Per Se – Part III

10 Oct

Just a few more thoughts on Per Se. It was such a special experience, I have really needed some time to consolidate my response – to let the emotional reaction to that experience ripen and settle.

I dont think I will ever be able to cook like that – and I am not sure I want to.

I am so glad and happy to have had the Per Se experience, and I look forward to other times in my life when I will be able to eat at a restaurant where there is such pure, extreme artistry. I consider myself a cook, and I loved the intellectual engagement I experienced at Per Se. But I think I was a bit nervous that going through that experience would make me feel bad about myself and my cooking style. I dont think I will ever be able to cook in such an exacting way – in such a complex and intricate manner. Its not in my nature.

As I have grown old(er) I have recognised that there are different kinds of artistry. There is the perfectionist … and I am not that. My cakes list to the side. My soups are rough and ready. I get chocolate everywhere (joyfully). I am a sensualist cook, and I cook best for those I know and love – or at least with ingredients I adore. I am comfortable with this, and proud of the fact that some of the food I make, people remember … the emotional impact of that mouthful, the love, the passion, the caring – still resonates years later.

The meal I had at Per Se was like that – but for much more technical reasons. I will be forever grateful that I had the resources, and the opportunity to dine there..and I was deeply moved by the kindness and care I felt in the food, and the service …. and of course I wouldnt say no to volunteering as a dishwasher in that kitchen! … but I am comfortable in my own skin as a cook. I look forward to my training next year to learn methodology, process, rhythm and focus. But I will always be a slightly messy, dusty, floury, chocolatey me 😉

… That can appreciate and revel in the Per Se experience!

Prepare for the experience

I was really happy that we prepared well for the experience of Per Se. This was twofold: physically and intellectually. Physically, we got plenty of rest the night before, washed and dressed beautifully, so we felt confident, and did not consume anything for breakfast, save some herbal tea. Our bodies were relaxed, eager and ready to receive the bounty that was Per Se. This experience demanded a certain “presence” on the part of the diner to truly reveal all its pleasures – ensuring we were physically grounded and ready was very important.

We also needed to prepare our minds for Per Se. I had read all of Keller’s books, so I had some idea of the processes he engaged in. Reading reviews was also very important, and we both did web searches and spoke to friends who had been. Sometimes, I like entering a new experience with relatively little expectation but this was one case where I felt it was important to know what was to come. For a few days before we went, I read the menus online (Per Se posts the menus for the day before on their website).

If you take a moment to really study the menu – look at the methods they use, the references they make – you will understand the techniques and applications when you are presented with a course – and it makes the meal much richer, deeper and enjoyable.

Know what you want, but let them lead the way

“Red” (I referred to her in Part I) really upset me because she was so disrespectful of the process of cooking, and of the style of eating at Per Se. I understand if people have food issues, and Per Se seems to have staff that are very accommodating. But I dont like it when someone feels as if they are important enough to explain their adherence to a low fat diet (in the Temple of Butter and Cream!) to the entire room! When you call to confirm your reservation – that might be a good time to have a discussion on what you can and cannot eat.

Respect the Chef and his vision. When we went on our kitchen tour, our lovely guide told us that the Chef and his assistants get together at about 1am every morning (after what is obviously an exhausting and exacting day) to plan the next day’s menu. They think carefully about the journey each set of tastings will take the guest on … and they care very deeply about it. I would not go to a play and ask the director to move the scenes around… Allow the artist to guide you through his vision – it will be all the more resonant and amazing for it. I could not believe we were creating memories and resonances within a single meal! How fantastical that was and yet how apt.

Close your eyes, and dont regret

Per Se is expensive. Breathtakingly so. I think the whole point I tried to make right at the beginning of writing about this experience was that for me, a foodie who has finally embraced her true self… the cost was an investment I made in myself. I dont want a new dress, perfume, painting or piece of jewelry. I want an experience that will inspire me, and that I will never ever forget. . As someone who is now conscious and happy in her definition as a cook, Per Se was on my list of places to go and feel. It was money truly well spent, but I have to admit, I had to close my eyes and not think about it during the experience — otherwise it would take the joy out of it all.

I do think there was one thing I regretted at Per Se. That was that I did not ask them to match drinks for me (the non-alchol drinker) as well as for my wine drinking companion. I drank water throughout the meal, and it served me well. It provided refreshment and a clean palate, but I would have been intrigued at what they would have brought me if I had asked them to do so. Ah well, next time!

Bring a friend, and immerse yourself completely!

I was so glad to have a companion with me. The whole experience was magnified by having shared it. We spoke about it for days afterwards, we compared notes on what we were eating, we reflected the experience back to each other. I was glad to have someone there who was enjoying themselves as much as I was, and who truly loved food the way I did. It solidified everything… and late into the night, we were still chatting about which courses we liked best, what we would have changed, and how much fun we had.

Part of the great pleasure of this experience was that it was so fleeting – 3 1/2 – 4 hours. You have to really stop. Be present. Take a breath, and stretch. Pause. Taste. Think. Laugh. Taste again. Total immersion was the only way to go. Each plate. The sight of it, the design, the presentation. The wafting scents. The feel of the designed cutlery and plates. The first taste. The second. The flavours coating your tongue, and the haunting whispers of memory coaxed from those tastes. The last taste of that course. The anticipation of the next.

Enjoy the spoiling and the luxury

As someone who loves to cook for others, who sees the act of cooking as a form of service and love, what surprised me most about the experience was how much it forced me to just sit back and be spoiled — and enjoy it! Because I wanted to truly enjoy it, I had to let go of my thoughts about how much wastage was going on in the kitchen, how much food we were eating when others have so little… I had to accept this luxury I was granting myself, and I had to enjoy allowing others to create a meal that would give me joy.

I loved it all!

And finally… be inspired!

Since my time at Per Se, the one lasting gift has been the inspiration I have received from experiencing such complete command over taste, texture, combinations, contrast, colour, and artistry. I have thought of food in a different way. I have considered combinations and dishes that I have never thought of before. I have read recipes, and re-read several of Kellers.

Inspiration comes in all sorts of forms. Love inspires, as does experience. People, places, laughter. This meal had a magical quality to it and I walked away deeply grateful, incredibly satisfied, and totally inspired!


5 Responses to “Per Se – Part III”

  1. Afizah October 10, 2010 at 4:58 am #

    You must be Mr Keller’s perfect guest! Mindful, knowledgeable, yet still irreverently sensual about the experience, it was wonderful to read your final musings about the sum total of the whole. A simply beautiful piece of writing from a perspicacious mind. Thank you!

    • delectableblog October 10, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

      Thank you Afizah! I appreciate so very much your kind words. It was a joyful experience, and I am so happy that you could (in the reading) experience it with me 🙂 x

  2. goddessmoments October 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    Loved this 3 chaptered post – only in part because I worshipped all over again in that Temple Of Butter And Cream 🙂 Thank you love for sharing so generously so beautifully so utterly deliciously! And as always am shamelessly looking forward to more from your messy dusty floury chocolatey perfectly pia kitchen xox

  3. goddessmoments October 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Loved this 3 chaptered post – only in part because I worshipped all over again in that Temple Of Butter And Cream 🙂 Thank you love for sharing so generously so beautifully so utterly deliciously. And I shamelessly look forward to more comforting-favourites and maybe new keller-inspired from your messy dusty floury chocolatey perfectly pia kitchen xox

    • delectableblog October 10, 2010 at 11:27 pm #

      Thanks Goddess. Definitely inspiration. Definitely brewing on new things to cook. Looking forward to being in my own (tiny) kitchen to try them all out! xxx

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