Days in A Taster’s Life: 4

“I’m not into crosswords, or what’s it called, suduko? Nevertheless, I do recognise the importance of keeping one’s brain exercised so I occasionally invent some form of mental gymnastics for that very purpose. A few weeks ago I decided I would write down, in ten minutes flat, all the aromas and flavours I had ever found in a glass of wine. For the record the total was 158 and included such exotica as arbutus berries, oatmeal, mown grass, green sap, chicory, tobacco, eucalyptus, balsam, beeswax, quinine, soy sauce, molasses, sawdust, burnt toast, mildew, gun smoke, diesel, wet dog, soap, fish, steel, sauerkraut, sticking plaster, marigold, geranium, liquorice, ginger, bacon, offal, leather and, yes, shit, in addition to the usual suspects.”

Dining out alone

I got interviewed by a local radio station on this very topic about six months ago. Here are their questions/my answers.

Do you dine alone much? 

A fair bit at lunchtime. Generally simple, low cost places like Duck, Fish Shop, Gruel (sadly missed), Bowls, Ka Shing for the dim sum and anywhere I can get a proper salt beef sandwich. I like the counter seats at Little Mike’s in Mount Merrion, where the staff are so friendly it doesn’t feel like dining on one’s tod.
I don’t do burgers much. I like Bunsen in Wexford Street a good deal but they seem over-stretched in the kitchen and there’s often a wait at lunchtime that takes the ‘fast’ out of fast food. I use Bujo in Sandymount Green occasionally. It’s local and their burgers are honest. Usually, though,I make my own, buying steak and mincing it at home and adding herbs from the garden. I usually have a small production line going to keep the freezer stocks for occasions like when friends or rellies come round for a barbecue.
Eating out in the evening, for pleasure or for the purpose of a review I prefer to have a companion. In the latter case you get a broader view of the restaurant’s capabilities.

Do you like it? 

In the evenings, no. Dining alone always reminds me of a time after a long term relationship broke up. I used to squirrel out obscure restaurants in down-market suburbs of Manchester  to save myself the embarrassment of bumping into friends.   Louden Wainwright III wrote a great song about his own, similar, situation, called “I Eat Out”.      

How often do you eat out alone? 

As little as possible. Probably not more than five or six  times a year. Unless I am travelling, in which case I’d eat solo a fair bit. For example, attending a food festival in Galway two years ago I ate out on my own three nights on the run.

Where do you go?

Either simple ‘grab a bite’ places, down-home traditional Chinese; Indian restaurants ( I have a few favourites) or maybe just somewhere I can get a good steak when the lust for meat takes over

What do you not like about the way you are treated when you are dining alone? 

The weird looks you sometimes attract from waiters and other diners. A melange of pity and contempt.

Have you ever been refused a  table for one?  

Never actually refused. But I’ve often encountered eye rolling, overt begrudgery and sometimes tantrums and hissy fits, as if entering a restaurant alone is a gross breach of the code of manners.

Why chefs shouldn’t smoke

Apart, of course, that smoking causes cancer.

The biggest issue with chefs today is smoking,” The celebrity chef said, “because it numbs the palate. The first thing I teach a chef is how to taste. If you don’t understand how it tastes, you shouldn’t be cooking it.That’s why one of the first challenges on Hell’s Kitchen is a taste test. They get blindfolded and there is a piece of spinach, or a zucchini,” he said. “It embarrasses me that [too often] they don’t understand what they’re eating.” Among those who flunk that test, he said, “I guarantee 90% either drink heavily or they smoke. And you’ve got no chance of having a refined palate.”

That’s Gordon Ramsay back in 2009. Research the same year at a university in Greece found that smoking does indeed dampen the ability to taste. In the study, researchers used electrical stimulation to test the taste threshold of 62 participants. Apparently the application of a low intensity electrical current to the tongue generates a metallic taste. Measuring the amount of current required before a person perceives this taste enabled researchers to determine taste sensitivity. The 28 smokers in the study scored worse on this test than the 34 nonsmokers. The researchers then used endoscopy to measure the number and shape of a type of taste bud called fungiform papillae. They found that the smokers had flatter fungiform papillae, with a reduced blood supply, believed to the probable cause of lack of sensitivity.

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