Food Critic Jean-Baptiste De Richemont embarks on a quest to review new restaurant, Sinful
|A Taste of Superbia
Go to any Michelin Star restaurant in the world and simply whisper the name Jean-Baptiste De Richemont into the maitre d’s ear and witness what takes place. I suspect that within ten minutes the restaurant’s atmosphere will shift. The kitchen staff will hush in newfound concentration, while waiters scan the room for a face they’ve been taught to recognize and fear. Depending on the quality of the maitre’d, he will have either assumed an air of stoicism, or hidden himself away in some broom closet to wait out his worst nightmare come to life.
I confess, I take no small pleasure in this effect. In some sense, it is a testament to my life’s work and a distinction of my class. Critics should be feared. We are the gadflies on the horse’s ass, stirring it to motion. Without us, art in any form - particularly culinary art - would stagnate, just as a democracy will stagnate without the freedom of press keeping it, as the Americans say, on its toes. The fact that I love my occupation should have no bearing on the importance of its function.
How is this all relevant to my case, you ask? Patience, patience your honor. I’ll be getting to that shortly. As you and most of the jury know, Bevel’s restaurant was quite the hit in London from the start, due in large part to its reputation as the first 3D printed fine dining experience in history.
The Chef Supreme was an impressive piece of technology, and I must give Marcus credit for his masterful acquisition of it. I’m told through my various contacts that he purchased it from none other than NASA. It was an early prototype model for a food distribution system their planning to take on the Martian colonization rocket in 2035.
As the rhetoric goes, despite the wondrous variety of flavors and textures our palates are capable of perceiving, food is, at the elemental level, unoriginal. It primarily consists of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and trace amounts of a few other elements. Yet it is the pattern of the constructed molecule and how these molecules are arranged that determines a dish’s taste and mouthfeel, and this machine could be programmed with any pattern its owner desired.
Imagine that liberation, your honor, freed from restraining forces like cost, logistics, even morality. Imagine the possibilities. With just the smallest DNA sample, you could grow just about anything, and consume it without a trace of guilt. Fancy a New Zealand Kiwi drumstick? Bon apatite. Curious to know what a eastern silverback gorilla's pectorals taste like? Now you can know. By creating this machine, humanity had synthesized the forbidden fruit.
And Marcus knew how to market the gimmick well. His restaurant, Sinful, featured a seven-course tasting menu based on the seven deadly sins. Can you imagine the uproar in the Christian community? Not to mention PETA, though they didn’t know whether to praise or condemn the machine. Marcus didn’t care. He was too smart for that. He knew it was fuel for the fire of his quickly rising fame.
But regardless of the petty theological implications, and the more petty still gimmick of Sinful, I knew it was my duty to bring the full scope of my considerable experience to bear on this new invention of Marcus’s. In the end, the taste, aroma, presentation and mouthfeel are all that truly matter to the critic.
So I went to his trendy modern urbanite restaurant in Shoreditch, wearing one of the disguises I don only for my most important assignments. Out came my meal; my seven most deadly sins. With each, a dark eyed waiter rattled off the name of the dish along with its shocking ingredients, a knowing smile playing across his exotic features, as if we were sharing a dirty little secret together - some taboo sexual escapade.
“Luxuria, sir. Lust. An amuse-bouche to allure and delight. Lion tartar served on a sprig of lettuce, seeped in duck fat demi-glace and topped with a raw Blue Bird of Paradise egg and gold leaf. For the full effect of this dish, place delicately egg-side down on your tongue and let the juices suffuse the palate.”
It must be admitted that Marcus, despite his British heritage, had an intuitive instinct for compatible flavors. One after another, the dishes were brought out: an enormous marbled mammoth steak for Gula, Gluttony, and of course a tenderized piece of sloth for Acedia, Sloth. You get the picture, yes?
It was all… good. Not supurbe, no, but surpassing my expectations. The Chef Supreme’s synthetic immitations were interesting and, I would even venture to say, delightful. And then the final course came.
What can I say about this? It was not an impressively presented dish; just a single understated medallion of meat, no larger than a two pence coin, placed in the center of the plate and lightly seared with a delicate honey glaze glittering upon its surface.
My dark eyed waiter did not tell me its composition. He refused to tell me. He simply said, “and now for the final course. The personal favorite of Chef Marcus Bevel. Superbia. Pride.”
There comes a time in every food critic's life when he must accept the inevitable conclusion of the arts and come to terms with the fact that he will never taste perfection. Each culinary experience is relative to the next, and each, like a potent drug, contributes to a resistance against the magnitude of all future experiences.
Superbia tore the veil of this lie away from me in one single bite. The texture was more like butter than meat, its seared honey glaze as thin and brittle as the outermost edge of the finest creme brule. And the taste, it defies all attempts at description. To put it as best I can, though it may sound melodramatic to you now, time fell away and I believe I experienced a brief moment of what the Buddhist monks call Nirvana.
