I love great food as much as I love surprises. I was elated when someone close treated me to a meal to thank me for something I had done for them. I chose a restaurant known for its good food and informality as I dislike pompousness.
I trust – and in this case trusted – the Chef Patron blindly. I just told him: “I am at your mercy. You can prepare anything you like. Or rather whatever you think is your best food. From starter to sweet.”
The Chef churned out – no, not churned but delicately presented – fabulous fare. If anything can be beyond delicious, this was what I ate that night.
The starter was a pasta dish with a flavourful flourish. Based on fowl the sauce contained fig to give it an interesting, and welcome, twist. It had a heavenly feel. My choice of the main course, or rather not my choice at all, followed. I had not even hinted at my likes, dislikes, or preferences. I was at the Chef’s mercy, and I was rewarded with choice selections.
The main dish – and therefore the Chef’s signature one – was a huge, sizzling, wonderfully cooked, prime piece of beef. Juicy, finished just right with the top slightly browned and the inside tender in visuals, taste and aromas.
The right flavours, enough creativity to make you taste a morsel and anticipate the next explosion of tastes. To add to the right mix, the ambience was just about as perfect as you can get with vistas of fields, green patches and trees. What more can a mortal – especially on this isle of ours – ask for?
And yet. And yet, yes, I can definitely ask for more.
This is not the right course for the world.
I asked for it and I got it. I am not griping about what I was given. Far from it. The food presented was my doing. My blind trust was all done willingly. I was not force-fed or bamboozled by a Chef who sang the praises of his beef.
The choice of beef, as a Top Chef’s best dish, shows up the way of the world. A piece of beef, prepared with care and then devoured by me, is not what will cause the planet to die. But the attitude, that to be special our food needs joints of meat, especially beef, should change. With the global crisis we face, any effort to reduce our carbon footprint is not just important but vital.
I am not saying that we should all become crusading vegans or vigilant vegetarians. But we should listen to the world’s experts, listen to the planet’s sad sighs of oncoming destruction, and rethink our strategies.
Cutting out all beef ingestion is hardly possible. Some climate crisis experts believe that the rearing, farming of cows, and our near dependency on beef, should be totally stopped. They contend that unless we reduce carbon emissions drastically, we face extinction. Ideally, of course, besides beef intake we should also reduce all fossil fuels and stop chopping down forests and trees.
But Chefs can, and should, do their bit, their little bit. A new way of thinking, of approaching our food preparation, of reducing beef and its extracts in most of our food, needs to kick in.
At this particular restaurant I let the Chef make the selection. It was the perfect meal – in aroma and texture – but it also was, in a symbolic way, the perfect way to help speed up the planet’s end with a sizzling bang.
We need to find new ways. Of feeding, of eating, of looking at food. We need to experiment more with plant-based food, we need to keep exploiting ingredients which are sustainable.
We need to eat more plant-based food. If possible, and without delay, we need to look at ways insects and other sources of protein can become part of our daily diets. More use of jellyfish and seaweed should be encouraged, studied and celebrated.
Has any good Chef, or whole communities of Chefs, ever failed to take up challenges, even if they sound tough and impossible?
Don’t Chefs come up with solutions, with innovative twists, in every situation? Chefs are some of the world’s best creatives and can surely conjure up magic to help in furthering the sustainability of food.
I know and salute the Chefs who do not allow their food to be so beef-centric but there aren’t enough and we, the diners, need to re-think what gives us the ultimate kick in the food we expect.
We must decrease our meat intake. Some might feel impoverished – in taste and in quality of life – but if, by doing so, we are giving our own planet a better chance of survival, isn’t that worth it?
If more Chefs turn away from their obsession with meat, I am sure they can, and will, give us alternatives to beef wonderfully presented and heavenly in taste.
Just as heavenly as the steak in that restaurant was.
Victor Calleja is a writer and columnist for Malta’s leading newspaper. For a number of years he edited Insider, a gastronomy and hospitality magazine. He also edited Archetype, centred around urban living. Victor loves anything connected to words, food, travel, and storytelling.