November 24, 2011

Freshly Ground

Must we make everything worthwhile enough in order to appreciate its value? Or if a process wrongly attaches some significance to a simple action, does it become meaningful?

This is a thought that always crosses my mind when I feel like fresh pepper at restaurants. Sometimes I judge places that serve food based on how they treat their pepper. At times I extend the same courtesy to people as well. 

I understand that importance of fresh spice and have more than a clue to what it can possibly do to the food you eat. But what I can’t comprehend is why must pepper be given that exalted place amongst spices? If olive oil, chili flakes and oregano can be put on a table why can’t pepper partner salt there as well. Why must you attract the server’s attention and ask for pepper. If they bring a giant pepper mill and operate it all over your food, why can’t the same degree of commitment be shown with a regular sized pepper-mill on the table?

I’m not surprised anymore when I don’t see pepper on the table. It is my favorite spice and I know I will ask for it no matter what. I always ask the people with me about the whole shenanigan of a waiter bringing a pepper mill and going about the business of turning it as if they were conducting an orchestra. They all tell me it’s fresh, which sounds like not that again. The size notwithstanding, a pepper mill is going to release the ground pepper that will have, perhaps, the same degree of freshness.

Could it be that there is no chili flaker machine, or no oregano crushing contraption or else they’d have been given the same treatment? Or could it that the waiters need something like a pepper-mill to come to you and, well, just interact? If that be the case then could not they simply keep an eye on the water levels in the guests’ glasses or keep looking in their general direction every three minutes. Wouldn’t that be a better way of maintaining communication?  Off late I don’t ask for things when it comes to waiters and restaurants. I just gesticulate and that’s that. I don’t shout and ask for a refill of my glass; I don’t excuse myself and request some pepper. I simply look at them and make the international hand sign of I-WATER-DRINK or MUST-FRESH-PEPPER-CRUSH. Don’t think any less of me. You do that when it comes to the bill and don't they get it in the first instance! So, yeah, I have simply extended that successful mantra to everything else.

In the food business there is a great deal of importance attached to the word ‘freshly’ when it precedes ‘squeezed’ or ‘crushed’. It is in this context that the simple pepper-mill becomes larger than life in my thoughts. Albert Einstein had once mused that, ‘everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.Going by that rationale a simple pepper-mill to ‘freshly crush’ your own pepper would have been good enough but the act of a waiter who behaves like a tenor as he/she operates the machine makes it, actually, look simpler. And somewhere during this transformation of a pod into powder, a lot is lost.

Click on this link to understand my point better.

© Gautam Chintamani, 2011

1 Responses to “Freshly Ground”

  • I too love fresh ground pepper.... :)
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