For menu surprise, I never order the the same dish twice no matter how magical the first bite. Even more than taste, when I sit down to a meal it’s surprise I seek.
An economist by trade, I have a profound appreciation for the law of diminishing marginal returns, whereby the we extract maximum value from the first action we engage in, slightly less from the second actions, and so on until the value actually turns negative.
Like most things in life, I’m only able to understand complex theory and concepts through food. Imagine you are sitting down to a heaping tray of al pastor tacos hawked from a small stand in Oaxaca. You devour the first, second and third taco in a state of pure gluttonic bliss.The fourth and fifth take a little longer to get down, but THEY TASTE SO GOOD so you ignore the slight discomfort around the belt. And then every taco after that becomes less about pleasure and more about an obligation to pay homage to the king of tacos. And finally, with a longing gaze at a the sacred plat, you finally accept that one more bite will lead to a less that glorious exit from Oaxaca.
When I experience food no matter the place, format or situation, I can’t forget the law of diminishing marginal returns. Because food for me is not just about taste, although there is NOTHING more important, it’s also about the surprise element that is inherent in the new, and difficult to retain. Whenever I eat, I go into the game with the mindset that it’s the first and last time I’ll be taking by knife and fork to whatever is in front of me. With this take no prisoners approach, I squeeze maximum pleasure from the experience and savour the place, the presentation, the plate, and the entirety of the eating!
This immersion into my food means my memories are tinged with hot sauce and olive oil, as well as the unquantifiable element of surprise from the new and unknown. I’m always looking for menu surprise, so when I have the opportunity to order the same dish, expecting to replicate the past gastronomic highs, I know, deep down, that only disappointment awaits.
Because the value of menu surprise scores big on my palate and when I sit down in the same place for the second time, I’m always going to give up the guaranteed for the unknown, a new plate filled with dangerously exciting possibilities.
Food, people and ideas can always be improved on, iterating on the past and creating a better (and more delicious) future. Whether I’m in or out of the kitchen I’m experimenting – the best results made the cut in my latest cookbook
. My gazpacho never has the same red hue, my hummus always creamier than the last, and my coffee is spiced with cardamom one day, cinnamon the next and every permutations richer that the last.
I’m not one to be tied to traditions, although Jose Andres
taught me to always respect them, and that’s why I’m constantly experimenting and never settling for the tried and true, whether I’m cooking or eating.
If you want to experience more pleasure before the meal, order something you have had before; you can access your memory of that pleasure. But if you want to create new memories – more pleasure in the future order something new.
For those who don’t want to risk a meal, stick to what you know and order your usual, but if menu surprise forms part of your experience, then choose the unfamiliar and ask the chef to bring you a plate of the unknown.