Life is replete with the banal and the ubiquitous. Everyday has the risk of being routine as we slip from slumber and onto the hamster wheel that would otherwise propel us in circles. However, it is the moments in life where we break free of this predictability where, in an instant, in a moment, we actually live. And, yet, it is in the “everyday” that life and magic exist. It doesn’t exist on some rarefied mountain top guarded by a bearded sage … it is the mountain itself. To quote John Lennon, “Life is [to many] what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” … busy doing other things. For some who have trained their minds, escape is unnecessary because they live in a perpetual state of enlightened awareness; others can escape the hamster wheel in a moment of reflection or meditation; and for others, there are, ironically, physical moments which are portals through which we can slip the manacles of routine and transcend the corporeal. Mere mortal that I am, I write about the latter….
William Blake presents it perfectly in “Auguries of Innocence”
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Oh, if only I could write an insightful sentence as beautifully.
I don’t want to make this an overly philosophic post and I suspect with the introduction of William Blake, some of you have already changed the channel. However, in my own humble opinion, a foodgasm is integrally linked to a philosophy, a philosophy of food, yes, of pleasure, yes, but of life itself as well. And so, at the risk of boring some of you, I would like to share what transcendentalism means to me … and why this is relevant to such a pure experience like the foodgasm.
I have had many transcendent experiences; indeed, I would think many of us have at least one in our lives. For some, it might the birth of their child; for others, a sunset on the Pacific Rim. Some might see it in a painting or fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; some might hear it in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy or in the midst of mosh pit undulating in a sea of skin and sweat. Some might feel it in a lover’s kiss or a full-body orgasm that overwhelms the soul. And some will smell and/or taste it in an exquisite bottle of wine or a morsel that is a multidimensional catalyst to experience.
Broadly speaking, these are experiences you don’t forget. You remember them your whole life. I dare say they are life itself and I hope to think that they will be the looping track that plays as I slip the bonds of this existence … some day, far in the future.
These are moments in which we transcend our banal existence, when we cease “eating to live” and begin to live to eat … a journey through which experience produces life. It might be that for some it takes magic or the exquisite to render in our body awe … but to come back to Blake or, better yet, to read Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” I don’t think of myself as particularly “wise,” but I do know that in my early twenties, I read Emerson, and I was changed. Emerson’s words were highly intellectualized, but when I then read Thoreau, Hawthorne, Poe and some of the English writers like Blake, there was, if not a true ah-ha, then there was at least a mighty seed planted that would form into a personal philosophy as I was changed by a life that would be lived.
Again, I must say, Blake nailed it – I’m sorry if I am being pedantic, but for me, an intellectual creature, I needed to understand first in my head that which I was going to experience without my head at all – I need to learn the theory in order to discover practice. It’s a bit like yoga and meditation, of stretching the body to the point of hyper awareness so that you can then shut it off and transcend it; I needed to understand the concept so that my being had space within it to be open to the experience I would feel.
I still remember my first foodgasm like it was yesterday. I can still taste it and smell it; I can still feel the hairs on my spine ebb and flow as I reflect on something that happened some 12 years ago.
I was in Halifax. I was eating at what I remember was the Five Fisherman restaurant. I was alone; it was the first trip in my life that I traveled alone; and it is where I had the self-defining experience of eating alone in a restaurant. I sat in the lounge, had a great glass of beer (or at least it was “great” a dozen years ago) and I ordered their version of Oysters Rockefeller. The ceramic plate came to my table with the diced bacon still sizzling under the tendrils of angel haired gruyere and spinach that had perfectly crisped to accent the most fragrant oysters I had ever eaten in my life. With one taste, I could feel my heart quicken and my body forged hard before melting, as though my naked back had been touched the first time by my first crush and then followed with the purest and most relaxing massage of my life.
I felt the Atlantic kiss the nape of my neck. I tasted music and I saw savoury stars.
I felt alive.
And, it’s true, you never forget your first time.
I’ve had a handful of similar experiences since; and many more ‘near hits’ which I think probably had the capacity to transport if only I let myself go. It’s interesting that I’ve never been able to give myself a foodgasm – I haven’t accomplished it cooking for myself though I think I’ve had a few dishes that came very close and perhaps delivered for others. The reason is because there is a heightened awareness of the “others” when I cook for friends and family; they are my focus which I think gets in the way of just letting go. But when others cook, the foodgasm becomes possible.
I had such an experience last night at Holder in Montreal. Ou-la-la. The Tibetan monk that rang the prayer bells of my palette was the “Gourmet salad” which came with duck confit, duck gizzards, smoked magret, foie gras, a poached egg and a long crouton. As I ordered it, the server looked at me with curiosity. I’m not sure – perhaps it’s not the thing an English tourist usually orders. It was a duck salad with duck served four ways along with the most perfect, exquisite, poached quail egg I’ve ever eaten as the proverbial icing (or yolk as the case might be) on the cake.
It started with first taste of the foie gras which transported every pleasure centre of my body to another to place where duck is the canvas, the oil, the artist and the composition. It ended with the same, my plate totally clean, and me spent. It was perfume in my nose, silk upon my tongue, a burst of chardonnay and sauterne, and a hedonistic finger on the nerve centre of my primordial brain. I closed my eyes and was gone. My body became my tongue and each forkful transported me further. The confit was a kiss upon the lips, the gizzard was a feather on the neck, the quail egg an eyelash on the cheek, and the foie gras a whisper in the ear. If ever you needed a reason to visit Montreal, this salad is the best I’ve had in a long time.
With apologies to Blake, in that moment, and with each fork,
I felt the world slide into my mouth,
Saw heaven when I closed my eyes and simply ‘was,’
Held infinity in my mouth as it melted into my heart,
And knew eternity in each taste.
It was a transcendent moment.
It was the longest foodgasm of my life.