I seem to recall, from the long lost days of my (chronological) childhood, that this was considered a terrible crime. I don’t recall precisely why, though I feel it may have been part of a Manichean attempt to partition the world into things that were, and were not, suitable objects of play (in its transitive verb form).
After the passage of many years and my transition into (notional) adulthood (and actual antiquity), I have come to realise that despite my parents exhortations I am still playing with my food. The nature of my play may have changed but I am still very clearly playing.
GofaDM has previously described the transmutation of the Fish Supper into the Frankenlunch: though, in many ways, this relates to the before-times when I wanted to leave my evenings free to go to gigs and other cultural delights with other people. For the moment, my evenings are all too free and my culture largely delivered through a screen – but I have hopes that the days of face-to-face culture will return again before I become too decrepit to enjoy them.
While they lasted, the Frankenlunches provided the excuse to play with all manner of new recipe ideas with the pretext of providing others with a somewhat more elaborate meal than is either my, or their, typical fare. As the host (and/or a terrible show-off: you decide), I also felt the need to provide some sort of entertainment as I was cooking and this was most easily accomplished as part of the cooking process itself. Part of this ‘entertainment’ was an extension of my normal habit of commentating on my life but I did extend it to incorporate the live creation of fresh pasta via the mangle-like mechanism of my Imperia machine.
However, in our current world of short attention spans, a mere pasta machine was never going to be able to continue to command attention when an audience can so easily click-away to more compelling content. It was thinking in this vein that I used to justify to myself the purchase of a new toy – a cook’s blowtorch – to up-the-ante for the second (in the official numbering) Frankenlunch. This was used in the making of crème brûlée, which could be made perfectly satisfactorily, if more slowly and less theatrically, using a grill – but where’s the fun and danger in that? Being in possession of a blow torch, I try to get as much use from it as possible and now use it in lieu of matches when in need of a flame.
For Frankenlunch #3, I further increased the risk by actually setting fire to a banana (and the caramel sauce in which it was reclining) using rum and another new toy: a short wand that produces a flame at its tip. This purchase was predicated on a health-and-safety brief as, with my new toy, my body would be slightly further away from the fire and so at reduced risk of being flambéd along with the banana. In this it was a success, though I would have to admit that a couple of tablespoons of rum (even doubled or re-doubled) is unlikely to create the sort of conflagration that the more alarmist flambé recipes I read seemed to anticipate and was never likely to need the bucket of wet sand some advocated.
At this stage, lockdown began and it seemed that the Frankenlunch would have to be abandoned until it was permitted (and safe) for 4 or more people to gather around a small dining table to enjoy good food, copious alcohol and silly conversation. However, people seemed unexpectedly keen to continue holding Frankenlunches on a distributed basis and so was born the Quaranstein.
For a Quaranstein, I prepare a menu of four courses that can be prepared using minimal exotic kitchen gadgetry (and in this context, a whisk has, so far, been considered exotic) and with ingedients that seem to be readily available in our depleted supermarkets. The menu is circulated in advance to allow everyone to acquire the necessary elements of the meal and work out any necessary substitutions (for the avoidance of doubt, wine gums make a poor substitute for most ingredients). On show day, we cook each course at the same time – using Zoom – with me providing some sort of leadership as a nominal ‘head chef’ (or at least somewhere for any excess of buck to come to rest): though generally with less swearing and throwing of things than that might suggest. Having cooked each course, we can then eat together again using the power of video conferencing. At the most recent Quaranstein, I included a wide-angle view of most of my flat to provide some context to my fellow chef-diners and the sight of a man sitting down alone to eat a meal with only a laptop for company is rather a haunting and, frankly, depressing one: and so, naturally generated much hilarity.
At the first Quaranstein, I took my role as the Keith Floyd de nos jour a little too seriously and become a little tipsy by course four (I wish to stress that I could still lie on the floor without holding on). This did lead to a rather unfortunate loss of control of the multiple cameras I was Zooming to provide decent coverage of the process. Different versions of me ended up tesseracted across time with each camera showing me at a different stage in my past (or future, depending on which was the ‘real’ me). This took a while to resolve as I largely failed to work out which PC was currently hosting and could be used to restore a semblance of control: eventually, I had to change T-shirt so I could work out which was the ‘current’ me. For the second Quaranstein, I was more careful to manage my ‘glugging’ and went for a simpler AV set-up which seemed to work rather better.
To my surprise, the Quaransteins have worked rather well with all participants managing to sit down to eat each course at roughly the same time, and each remotely produced course has come out pretty consistently (and not as a series of variations on amorphous forms of carbon). This is despite me encouraging flambéing at the first Quaranstein and the use of blowtorches at the second: I’m not at all sure I have the public liability insurance necessary to cover this level risk. Lucikly, injuries have only been minor: so far…
I find Quaransteins more stressful than Frankenlunches: so many more variables and so much less control are added to the widely held expectation that I have the faintest idea what I’m doing (rather than winging it as usual). Nonetheless, they still very much count as me playing with my (and now other people’s) food and have been oddly rewarding. Quaransteiners (myself included) have started adding courses ‘discovered’ during one of the lunches to their standard repertoire of meals…
It will soon be time to start planning for the June Quaranstein: how can I add some entirely spurious risk – perhaps an explosion – to at least one dessert? Can I think of a starter that does not use halloumi? Only time (or possibly a rare non-COVID related news headline) will tell…