Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A culinary low!

I guess it didn’t really help that my last meals had been the earth-moving prestige menu at Gordon Ramsay and then N’s lovely husband A whipped us up a wonderful asparagus and cheese omelette to fortify us for the exertions ahead. And little did we know what culinary exertions lay ahead!

Any other food after that was going to be a let down and we had the luck to be staying at a hotel that was aiming for some all time lows in catering so the chances are we were going to crash and burn very soon! I won’t name the hotel and to be fair they had quite a challenge, there were over five hundred of us, we opted for the faster/cheaper buffet style delivery and I guess we weren’t there for the food so it was more of a refuelling operation. The various themed buffets (no I’m not sure what the themes were – I deduced at one stage that it was “Caribbean fusion nightmare” and the one with the blue tin plates was possibly some sort of “Cowboy tucker”!) were manned by friendly staff occasionally donning chef’s toques (clearly to give us more confidence in their offerings). In lieu of a menu each dish was labelled and here was the real inventiveness. After tentatively trying some more of the elaborate labelled dishes I realised that the skill was making the actual food bear little or no resemblance to its labels, in fact ideally the food should have absolutely no discernible taste at all but you had a small typed card to tell you what you should be tasting so you could conjure up those flavours. For example I was slightly alarmed by the "pineapple chicken with Scotch Bonnet" as I’ve always understood that the Scotch Bonnet chilli is the hottest blow-your-socks off chilli possible and asked the be-hatted chef how hot it really was. He declared it wasn’t hot at all which was odd, so one can only wonder whether the lip tingling, eye watering chilli had just been waved in the general direction of the chicken or that it was labelled as thus just to spice the description up a bit. I did eat some and when he asked whether I considered it to be too hot I had to admit I found it somewhat taste-free. In fact even the chicken tasted of nothing. He shrugged and said that a lack of taste was maybe better than it being too hot. Am I being too harsh?

Another dish that deserves a particular mention for being just wrong on so many levels was marked up as “mango bread and butter pudding with liquorice anglais” – as DD would say “what the…?” What particularly intrigued me was the lumps of red stuff – possibly strawberries but definitely not mango.

I made sure that I recorded this one for posterity. I can’t remember what I said about this after I'd tasted it but I think I was probably quite rude.

At lunch times we were to venture forth to the treacherous wilderness to partake of another buffet but instead of being outside our slightly humid underground bunker this one was in the full midday Florida sun – hmmm. Now I wouldn’t generally partake of mayonnaise or potato salad (if smothered in more mayonnaise) on a good day but un-iced bowls in that heat, surely a mistake for the more delicate constitution? The chicken sandwiches weren’t too bad after I’d removed the tomato and pickles but the seafood pasta was cold and rather flaccid and the risotto was also cold and just stodgy and to follow the general theme, tasteless. And the desserts just looked alarmingly shiny and sweaty in that sun.

On the penultimate night the most edible thing was the apple and blackberry crumble but it was Florida, it was hot, we were in a slightly steamy windowless room and it seemed a bizarre option for dessert in such a climate but it was all part of the incongruity of our feastings.

The weirdest vegetable accompaniment that night was yucca. I always thought that a yucca was a tall spiky plant that never looked particularly edible to me but if I’d known it was maybe I would have tried to nibble a leaf.

The problem was that not everyone was savvy to the labels so I was forewarned and availed myself of a tentative scoop but many wrongly identified it as the mimosa mash potato and were unbelievably disappointed on first mouthful. I thought “bland and mushy marrow like substance and mostly unpleasant!” and totally a different species to mash potatoes.

On our last night we had a sit-down dinner and our plates were delivered sans labels so the fun of guessing our meal began. It looked prettier than most of our food up until now but I’m not entirely sure exactly what we had but we started with a slightly odd mushroom and spaghetti dish. This was followed by a green salad well once you'd skirted around the tomatoes and then to save the trouble of ascertaining if we wanted fish or meat we had both served with a very curious triangle of potato slices. Though I couldn’t really identify the fish but I think that the meat was beef.

And then the finale was a chocolate and strawberry concoction. It will come as a great surprise that the strawberries didn't really taste of anything! But I guess it looked okay and not all food can be like Gordon's food!

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