A Hamburger Today
Photo credit: iStockphoto.com
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. He created light and day and water and, eventually, trees, flowers, animals, and man. The man's name was Adam, and he liked to eat things in the garden, Eden. Soon he had a wife, Eve, and she made most of their dinner reservations. "Where do you want to go for our anniversary?" she'd pester.
"Let's try the fig tree," Adam said. "I hear it's lovely."
Adam and Eve were our first tasters: They tasted the first carrot, the first onion, the first kiwi-flavored Snapple. Before they bit from the tree of knowledge, their enjoyment of food was pure and unpretentious.
"Oooh," Adam said. "Try this Medjool date."
"Exquisite," Eve said. "Don't bite that pineapple, it's spiky."
Eve enjoyed her time with Adam in the garden but found that she had strange cravings. "These tomatoes are nice," she'd say. "But wouldn't they be better slow-roasted in an oven and served on toasted bread with cold-pressed olive oil and aged pecorino?"
One day, a snake overheard her thoughts and whispered to her. "Wouldn't you like to try some apple gelée with peach nectar foam on a bed of rose petals? Or mango soufflé in a moat of rosemary vapor with the essence of camel?"
Eve smacked her lips in delight. The snake (who looked a bit like Marcel from Top Chef) said "bite this" and handed her a freeze-dried apple skin. She took a bite, and the rest is history.
Banished from the garden, Eve soon opened her own boutique gourmet supermarket with cave-aged cheeses and artisanal jams and sauces. Adam stuck to his backwoods sensibility: He'd make venison jerky and give it to his sons, Cain and Abel. Abel really took to it, but Cain spit it out in disgust. "It's like shoe leather," he said. "I'm going to live with Mom."
Cain opened a high-end restaurant with $40 appetizers and $80 entrées. The food was mediocre, but he made people feel important by treating them badly. It was a smashing success, and his family was prouduntil Abel opened a burger joint down the block. Abel's burger joint prospered because the food was dependably good and cheap. So Cain killed Abel with his dad's jerky.
"Where is your brother Abel?" God asked.
"Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain responded, a smile growing on his face. "Hey! That's a good name for my next restaurant!"
Brother's Keeper became the destination spot for the Bible's jet set. Noah was seen eating there: He ordered two of everything, which Cain loved because it ran up the tab. Joseph refused to check his Technicolor dreamcoat.
The future of gastronomy was bleak. Upstart chefs from different continents attempted to synthesize their cuisines into universal fusion food at a place called Babel, but it collapsed when a saffron-infused cream of wonton soup caused one critic to create a new language to express his disgust.
Luckily, an underground movement surfaced. These were the purists who harkened to the days of Eden, who celebrated food for what it was, not for what it meant. These were the descendants of Adam and Abel who could eat a roast chicken with their hands, who could slobber over a watermelon without self-awareness. Their lot was frowned upon by the denizens of Brother's Keeperthey usually let the Adamites park the cars and wash the dishes. But they'd never let an Adamite dine among them because who wants to watch someone groan in ecstasy while slurping oxtail soup? And who even eats oxtail soup anymore? Oxtail soup is Adamite food: We prefer our low-fat chicken broth, thank you very much.
Soon a war broke out. The purists were banished to San Francisco, the elitists conquered the upper half of Manhattan. The elitists demanded that everyone wear a jacket at dinner, that customers call to confirm a reservation 14 times before dining, and, should that same customer miss his reservation, that a death squad would ensure the death of his first-born son.
The purists, meanwhile, became more and more militant. If a vegetable wasn't organic, if a chicken wasn't free range, if an egg wasn't hormone-free, they would go ballistic and drown "fascist" food suppliers in the town square. Both New York and San Francisco became war zones, as did Paris, London, and Tokyo. Eden, meanwhile, became a Disney-owned theme park where visitors could sample replications of the original natural foods: synthetic figs, synthetic dates, synthetic pineapples that Eve cut her mouth on.
Rumor spread of a savior as huge masses congregated around strange individuals who claimed to know the way. There was the prophet Emeril, who yelled "Bam!" and sold his essence in jars at supermarkets around the country. There was the prophetess Rachael, who inspired the masses with buzzwords like "Yumm-O" and "Sammy."
But a real savior was nowhere in sight, and more and more people felt overwhelmed at all the choices they had to make: Where to shop? Where to eat? What to eat?
Scholars attempted to return people to the land; business leaders tried to provide quick, easy solutions.
God saw what he had wrought, and he cracked his knuckles and sighed. "I banished them from Eden," he said, "and now where are they? Microwaving popcorn for dinner?"
He decided to try something simple. He gave everyone a pan. He gave everyone some butter. He gave everyone an egg and bread.
"This is called Rocky Mountain toast," he explained through a supersonic P.A. system.
"Cut a hole in the bread with a cup," he explained. "Melt the butter in the pan, place the bread in, and cook until it sizzles. Crack an egg into the hole, and let it cook. Flip the bread over, and let the other side cook. Then, sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Serve on a plate, and eat."
The people did this, and they realized food didn't have to be so complicated, that satisfying, delicious food is completely doable at home. You don't have to be an elitist and eat quail eggs at every meal; you don't have to be a purist and shop only for the most morally acceptable egg. As long as there's butter, as long as there's bread, as long as there's heat, you can eat well.
The people bit into their Rocky Mountain toast and smiled. God smiled too.
And it was good.
About the author: Adam Roberts is The Amateur Gourmet. His book, The Amateur Gourmet, will be published by Bantam/Dell in summer 2007.