Recipe for a Perfect Meal

~By Kate H. Knapp

In those quiet moments, when life is taking a long overdue nap, I find myself contemplating my perfect meal. I have been fortunate enough to have several in my life, where everything—freshness, flavors, company, comfort, atmosphere, lighting, and sound—aligned to create something that reaches beyond euphoria and makes even the most curmudgeonly of angels grin.

My mind always returns to these savory moments because I’m enthralled by the equation, which brings together each element seamlessly. I envision the perfect meal like a recipe, where each of the ingredients must be measured precisely to make sure the final product is more than just edible, but is also oh so memorable. A great meal should awaken all of your senses. It should, like a conductor of a fine symphony making glorious music out of silence, satisfy your subconscious appetite. This is the hunger that goes much deeper than our basic instinct to eat for survival; it’s a craving you do not even know exists until the moment it is sated.

The question is, however, how much of each of the above ingredients is necessary for such a successful experience?

My perfect meals range from a divine duck confit at a Parisian restaurant to my mother’s custard on a cold winter’s morning in her kitchen, so I am at a loss for the common thread. Granted, the actual food, whether it comes from a gourmet kitchen to a street cart, is always delectable, but would I enjoy it as much if the atmosphere wasn’t as fitting? For instance, would that duck taste quite as succulent if I was dining in a noisy subway instead of a street-lit café in the Montmartre? I have half a mind to believe it wouldn’t … and each bite of that delicious duck was a religious experience.

At a recent meal at an incredible restaurant in New York City, I was once again transported to heaven. I noticed, however, that as I was falling deeper and deeper in love with my dish (and my companion), the people around me were less enthusiastic. Some nodded in approval, but there was little in their demeanor to prove that what was laid before them was as life changing, or at the very least memorable.

This is where once again the equation throws me into a loop and sends my idle mind a wandering. The food was the same, the atmosphere the same, lighting and sounds all the same. The only difference was in our company. Could it be that who we were dining with would have such an impact on a meal? Well, as my grandmother would say, the proof is always in the pudding, and it did indeed seem to be the case with this particular meal.

Still, the one constant that can never change is that the food must reach beyond the average. It doesn’t matter how beautifully decorated a restaurant is or how intriguing your dinner companion may be, if the food tastes like the same food served at a drive-thru, it’s going to be disappointing.

With this in mind, I have come to the conclusion that if I was going to treat this like a recipe, I would say to create a perfect meal you need one part exceptional food, three-quarter parts great company, two-quarter parts atmosphere, and a good dose of humor. This is not guaranteed science, however, and prone to variation much like the way altitudes affect how you bake: You might end up with a fallen soufflé even when you mixed all of the ingredients properly.

Don’t despair. If every meal achieved perfection, we would never recognize those truly spectacular experiences. Just try to keep in mind that when those moments occur, and all the food stars come together to form an ideal dish and dining experience, we must not only savor each bite, but also take time to appreciate all of the main ingredients mixing together harmoniously.

***

Do you have an idea of what creates an ideal dining experience? What was your perfect meal? Please share any and all comments below.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike Johnson says:

    Nice post. A couple of thoughts:

    1) I agree on the setting. Some of the best meals I’ve had are in settings that may leave one wanting, and vice-versa. I’ve had plenty of terrible meals in wonderful restaurants, and the best pad see you I’ve ever had was from a hole in the wall of the Chiang Mai rail station, eaten on a bench with a plastic fork.

    2) I’ve wondered about the “perfect food” or “favorite food” often, myself. Part of the problem is the definition. Is it something that I best remember? Is it a sole ingredient? Is it something I could eat nearly every meal for life? Some people can so easily say “lobster” or “seaweed salad” or “pizza” but I find it so difficult to commit to a particular choice. Another problem is that with anything I consider choosing, I realize things I’m leaving out and thus May Never Eat Again!

    Right now I’m thinking that the answer to all of these questions is Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house. It’s my hands-down favorite holiday, the food is predictably hearty, tasty, and large-portioned, and I’m surrounded by family.

    Of course, my choice is always subject to whims. 🙂

  2. Sarah says:

    I think there’s also something to be said for the element of surprise. Some of my favorite meals were when I had low expectations, found something I had never tried before, or took a side trip/diversion when traveling or on an otherwise-routine day.

    Having said that, I agree with Mike that Thanksgiving is hard to beat.

  3. What a fantastic article. I really enjoy reading these kinds or posts. I look forward to see what others have to say.

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