My introduction to haute French cuisine was a dinner my brother and I still talk about. Our mother thought it would be a good idea to train us in fine dining starting from a young age. I was around 8 or 9 years old, my brother around 5 or 6. Because we were so little, our mother chose a venue she considered safe to bring children: a culinary academy’s restaurant.
At that time, there were two cooking schools with restaurants in San Francisco: The California Culinary Academy and The Culinary Institute of America. (We googled images and can’t recall which one it was, but it was one or the other.) The dining room was set up like a proper restaurant with crisp white table cloths and appropriate place settings. The servers wore tuxedos and treated my brother and I like adults. We somehow made it through seven courses cooked by the school’s chefs in training — which were six too many for my brother and I.
Through the dinner, talking and giggling were kept to a minimum by our mother shooting us her ‘act up and you will be in big trouble when we get home‘ death stare. While most of my questions and comments were kept to myself, I couldn’t control my expressions as the server lowered the large white plates with unfamiliar foods. Which made my brother break out in uncontrollable giggle fits.
Neither of us remember what we exactly ate, we clearly recall the food just wasn’t good. The hors-d’œuvres were greasy, salty and weird. The salad was over dressed. One of the courses was an over cooked lamb with a meat smell so strong, it was like a bag was put over my head and I was forced to take in the lamb aroma from my eyes, ears, nose and pores.
The one highlight of the dinner was how we were introduced to Baked Alaska, extremely popular in the 90’s and as it turns out, with children as well. I can still see our server brûlée the meringue table side, lighting the entire dessert on fire. Since that dinner, my brother and I begged our parents to take us anywhere they served Baked Alaska.
Our mother was livid after the dinner. She was mainly upset my brother and I didn’t even try to enjoy the food, made inappropriate comments about everything and ungrateful through the meal. She didn’t talk to us for several days… which still makes my brother and I laugh so much.
But because of that dinner, we both prefer cuisine that isn’t French. I still have difficulties enjoying lamb.
I bring this up only because I am sitting on sharing a recent dinner in Tokyo at… you guessed it. A French restaurant and felt the need to preface perhaps an unfavorable bias with French cuisine.
Sidenote: when did Baked Alaska lose its popularity? I can’t remember the last time I saw it on a menu.