Fine Dining: An experience, an exquisite gastronomic pleasure

Food in its million global guises attracts us all and invites us to neglect our best intentions not to eat too much, and not to eat sweets, and so on. But premium dining experiences are rare, so I thought we could imagine ourselves enjoying the luxury and decadence of a premier dining experience, so please, be seated, and with encouragement to enjoy your repast, in French, “bon appetit!”
Most such dining experiences will be implemented according to rules of etiquette, established long before I was born, the eleventh century in fact when King Frederick II decided to introduce rules for dining at his table that would encourage “intellect, wit, and beauty.” Then, in the fifteenth century, noted printer William Caxton published, “The Book of Cutesye,” followed by Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus, further development of societal rules. Even George Washington wrote a volume of 110 rules, entitled, “Rules of civility, Decent behaviour in company and Conversation.”
Seating guests can be fraught with disaster however an authority on the topic advised that “Married couples should never be seated together, as it will be no different to their dining at their own table.” Whispering conspiratorially, “And besides, separately they can tell stories about each other! But seriously, one should place those with common interests beside each other, while match-making (placing well-matched unmarried young people) next to each other has a romantic feel to it, no?”
A western-style Twelve Course Meal will begin with Hors d’oeuvres (pronounced or-dervs), a small one or two-bite items that are served with pre-dinner drinks, very much as a taster and conversation starter. Shrimp cocktails, stuffed mushrooms, lightly toasted bread with tapenade, salsa or guacamole are all popular, as are chicken wings today, but these are frowned upon by many of the ‘glitterati’ as being “too messy.” Their purpose is to ‘tease’ your appetite for what lies ahead. “It looks so good, I will try everything!”
The Amuse-Bouche (pronounced aahmews boosh), comes next and is traditionally the chef’s little joke, an amusement, with some form of rare or unusual food, prepared in an equally unusual manner. It is designed to “titillate and titivate,” with exceptional taste and texture in only one bite, and is seen by many as an indication of the chef’s adventurous spirit. “Sweet Potato Chips, with Caviar and Truffle Shavings please!”
The ever so humble Soup (Soop)follows, and while Chicken Noodle soup may be great for a cold, you don’t want it flicking soup on your bodice or white tux shirt. Historically Bisque, or Cream Soups, and Bouillabaisse, a soup-stew was the most popular on continental menus, but today Potato, Onion, and particularly Pumpkin soups, re-purposed with curry, chillies, ginger and herbs are all the rage and taste sensational. “The Tuscan Bean and Garlic Soup would be lovely thanks, but no croutons.”
Appetizers (pronounced ap-i-tiy-zrs) are next, and by now, conversation is probably in full swing, so delicacy is important after the attentive partaking of the soup. This course comes in many diverse forms, maybe in a Chip’n’dip style, Potato Skins, Cheese and crackers, or Seafood, and is usually complementary, in flavour, to the main course and encourages ‘guessing games.” Honey Roast Carrot and Shrimp kebab sound amazing. Yes please!”
Salads are next, and I’m not a salad enthusiast, but those who are will today be enchanted by the use of different nuts and condiments to enhance what may otherwise be a normal, ordinary lettuce and herbs selection. Salads also herald the Fish course, and today, the fashion is to have filleted, boneless fish such as Sole, Cod, Salmon and Trout. Most chefs today steam or bake fish, as it is handled less that way, and maintains its texture more readily. “No salad for me thank you, but I will have the Poached Sole with Hollandaise Sauce.”
The First Main should be a chef’s speciality, and again traditionally poultry such as Chicken, Duck, Turkey, Pheasant and Quail, the European favourites. This course tends to be cooked in a simple manner, roasted or baked, but with the intensity of flavour being enhanced by a light gravy, or ‘jus’ which commonly features strong earthy tastes from wild berries, mushrooms, truffles and the like, to lift the occasional blandness of the poultry. “This is no contest, Breast of Pheasant and Country Berry Jus, will be perfect thank you.”
Palate Cleansers follow the first main and are a two-bite dish, designed to remove any lingering tastes from the First Main. Many feature a form of anti-acid or digestive, to prevent heartburn or indigestion. Sorbet is the most frequently utilised of the palate cleansers and it should be sharp, not sweet, in flavour, as it is the combination of the cold, crispness and sharpness which works so well on residual grease and refreshes the palate, though cucumber and watermelon have similar properties. “Just a little Watermelon please.”
The Second Main usually features a premium red meat, such as Beef, Lamb, or Venison and is generally served, directly carved from a trolley as it will be served as a ‘carving’ dish such as Leg or Rack of Lamb, Roast of Beef or Beef Wellington, or Haunch of Venison. Veal and Pork are not so common at this stage of a meal, though Wild Boar has historically proven popular in Central Europe. A variety of condiments will be offered in the way of jus, sauces, and mustards. “That Venison with Pear Sauce sounds divine, so that’s my choice.”
Served immediately after the Second Main, the Cheese Course will usually be served on a wooden board, or slate, and commonly features three or more very different flavours and textures. Served historically with crackers, boutique, grainy breads tend to be more popular today. This course famously, or notoriously, allows conversation to be resumed in a more meaningful manner, and can often be, in terms of time, the longest of a meal. “I’ll just have a little Whole Grain Bread and some New Zealand Cheddar Cheese please.”
Thus relaxed, and perhaps ready for some sweet relief, the Dessert follows. A chef will often display their personality, and a little frivolity here, and certainly showcase their technical abilities. Merengue, Tiramasu, Canolli, Crème Brulee, Torte, Trifle, Tarte Tartin, Gelato, Ice Cream, Cheesecake, Gateaux, Mousse, and Black Forest Cake are the most common, and still highly prized deserts after centuries, however dishes from around the world such as Baklava, Bourma, Kifli, Kashata, Brownies, Sendol, Knafi, Kulfi, Tors Leche, Kunafa, Gulab Jamun, Mamul, Medovik, Oliebollen, Pavlova, Qatayef, Sesame Balls, and even the humble Chocolate Chip Cookie can tempt all diners. “Trifle looks delicious. Thank you.”
The final course is a Mignardise (pronounced min-yar-deez) is a tiny, one-bite, pastry or sweet, tiny cookies, tarts, macaroons, madeleine, chocolates and candies, also often known as petites fours, and served with liqueurs, coffee or tea. “And to finish, Coffee and a Dairy Chocolate. Perfect!”
Thus bringing the curtain down on what has surely been a gastronomically rewarding, conversationally interesting, and socially enlightening evening for all. Now…………………. “who is doing the dishes?”