That night I served the house with the Vizier’s selection. The scent of almonds swam through the dining room that the Vizier had ordered converted to a style he was accustomed to. The table and all the chairs had been removed and rugs and cushions were arranged on the floor. I had never eaten on the floor before, but it was a very enjoyable experience. Though the senator and the Vizier were present I felt as if we were all equals. Everyone enjoyed the newness and the familiarity of the seating arrangements, before they lost themselves in the serum. This made me realise that the act of sharing a meal is half of the actual pleasure of it, if not more. This new knowledge showed me that though my food enthralled people it also isolated them from one another. And so I pondered what I could do to make my meals more sociable.
The answer came after dinner that night when some of the men in robes were belly laughing together. I asked the Vizier what they were discussing and he explained that they thought that the large bowls and plates we used in our country were like the bowls they fed they dogs with in their. He then went on to explain that in The Gulf one or two large plates carried breads and many smaller plates and bowls would be used to serve the sauces and meats and all the other foods on offer. This intrigued me. All kinds of combinations of place settings reeled through my mind, which led to further combinations of potential dishes. Since I was already in a creative mood from having cooked the Vizier’s unusual selections from the market, I excused myself early and retired to my room to work on my ideas.
Far into the night I dreamt up new and untested menus, planned the seating arrangements and imagined the outcome of blending various combinations of spices and sauces with different ingredients I knew were available. The next morning I was at the market again as it opened with a basket full of bread. I wanted to make a breakfast that would set a mood for the day. I had purchased walnut and cheese bread, salted rosemary bread, flat soft breads and a strawberry pave. The smoked and cured meats on offer that morning were simple, but I had plans to make them into creamed and buttered wonders the like of which had never been attempted. It felt amazing to be thrilled by my art again, having fallen back on the power of the serum. I longed to get back to the senator’s kitchen a make a feast for all those still slumbering in their beds.
The pestle and mortar worked themselves into a fever in my hands and wove dried berries and fresh herbs into a paste which I then watered down to use as a marinade. In that mix I soaked the cured and smoked cuts and while arranging cushions and rugs into a large circle in the dining room with the Vizier and the Senator to be seated side by side. Then I returned to the kitchen and dug around in cupboards and presses for the largest and smallest serving dishes I could find. After a worried flush of effort I came across two massive flat dishes for the breads and next to them I found small bowls and saucers and the larger traditional dinner plates. I avoided all cutlery so that the feast would have to be eaten by hand.
In no time the two large plates lay in wait at the centre of the dining area with the visitors and the Senator’s family sat around them. Once I served the lemon water I removed all the breads from the oven and sliced each loaf before placing them on the huge flat dishes. Then I placed the meats on a neat array of saucers and filled bowls with fruits and nuts, which I encircled the large mounds of bread with. All in all it was a sight in itself. The diners had agreed to await the full presentation of the meal so I knew that none would indulge before the necessary ten minute wait. As the serum sank in, the diners all began to leer at the food in anticipation. I could see that they were all ready. They were just about to lose themselves in their own private indulgences when I served the sweet tea that the Vizier had insisted on beginning each day with. As the meal began everyone reached out over the small bowls and meat plates to begin with one or other type of bread. This then led to the selection of marinated meats – followed of course by the fruits and nuts. The men in robes all acknowledged the change I had made and each nodded to me in thanks. I was glad to have satisfied them, they had enabled me to attempt something I had never considered until then. They had inspired me and invigorated my creative energies so it was I who bowed my head the deepest when I nodded back to them.
The senator’s children enjoyed eating with their hands. They also enjoyed the strawberry pave – it was a light sweetbread, almost a sponge cake. But most of all I think they enjoyed eating on the floor. To my surprise, and despite the serum, everyone interacted, albeit in a series of grunts and smirks and huffs. I couldn’t have asked for more. The success of that morning pushed me to seek out new locations to present my meals. Indoor and outdoor settings? Hot and cold weather? On boats and trains? The possibilities were endless.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey