Thursday, February 21, 2008

Speakeasy Restaurants and Forbidden Food

Good Magazine's weblog posted an article by Ligaya Mishan on speakeasy restaurants.

I've always been intrigued by illicit and underground social gatherings. Many of us are familiar with exclusive, illegal after-hours clubs, the secret raves of the '90s, absinthe parties and the many and varied orgies, klatches, salons, flash mobs and bongathons that go on in unlikely venues far beyond the walls of our domiciles; these are fairly well documented in the meme pool. Speakeasy restaurants may be a bit more tame but are no less sub rosa and therefore quite attractive to trendjackers and urban adventurers.

In a time when food is heavily regulated, litigated and legislated, it only stands to reason that these sorts of establishments would thrive in their own quietly exclusive ways. I suspect that the Cisco-ization of American restaurants and the fact that nouvelle cuisine adventures often involve bizarre concoctions featuring liquid nitrogen, carrageenan, sodium alginate and other seemingly unpalatable chemicals at upwards of $300 a plate has led many to seek their fancies in more down-to-earth, yet still singular, alternatives. (It seems we're already in the midst of a backlash against the postmodern molecular gastronomy fad)

I've caught wind of this in the past but not in much detail. I'm inclined to think that the examples cited in the above article are just the tip of the iceberg. I'd wager there are goodly numbers of covert and exotic eateries out there.

Word trickles in that certain chefs, for a fee, would prepare forbidden meals for the venturous and jaded. One example of forbidden food is the Ortolan, a tiny, endangered, European bird, the selling (but not eating) of which was outlawed by France in 1999. Apparently, only a few chefs in the world would dare prepare this delicacy and would only do it for a very healthy stack. (Recipe)

Another example that could be construed as 'forbidden' (in more than one way) is cited in Ms. Mishan's post:

"Theme menus have included a "Yes, we’re trying to kill you" dinner: bacon-wrapped pork belly, foie-gras custard with truffled wild mushrooms, and duck-confit pie."
Just yesterday I was told that there are secretive groups of cannibals in the U.S. indulging their ghoulish predilections with all the flair of contemporary haute cuisine, though I haven't been able to verify this... yet...

One can imagine nouvelle cuisine deviating into fetishes like 'culinary masochism', an Artaud-esque obstacle course of excruciating and dangerous dining. (although as I imagine this, I suspect that someone has probably already done it, in spades.)

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