Saturday, January 18, 2014
In A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain writes about searching for the world’s greatest meal. In the introduction he explains just what he defines as a great meal. It need not be made of the finest ingredients or by the most elite, prestigious preparations. It doesn’t need to be the priciest, most elaborate or rare. It does not need Michelin stars or New York Times reviews. To Bourdain, the greatest meal is some combination of the food, its preparation, the setting and the company and conversation.
Sometimes an amazing meal can be an unexpected surprise. Recently my wife and I were driving from LA to Santa Cruz, California. We had packed a simple picnic to eat along the way… crusty baguette, brie, prosciutto, coppa, salami, arugula, grapes, Pellegrino and some M&Ms. I was content with swinging into a rest stop or parking lot, but my wife had other ideas. Just north of Malibu we stopped at a small parking lot and headed down to the beach…way, way down a series of wooden, rickety staircases. The beach was strewn with huge rock formations and backed by the massive cliffs we had just descended. There were maybe a dozen people within 5o yards of the foot of the stairs in either direction. We walked a bit looking for the perfect private spot against the cliffs to eat our picnic lunch. In the warm Southern California sun we wished we had not worn jeans. The meats were wonderful, the cheese creamy and the baguette crumbled just right. Few seagulls noticed, and they left us alone. We ate in relative silence – an experience we rarely have anymore with kids and dogs keeping us busy. The sun, the sound of the surf, the melting of thin-cut meats in our mouths, the sweetness of juicy grapes all conspired to create a perfect meal.We covered our cooler and bag and headed down the beach for a walk. The gigantic rock formations had their lower portions covered in mussels, some of them the size of my fist. Kids ran around in tide pools while college kids snapped pictures on the stairs. Couples walked hand in hand. Sandpipers ran in unison back and forth like a crowd of 7 year old boys who have been told not to get wet. A cormorant sat atop a rock drying off in the sun. And the M&Ms proved a flawless dessert. We didn’t need some fancy chocolate lava cake after foie gras and caviar. Tenderloin and wasabi potatoes? No need. We had a perfect meal in a perfect setting with our favorite culinary companion.
This is what Bourdain was looking for. This is what we found.