4.6 Open Water
Words by Srishti Sareen
11 August 2021
Have dinner with a food anthropologist
Illustration by Jishnnu B
There are people in white blazers, with unreasonably long white hats that seem to be dancing to the chaotic beat of clattering pans, steam, sizzle and yelling. They are working with enormous pans, fire, smoke, and long sharp blades. These long sharp blades rock back and forth producing identical chops of whatever comes their way. I see someone deliberately set their pan on fire, using some sort of alcohol as the catalyst. Suddenly, I am not too sure about witnessing this disarray, it looks too dangerous. Spotting a pair of hands rhythmically pulling the flesh off of a pig’s skull and sawing through its carcass, did not make things better. The people dressed in white seem to be a part of a theatrical performance, where they have undergone years and years of training to please the taste buds and odor receptors of the people who are sitting in the front. The people who are responsible for this mayhem.
These people have paid a fortune for this illusion – with warm lighting and conversations. Their glistening silverware are the dancers here. They dance to soft jazz, as they slice into the saddle stuffed with lobster, and scoop up some wild herb salad. I see these people sipping, what smells like, legendary long-lived vintage red burgundies in long stemmed glasses, ignorant of the parallel chaos they cause with every demand.
The portkey to this Utopia is a little door in front of the madhouse, the key to this portkey is only with suited-up transporters who have the power to transition from the land of steam, grease and disorder to the land lit up with crystal chandeliers and antique Persian carpeting.
Despite all this, the mayhem at the back is the real deal. Turns out without that organized chaos, nothing would exist. So, I go back in again. Promising to be stronger this time. I spot two huge pots on the left that are almost as big as me. I peep into them, only to find a liquid bubbling away with what appears to be charred veal bones. They say they are extracting the collagen from the connective tissues of these dead animals and converting it to gelatin just to give flavor and body to the dishes they make. Sometimes, they admit on injecting this magic potion into these animal carcasses to bring them back to life in terms of flavor. Where are we? The sorcerer’s chamber? What are the whites and where did they come from?
I look around again, at the queen of the whites and her pawns, who are struggling to guard their individual bases and drowning in her expectations and yelling, one order at a time.
You know what the weirdest part about all of this is? The pawns, they smile. I think the smile has less to do with them being happy, and more with the satisfaction that comes from exposing the simplest of elements to heat, acidity and salt and introducing them to a world of possibilities. A world of possibilities that they are lucky enough to explore every day. They seem to have embraced the cuts and burns and with them, a lifestyle that would seem unimaginable to the outside world. The whites don’t live in the real world, they live in a world of flavor, heat, blood and science and look at others only through the lens of what they eat.
About Mysticeti's friends:
Srishti is a student at the Culinary Institute of America. She loves the smell of freshly baked bread, roasted meat, and fried potatoes.
Jishnnu B creates visualization, illustrations and immersive narratives