A smug little clearing of the throat brought me out of my reverie, and I found that tears had formed in the corners of my eyes. Marcus Bevel himself was standing there by my table, in the full glory of his immaculate white chef’s apron, arms folded across his stocky chest. It was he who had cleared his throat.
“Monseigneur De Richemont,” he said, a loathsomely confident smile upon his face. “So good of you to drop by.”
I had been spotted. That clever dark eyed waiter had seen through my disguise.
“Ah, Mr. Bevel,” I said, removing my wig and wiping away the tears from my eyes. “I was going to ask you if you had any anti-histamines. I do believe I am allergic to something in this dish. What did that young man say was in it again?”
Marcus Bevel’s eyes narrowed. “He did not say, nor will he.”
I pressed. I needed to know the composition of the fantastic dish. “But surely, you can tell me its ingredients. How else will I give your establishment a proper review.”
“No. Not for this dish. That is part of le mystique, no?”
His pronunciation was atrocious, and I let him know my disapproval by waiting several long seconds before continuing. “Fine. You need not tell me. That is your prerogative,” and without another word, I stood up and left.
I set to work immediately. First thing was to research on the restaurant’s history and to request background checks on all of the kitchen staff. My friend at Scotland Yard gave me what I needed a mere two days later. A criminal record run through the system revealed that Sinful had pedophile in their midst. The line chef had not been charged, but he had been arrested. It would suffice.
The man was nearly in tears on the phone when I told him what I had found. He was most helpful.
“So what is in the dish? Tell me the recipe now.” It was a struggle not to shout over the phone.
“I-it is not a complicated dish. It is just lightly seared with rosemary oil with a torched honey glaze.”
“The meat. What kind of meat?” I wanted to strangle the man for his delays, but when he sighed, I knew the answer. Still, to hear it made it real.
“It is synthetic human tissue.”
I knew it. The fabled long pork. Superbia was human flesh. Thoughts raced at the implications. Only for a moment did I feel nausea. My fascination displaced even that. I had eaten human flesh. But had I really? It had never been alive, never had warm blood coursing through it, but if the machine did what it said it did, it was perfectly identical to flesh from the source subject - perfectly identical in every way that mattered.
A fresh wave of excitement and adrenaline coursed through me.
“I’m sorry, sir? What do you mean?”
“Who’s is it? Who supplied the DNA for its composition?”
Again a pause. Again, I knew before he answered. “Mr. Bevel, sir. He made us swear not to tell anyone, but it was him. He is the source for Superbia.”
I hung up. I had work to do, and this would be my magnum opus. The review to end all others.
What followed occurred just as you might expect. The uproar, the scandal, the shame. It galvanized the Christian groups anew, and there was even an incident involving mild arson. The self-righteous demonstrator was arrested, but Sinful had to be closed to deal with renovations, as well as the growing mountain of litigation from enraged customers. In response to public upheaval, the government officially made the consumption of synthetic human flesh illegal, a law that up until this point in history had not ever been needed before.
Meanwhile, my preeminence among Europe’s culinary critics was law.
But I was not content. My success was at the expense of the most inspired culinary experience of my life. It was likely that Sinful would never again open its doors, let alone serve that controversial culinary masterpiece, Superbia.
I took the bus to Shoreditch on a whim one day, or so I told myself. The front door, charred by the arson attempt, was not secure. With just a few sharp nudges of the shoulder, it opened to an empty front of house. If I could just get to the kitchen, perhaps I could figure out how the machine worked, but when entered the kitchen I found that I was not alone.
There, amidst several empty bottles of merlot, was Marcus Bevel, his once immaculate apron now unwashed and stained. Nearby was the large square box that was the Chef Supreme.
“You. What do you want?”
“Superbia,” I said at once. By this time, my craving for the dish had become an obsession. “Please, just make it once more for me.”
For a while, Marcus just stared at me. Then he began to laugh and laugh. With a sudden violent start his attitude changed. He grabbed a hanging pan, tore it from its place, and for a moment I was sure he was going to kill me.
But instead, he attacked the machine, beating it repeatedly with the pan until shattered plastic a bent metal lay strewn about the tiled floor.
Seeing the Chef Supreme irreparably destroyed broke something within me. How dare he deprive the world of Superbia. It was a crime. My vision filled with red. Before I knew what I was doing, I wrested the pan from Marcus’s hand and began hitting him with it. Striking and striking until I could no more.
When it was done, I could hardly breath from the exertion. I wanted to sob. Marcus and his machine lay side by side, both broken beyond repair. I would never taste my most cherished Superbia again.
Then as I looked upon Marcus’ unconscious form bleeding upon the floor, at his muscular chef arms and at the soft round curve of fat about his belly, the thought naturally occurred to me. I was in a kitchen afterall, and I dare say I had dabbled in the art of cooking from time to time.
And so in conclusion, your honor, before you sentence me to whatever fate you and the jury think just, allow me to give this one final review: the original Marcus Bevel was - if anything - tastier than the imitation.