I've been reading your blog for quite some time now and it has even inspired my own Eurotrip this summer, which I'm really excited about. I wanted to ask if you run any walking or culinary tours of Paris or anything of that nature. I'm a 22/f traveling solo and I'm looking for adventures with other travelers and/or like-minded people..."
It was with those words that Natalie first made contact with me last summer. We exchanged a few emails, one thing led to another and I ended up inviting her over to participate at a nascent Burnt Food dinner. It was the way she writes that seduced and enticed me and I'm so chuffed that she offered to write this piece for me. She is a law student, living in Canada and a true Francophile and foodie.
"One particularly chilly fall day at home in Toronto, I needed an outlet and a respite from the wind, the soles of my feet souring as my heels hit concrete with every step. I was in the midst of an interview process that had me running all over the city for what could turn into the career opportunity of a lifetime. It was a stroke of luck that my favourite restaurant was just around the corner. Cheeks red from the cold, I was welcomed graciously to my favourite spot near the back, overlooking the kitchen.
The weather was a complete aftershock after a lovely summer spent abroad. I had taken time to travel though western Europe, making friends with new faces, tastes and parts of myself I hadn’t ever really met. I was now back to the grind at law school, a beast all its own, with only fleeting reminders of the sights and sounds remaining half a world and half a year away, drifting further into the past. It was far removed from my present dilemma, which was making a decision about the direction I wanted my career to take. I needed to lose myself in something and let my subconscious deal with the consequences.
Watching the chefs move, tin clinking, flames searing, sweet sauces being artfully stirred and poured, was a reminder of how much time and thought goes into every aspect of human life. How much effort is expended for one little moment of joy, and how much time it takes to really achieve something great. I contemplated the decision before me, ordering New England style mussels and strawberry Fruli as seriously as if I was picking out a new car. It was my favourite meal, although each time I returned to the bistro with a different friend, I liked to at least pretend I might order something different, taking my time with the menu. This gave me time to think.
I’m not exactly sure why, but the best and toughest decisions I’ve made were over great meals. For me, food is an emotional and soul-wrenching medium, more evocative and painful than oil paints or ballet. As the bread arrived, it’s crispy exterior reminded me of a little boulangerie at Rue Crimée in Paris, or the fresh bread at Emma’s famous Burnt Cream HQ dinner parties, a side to the roasted fish and root veg to come. Afternoon was becoming evening, and the dining room was becoming a dull roar of post-work reunions, with a healthy group of people enjoying happy pre-dinner tipples at the bar. I longed for Italy, where lemon cream (introduced to me by Emma) was as common and freely handed out as the peppermint bowl in North American restaurants. Here, deep in Toronto’s financial district, you’d be hard-pressed to find it, with Niagara-region ice-wines and American scotch up and down the menu. At least the frites were blanched with beef and duck fat, served alongside smoked ketchup, quite literally steak-flavoured, if not served alongside the tender meat itself.
I thought about the decision at hand. As the mussels arrived, two shell bowls to the side, the open pot revealed a net separating the broth from the brine. I went ahead and indulged, the hot soup calming my nerves and returning me to leek soup in a little French café across from where I would take a macaron cooking class later one hot summer afternoon. The waiter brought me extra mustard in Paris. Here, he tops up my glass. I let the flavours mull around and savoured what I could, knowing that good and hearty meals, like summers abroad, don’t quite last.
I knew food was transcendent, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was evocative of a greater pattern, the soft flesh of the mussels pulling away from the shell as the din of the dinner crowd washed around me. The happiness and comfort I remembered from my months of travel were promised in the possibility of a bright future with a career I’d unexpectedly grown to love. I was pulling a summer of self- discovery forward into a life I was creating, linked by tastes and smells an ocean away. With a frothy sip of strawberry, I knew the decision I had to make. It was closer and more warming than any artfully-folded canape I could ever try, but my heartstrings were being pulled in a very clear direction. Napkin dabbing my lips, I picked up my phone to let them know."
Written by Natalie, February 2013.