Saturday, November 14, 2009

Diasporic Dining: Episode VI (Organic Fusion at Modestly High Prices)

It’s no longer 1984, but George Orwell’s Newspeak is alive and kicking in our modern culinary establishments. There is a certain kind of antiseptic, multi-starred restaurant, run by graduates of the Cornell School of Hotel Adminisration, which advertises fusion cuisine made with organic, free-range products, in which the dining experience is very close to having a surgical procedure at the Mayo Clinic. After waiting to be seated in a reception area that looks like a doctor’s office and only contains magazines made from recycled paper products, diners are led to their table by a functionary who has adopted the attitude of neutrality still employed by orthodox Freudian analysts. The ensuing parental transference makes it virtually impossible to protest that the table is drafty or the seating cramped.

Photographs by Hallie Cohen

Seat belts are not required, but a diner is left in the care of a creature with the requisite sedative tableside manner. “I will be your server throughout your Organic Fusion Cuisine At Modestly High Prices experience.” The diner will undoubtedly be reminded of the famous Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man,” in which a humanitarian manifesto created by seemingly friendly aliens turns out to be a cookbook. Trekkies may confuse their server with Mr. Spock.

The attitude of the server is one of complete understanding, up until a certain point, as the chef and his kitchen are not going to be held hostage by patrons with boundary issues. The server’s job is to tell his or her customers that by coming to the restaurant they have relinquished their freedom, along with a considerable sum of money.

This is what is known as pleasure and happiness in the culture of Western society in the first half of the twenty-first century. The ordering process is one of seeming choices that are little more than self-fulfilling prophecies. There is no way that the diner is going to get ketchup or salt, and chances are nil that his or her palette will experience the delight that comes from awakening familiar taste buds. Duck is never crispy and can never be served whole, and orange sauce is expressly forbidden. Rather, it is only served in portions large enough to feed a bird, and must look and taste like a piece of raw fish. Bread and butter are treated like alcohol during prohibition. “Organic Fusion” has an on-premise Eliot Ness to make sure that interlopers don’t take an attitude towards the bread that oenophiles take towards wine in a BYOB restaurant, ie easy come-easy go.

Paying is similar to being checked out of a hospital or waiting for air traffic control to release your flight during a backup at Kennedy. One can certainly ask for the check, and all manner of complaints and excuses can be made, but no one is paying until the tower is good and ready. However, having completed an experience at Organic Fusion Cuisine At Modestly High Prices, the veteran diner will heave a sigh of relief. Though the experience has it esthetic delights, there is no doubt that it is intended to result in an empty stomach. Having ordered, eaten and paid, the only thing left to do after a meal at Organic Fusion is to get something to eat.

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