex to feed me (mama, grandma), preparing something with the sole intention to make me feel secure and warm and home. It is that overwhelming feeling of “Holy shit, am I lucky!” that comes with that rush, even before the first bite.

Day-old beef, leftover steak from the night before, already seasoned with plenty of garlic (I like that) and ginger and rosemary, were thrown in a pot of beer (!) and some other stuff mixed in and braised to a point of falling to shreds. The structural integrity of an apartment was put at risk to create this meal and a over-dramatic girlfriend was tricked into thinking the stove was left on for hours with no one home by accident. The beef was pulled easily apart into beautiful, moist ribbons of warm, tender flesh, basted a bit with its own cooking juice, and placed on half of a roll. This roll was purchased minutes before at a local panaderia with somewhat obsessive precision – an endless Q&A about freshness, shape, moisture and type rattling off across the counter. I like precision. The roll halves were also toasted in a pan with some butter to crisp them for textural contrast against the juicy, soft shreds of meat. The other side of the roll was topped off with some fresh baby arugula, a slice of brie and some sauteed cherry tomatoes, poor little things bursting out of their caramelized, smokey skins, robbed of their youthful freshness. Slapping the two sides together and letting all these things combine resulted in something truly wonderful, a perfection that surprised both myself and its creator, especially since it was his first time venturing into braised pulled meats. The humid heat of the moist, impossibly juicy meat melted the brie almost instantaneously, turning it into a creamy, salty binding agent which held together the two sides. The meat itself had a serious depth of flavor – the murky base of the beer, combined with the freshness of the ginger, the sweetness of all that garlic and the fireplace comfort of the rosemary creating something pretty mature and downright elegant in the sandwich. The arugula maintained its leafy green freshness, its cool and its peppery attitude while the tomatoes flooded the bite with a caramelized vegetal moisture and the bit of acid which was necessary to round out this sandwich. The bread held its ground against the meat, staying crispy and light instead of going soggy. And the pride and congratulatory kisses that came with the sandwich was the perfect dessert.

I don’t think there’s anything I appreciate more than my first meal of the day being thought out and made for me. Having just woken up, I can barely think and am still chasing after the details of my dreams when a tray of good-looking num-nums appears, and like Marie Antoinette I pick at things bird-like, feeling truly regal and spoiled and happy and satisfied and thankful beyond measure. My absolute favorite is this improved Eggs Benedict. Toasted roll with morcilla squeezed out of its casing and crisped up like corned beef hash in the pan, topped with a delicate angel-soft poached egg, drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil and sprinkled with dry spices or just a tiny bit of pepper. The yolk explodes when bit into and floods the mouth, coating it with its protein-rich velvety smooth texture. The salty, slightly sweet, deliciously irony and earthy morcilla follows with its mushy softness contrasting against the crispy char on the bread. The trembling, light egg white is the ying to the morcilla’s gloomy yang and the bread is the canvas on which they are painted.

Chez Mister is home, and happiness and the benchmark set for everything else I eat. Without Chez Mister I think all food would taste like crap to me.

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