A Seven-Course Meta-Dinner

In honor of Michelle Okafo (the more or less grown-up version of the wacky poem writer), who is moving to L.A., meta-class participants and I threw a seven-course meta-dinner last week. However, I wasn’t sure whether or not the dinner could honestly be called meta. Ian Latta, I think, has been more careful in the use of “meta-” than I am. I fear I have been too liberal with the term, so I was wondering whether Ian would consider food that repeats itself meta or not. Because of my doubts, I was more inclined to call the event a self-reflective dinner. So, we had silver balloons and I wore my silver shirt and I served the appetizer on a mirror. (I wanted to cover the tables in Mylar, so we could see ourselves eating, but couldn’t find any.)

The amuse bouche (literally, “amuse the mouth”), was the entire meal in miniature. Starting with slices of toasted bread, I put a dab of soup, the roasted garlic and pepper tomato soup of the second course.

On top of the dollop of soup, I laid down a representation of the salad, the third course: a piece of lettuce, a slice of yellow pepper and a few pieces of onion and garlic.

Below, you can see a metaphoto of the appetizer at that level of production, taken by metablog photographer and sometime writer Omar Rodriguez Rodriguez. (Check out his contributions and posts to this blog Metaphotos of a Metasculpture, Metafilms: An Introduction, and More MetaMusic. Also, visit his blog Omarrr and look at his amazing new art project inspired by artists Charlie Harper and Mary Blair.)

Then I placed a piece of coconut mochi, from the fourth course which replaced the traditional sorbet. Below you can see the photographer Omar Rodriguez Rodriguez taking a photo of himself at that stage in the process.

After the mochi came a sauteed mushroom, the fifth course, a piece of chicken, the sixth, and a bit of oreo, the seventh. (We don’t have separate photos of these levels.) Most guests said the appetizer was surprisingly good, but a few complained that the Oreo aftertaste was strange. In any case, at the end of the course there were a few pieces left uneaten, so I don’t think it was as delicious as it could have been. I don’t think it amused the mouth enough to get gobbled up. Nevertheless, I felt it was solidly meta, the appetizer representing the meal in miniature, a reflection of the dinner in a first course.

So what actually was the second course, and how was that meta, if meta at all? The second course was a soup within a soup, a chorizo and butternut squash soup poured inside the roasted garlic and pepper tomato soup with two separate garnishes to represent each soup. Is that meta-soup? Meta-soup would have to be soup about soup, which I don’t think it qualifies as, or soup that makes the process of its creation apparent — again the definition doesn’t fit — or soup that defies its own conventions, thus making those conventions apparent.

This last definition of meta-soup is the most likely, but I think the soup within a soup could more safely be called an example of mise en abyme, the term borrowed by Andre Gide from heraldry to describe the work within a work, for example the play within the play in Hamlet. Ian was generous and allowed that the soup was food about food, food that represents food, and so it was in fact meta. Creating meta-food is not as easy as it sounds and most of the courses are examples of this type, the food that represents itself at a lower level or, in the case of the dessert, at a higher level.

The fourth course was a Sideways Salad, and I think it qualifies as meta on two counts: it lays bare the process of its creation, since the major elements are laid out side by side so you can see its parts, and because it defies accepted conventions that the salad must be stacked or mixed, thereby making us question why a salad must assembled in these ways.

The fourth course, which is normally a sorbet to clear the pallet, was mochi ice cream. Mochi is chewy, glutinous Japanese rice cake, in this case enclosing ice cream. Meta? Not really. I wanted to do miniature ice cream cones, but of course making the miniature cones is the hard part. Although I could have cut some cones, I was afraid they would just break. Erica Eller valiantly tried to justify the mochi’s place in the meta-dinner by saying that it defied convention and therefore was meta. This, however, was more an example of meta-thought about meta than meta-food. (No pictures of the mochi, alas.)

The fifth course was another example of the work within the work, the food that represents itself in miniature, a mise en abyme: a mushroom stuffed with a mushroom stuffed with mushrooms.

The main course was a Chick-hen, a chicken stuffed with a game hen, created by Kayvon Ghashgai, the guy who made — along with Erica — the Zemblan pizza. The Chick-hen was absolutely delicious. At its side you can see a curry dish made by Ian, which was going to be served in buns as fake burgers, but we decided to serve it as a side dish over brown rice. The curry contained vegetarian meat patties broken up, so it would have been a fake burger in a curry representing a hamburger patty.  Delicious!

As for the wine you see in this picture, both Erica and I looked for meta-wines, but didn’t really find any that qualified. Dessert was the crowning achievement of the evening, an oreo-shaped cake made from oreos, created by Michelle. I didn’t think I was going to like it that much, but it was good. Instead of repeating itself on a smaller size, as with most other courses, the oreo cake repeats itself at a higher level than its ingredients.

Since we had an extra space at the dinner (meta-class participant Katie Fox was in Hawai’i), I invited my friend Timothy Cummins to join us. Timothy was unfamiliar with the concept of metafiction, yet he is a painter and has often painted pictures of himself painting, so he is a practitioner. As we explained the concept to him, he said, “Okay, I think I am beginning to get it.” “That,” Ian said, “is a meta-thought. You are analyzing your own thinking.” I asked Timothy if I could do a post sometime on his meta-paintings and he said yes, so you can look forward to that! You can see Timothy in the picture below, as well as Michelle with the tattoo, Eric and Kayvon on the couch, and in the foreground a chocolate cigarette held by Omarrr, who took these pictures. (Ian is sitting to the right. You will just have to picture him as best you can.)

So did the meal qualify as a meta-dinner? We agreed it did. It was food about food, food that represented itself at a higher or lower level, food that made the process of its creation explicit, food that defied convention. The music was meta, and I will follow up this post with our play list and a description of the songs under the title Metamusic for a Meta-Dinner. The conversation that evening was meta-meta, as we thought about how we were thinking about meta. Meta is the technique of turning something against itself in order to make it more understandable. Meta allows us to step outside of the process of our creation in order to examine that process.

(To read more about metafood, read my post “Zemblan Pizza Resembles Nabokov.”)

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