Thursday, June 11, 1998
Sticking to your principles is a thing to be admired. Whether you insist on the purity of ground, drained and pressed soybean curd for your personal protein allotment, or you whoop in excitement at the prospect of a potted meat sandwich, devotedly pursuing your chosen culinary path involves ethics in either case.
Perhaps if my first encounter with tofu had been more memorable, I could have taken up the cause. Vegetarian friends who emit a clear-eyed, non-proseletyzing dedication to their sprouts and whey, wheat grass and unpasteurized dairy products are mysteriously noble creatures in my book. But by the same token, pass me a jiggly plate of head cheese and I''ll probably ask for seconds--if it''s been made right. The same goes for liver, kidneys, sweetbreads or tongue.
"I used to have pickled tongue on my menu at the first Lighthouse Bistro," recounts Vic Gimenez, owner of the newly re-opened eatery. "We served it sliced with a little mustard, a nice presentation as part of a cold platter. I used to stand back and watch as the waiter served it. The customer would ask, ''And what is this?'' The waiter would reply, ''Why, ma''am, that''s pickled tongue.'' Then she''d say, ''WHAT?'' And he''d repeat himself and then you''d get this ''OH MY GOD, IT''S TONGUE!
"Then, of course there are some people who would say, ''Oh, yeah, pickled tongue. Great!" Gimenez continues. "I mean, pickled tongue is a Basque tradition. Back home in Paraguay you have to have it--or you die! I used to think that people don''t want to eat glands, tongue, all that stuff. But, in places like New York it''s being done, although sometimes it''s no fun to try and educate people. It can backfire on you. But who knows?" he concludes, his deeply held gaucho ethics beginning to stir. "Maybe I''ll put it back on the menu. Occasionally, I feel I have to do something!"
Tony Baker empathizes. The executive chef of Montrio, he just returned from a two-week working vacation in his native Britain where he was the invited guest chef of the Shire Inns hotel group. Baker confesses that when he wasn''t cross-pollinating California cuisine with the regional fare of Bristol, he was indulging in some three Michelin Star soul food. The object of his palate''s delight? "Pig''s trotters," Baker replies. "At Marco Pierre White''s Oak Room. Served completely boned--except for the toes, of course--and stuffed with Perigord truffles and sweetbreads. And so tender, you could cut it with a butter knife," he wistfully recalls.
"Why is it worse, in the end, to see an animal''s head cooked and prepared for our pleasure than a thigh or a tail or a rib?" MFK Fisher plaintively ponders in The Art of Eating. "If we are going to live on other inhabitants of this world we must not bind ourselves with illogical prejudices," she asserts, "but savor to the fullest the beasts we have killed."
Perhaps if my first encounter with head cheese had been less-than-perfect, served as it was on a chilled china plate on Miss Minnie''s front porch one hot Dixie day (I was a great admirer of her manners, her diction, and how she called people she liked "sugah"), I would have chosen another path. Instead, I found that mung bean sprouts are particularly good on a potted meat sandwich. cw