As the international gastronomic community gathers for the quadrennial event known as the “Culinary Olympics,” which get underway this weekend in Erfurt, Germany, I recall the same occasion as being the serendipitous springboard for what would become the most extraordinary dinner of my life. And it took place far away from Europe.
It began with a dare. My maternal grandmother (and yes, I know, everyone brags about their grandmother’s cooking) was truly legendary for her talents in the kitchen. There is no one, and I mean no one, who tasted her wizardry who did not remain indelibly dazzled by the experience. (Desserts, especially, included.)
And so one night in 1992, in a year that also featured an installment of the famous culinary competition, my family and I were at a restaurant that we frequented often, eponymously named for its chef, Mark Militello, one of the celebrated founders of what was known as the “Mango Gang,” a group that led the charge in the New American Cuisine category which became so cutting edge and popular in that era.
As we raved about our meals as usual, I deliberately (and mischievously) asked my grandmother if she could match the amazing creativity that was so typical of Mark’s fare. As expected, her facial expression signaled subtle offense, with the implication, “…and beyond!” (Though in her mid-70s at the time, there was nothing dated about her approach to cooking — or life, for that matter. No tired rehashing of old recipes with her; she managed to surprise even more as the years went by.)
So I told her, OK – carte blanche. We would stage our own intimate evening in that year of the “Culinary Olympics,” with just one prerequisite: imagination. Wherever your genius takes you. I wanted this “Picassa” of the kitchen to let loose with free rein. My grandfather (a discriminating oenophile) and myself would follow her food choices for the wines. Continue reading