Remember that trip I took into New York City a week or so back? The one where I went to the Museum of Modern Art and then for dinner at Spice Market?
Well, something happened there that got me thinking a little bit about food television and the restaurants run by our favorite food celebrities.
I was walking through the permanent collection at MoMA, which I had seen a number of times before. Still, it's an unbelievable museum and it features a treasure trove of well-known and important pieces including this one, this one, this one, this one and this one. So, it's not uncommon to see someone taking a photo of one of the paintings.
What caught my eye was a young woman taking the picture of a small placard on the wall, a placard which wasn't next to any of the paintings, as you might expect. After she walked away, I went over to see what it was that so interested her. On the placard was a small black-and-white image of Salvador Dalí's The Persistence of Memory and a couple of paragraphs explaining that the piece had been sent out on loan as part of an exhibition and that it wouldn't be returning to the museum until 2008.
I wondered why the woman had taken the picture of the placard. Sure, I was slightly disappointed that the piece was not there, but I had seen it on previous trips. (Although the painting has been depicted and parodied many times, it's still a fascinating piece. It's also very small, at 9.4 X 13 inches.) Did she take it so that she could be sure to include it in the photos she showed her family, as a way to explain the lack of a photo of this iconic piece? Did she do it to satisfy a friend, who told her to make sure she saw "the one with the melting clocks?" Or is she a Dalí fanatic...maybe in NYC for a vacation...who was despondent over coming all this way, only to find out that the Holy Grail for Dalí lovers was instead in London?
My unchecked imagination turned her into a life-long Dalí fan who had studied every book on the artist, knew every piece like the back of her hand and saved up a year's wages for a trip to New York to finally see The Persistence of Memory in person for herself, an experience she had dreamed of for years. She was so devastated that she had to take a photo of the sign, just to convince herself that this was really happening.
OK, I was getting carried away. Most likely, she just thought it was funny that museums lend out their artwork.
But the tantalizing third possibility got me thinking about the meal that I was having later that night at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Spice Market. I didn't know anyone who had eaten there, and the reviews from online diners were mixed. (I have officially stopped trusting reviews on sites like Citysearch, regardless of whether their positive or negative.) And yet I was eagerly anticipating the meal because of the reputation of the chef. But wasn't I setting myself up for the same disappointment as the woman in the museum if the food wasn't all that I had imagined it would be?
And isn't this doubly true for television personalities who own and run restaurants? We watch them as they prepare presumably mouth-watering dishes on television, imagining what they would taste like as Jeffrey Steingarten raves about their culinary skills. But we can never truly know unless we get a chance to sample the dishes in real life. And, even then, the meal is likely prepared by someone else, even if the celebrity happens to be in the kitchen that night.
I've had the chance to taste food that "came from" celebrity chefs, and all three were very good. My dinner at Les Halles was delicious, but certainly wasn't prepared by Anthony Bourain. My breakfast at the Downhome Diner was also great, and Jack McDavid was in the kitchen, though I'm not sure if he handled my dish. And I had a couple of bites of food cooked personally by Lidia Bastianich, which was fantastic -- although it had sat around for quite a little while before I got to it.
So I've been lucky. I've been satisfied with my meal each time.
But what happens when reality doesn't meet our expectations?
What happens when we got to the restaurant expecting a transcendent meal and, instead, find our unrealistic expectations unfulfilled?
What happens when we go to the museum expecting a masterpiece and, instead, find a sign on the wall telling us that our timing stinks?