The acid test of gastronomy
January 04th, 2010
Leena Parkkinen (b. 1979) has studied scriptwriting and advertising at the Turku Arts Academy and writing at the Critical Academy. She has worked in publishing, advertising, and as a bartender. After you, Max is her first novel and it won the Debutant of the Year Prize 2009.

By Leena Parkkinen (Stilton author)

In his book, La Physiologie du Goût ("The Physiology of Taste"), my old friend Anthelme Brillat-Savarin presents a list of foods that he calls the “acid test of gastronomy”. Unless a diner reacts to these foods with “dazzling ecstasy”, he is not worthy of dining in civilised company. Brillat-Savarin divides food into three groups, one specifically for the very rich, which mere mortals earning the modest sum of 5,000 francs can but dream about. The rich list includes delicacies such as truffle-filled quails with bone marrow, served with toast and basil-flavoured butter. Brillat-Savarin worships meat. Among the twenty or so dishes in his book, there is only one dish for vegetarians - spring asparagus - and even that is served with bone marrow sauce. To Brillat-Savarin, bone marrow sauce has a kind of “higher” taste. It is meatier than meat and, some would say, almost provides a sensual experience.

As I don't particularly care for red meat, and believe that eating it is somewhat suspect considering the state of world’s icebergs, I have redevised the “acid test of gastronomy.” It was more difficult than I thought it would be. At first I listed some of my own favourite foods: mussels in white wine, curried crayfish, and lobster with mayonnaise. Then I remembered that many entirely sane people have refused to eat mussels. One of my friends had the gall to state that he could never eat something as jointed as crayfish. “Besides, they are carnivores.” But so are pigs and chicken, yet my friend is perfectly happy to eat those. I once knew a girl who could not be in the same room with cheese without being sick. Nowadays it is almost impossible to invite anyone over for a meal, because people are getting more and more fussy about food. I accept allergies and ideological objection, but not someone refusing to eat mushrooms just because they don’t have four legs.

There are some foods that I can prepare myself, others that I have tried in a certain restaurant, and yet some others which have a pleasent association. Roasted duck for instance was eaten at my grandmother’s house, always in the autumn, and served with blackcurrent jam. My grandmother taught me to remove the feathers from the bird with a blow torch.

This is my subjective list of ten. If you refuse all of these, you must be tired of life.

Blinis with white fish roe, onions and smetana
Spinach, basil and pine nut-filled perches
Truffle ravioli
Mussels á la fisherman’s wife
Tiger prawns in green curry and coconut milk
Spring asparagus in bearnaise sauce
Aubergine-mozzarella bake
Scrambled eggs with smoked whitefish and trumpet-shaped chantarelles
Lemon sorbet and fresh raspberries
Baked Lapp cheese with cloudberry jam