Rosemary McLeod: 'Sophisticated' food not for me

By Rosemary McLeod

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Why force kids to eat disgusting things?
Why force kids to eat disgusting things?

Food is an emotional subject, as anyone who has wept over having to eat a nearly-raw boiled egg for breakfast - like me - will tell you. The thing about slithery, clear eggwhite, only just warmed is it's slimy and it looks like snot.

As children at boarding school we tearfully held out over what we called gooey eggs till the bell rang for classes and matron lost jurisdiction. We got the eggs that went last into the boiling pot, you see, and so they came out as good as raw, because we were served first. It's a vivid Dickensian memory, so don't come the sous-vide egg with me.

Why force kids to eat disgusting things? They only hate them more, things like the special dishes that will be served up this August at Wellington On a Plate. Oh how restaurateurs thrill to see me coming. Oh how I read the planned menus for the annual food festival and marvel that people will eat anything so long as they're paying for it and someone else cooked it.

My father said, "I will not eat things' works", and neither do I. I am not delighted by lungs, livers, kidneys, intestines, stomachs, cheeks, ears and noses, all of which have become witty things to eat, conceits to titillate our sybaritic palates. We are so sophisticated that we crave the bits that get thrown away.

In fairness, I've tried some of them: steak-and-kidney stews with hard, dry lumps of urine-sifter that make me gag, and liver in slabs, with a host of tiny veins, as if it's been beset by tunnelling creatures. Nothing could make me eat chicken livers, however poshly presented. What a disgusting texture. The chicken needed them. I don't.

Once, in France, I ordered andouillettes, a kind of sausage I'd read about somewhere, expecting something tasty and Germanic. Just one mouthful made my whole body gag at the mistake. Now I know they're made from pig's intestines, and believe me, they taste like it.

I won't eat the cheeks of animals. No matter how delicately you caress them with fine wine and herbs, I see the sad face of a slaughtered creature, and there's no joy in that.

Spare me porridge, that Scottish wallpaper paste, sago pudding, aptly called frog's eyes, nori, and mutton bird. I ate mutton bird in Dunedin Women's Prison many years ago, while writing about what being in jail was like. The Maori inmates were allowed it as a treat. Imagine leather soaked in cod liver oil and you're half way there. Jail was horrible too.

But nothing can compare with the bizarre edibles some foodies invent. Auckland chocolatiers Devonport Chocolates have invented a new treat called Death and Taxes. It mixes beef, processed to the texture of Turkish delight, with chocolate. "When you try it you don't know what you're eating," says its proud inventor, Mustafa Farouk. You have been warned.

But is that the strangest new taste sensation? Not by a long shot. From the "Why?" department come a range of Food on a Plate oddities that people will tuck into. The trick is to make the different components of the dish so weird that diners doubt their astonished tastebuds. They will say nothing because they are eating in a restaurant, and therefore the food is good.

I think I'll order Charley Noble's liquorice icecream with strawberries and basil syrup. What a gustatory punch-up that will be. I'll move on to The Matterhorn for an elegant taste combination of rhubarb and radish with cashew cream, toasted buckwheat and seaweed. I kid you not.

At The Larder I'll swoon over pohutukawa crme brulee with Jerusalem artichoke icecream and hazelnut wafers. Say it in a hurry and it sounds almost possible. Te Kouka will be serving organic pulled confit chicken with iceberg (lettuce) sardine aioli, croutons and a poached egg. Sardine with chicken. Why did nobody think of this before?

Whitebait restaurant is also going for Jerusalem artichokes, where they come with coffee and Marsala cream tart, mysteriously awful sounding. My favourite Zibibo's offering will be venison tartare with horseradish panna cotta, yellow beetroot jelly, and a black pepper tuile. I think I'll skip dessert.

Want to know whose food I envy? The animals at Wellington Zoo, the meerkats with their gourmet diet of $250-a-kilo crickets and meal worms, and even the lions, with their horse, rabbit, wallaby, chicken and beef gourmet degustations. Simplicity itself. I call that elegant.

- Rosemary McLeod is a journalist and author.

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