Monday, November 25, 2013

Peter's Opening Speech for The Dining Room.

Meet Peter, a dear friend, masterly painter, wordsmith and musician: 

Many friends have been asking about Peter’s speech at the launch of Another Week in The Kitchen and the introduction of The Dining Room: 

Here is his charming and thoughtful gift to us: 


There are those who like to speak from the heart at public gatherings. I think this is in very poor taste. What ungovernable chaos there'd be if everyone went around speaking from the heart. I tried it once when addressing a Christmas gathering of the Veterans Widows Association at the Simonstown naval base, and it's a mistake I'll never make again. Nor will I ever forget the fear, and the cold, as I rowed frantically out into the bay that night, wearing nothing but a pare of half burnt underpants, as incensed old women threw stones at me from the pier.
Since then I prefer to speak from the mind, via the page, and draw your attention to the fact that the mouth is much closer to the brain than it is to the heart. But my desire to do this stems principally from my love of irony. I know this is a defence mechanism, but I don't care. I think some people's best attributes are their defence mechanisms. And to speak from the heart, at a moment like this, would be laughably unironic, because if ever there was a person who lives from the heart, it is Karen Dudley.

Never has nature made someone better suited to being a restauranteur. When I think of Karen I think of the phrase: “Try this.” . I picture her going door to door with her two children.
Ben's job is ringing doorbells. When a door opens Maggie holds up the salad bowl, that it is her job to carry, and Karen scoops out a spoonful of chicken and chickpeas and lifts it to the stranger's lips saying “Try this.”
This sort of behaviour might raise the eyebrows of some therapists, but I say thank the Lord for anyone whose passion is of such immense benefit to the rest of us. If Karen had a passion for paragliding, or playing the tuba, or collecting stamps, we here gathered would benefit very little. But mercifully her passion is to feed us, and this is something we would be complete idiots not to encourage. So I'm glad there's a good turn out tonight.
The only person I sometimes worry about is Karen's husband Dave. I picture him late at night, snoring peacefully in his Bart Simpson pyjamas, when suddenly he's woken by K, sitting bolt upright in bed, clutching his arm in a panic, and declaring, from under her frilly night cap:
“David I'm not feeding enough people!”

You see Karen suffers from UTF, or Urge To Feed. I witnessed a similar condition in the tannies on my father's side of the family when I was growing up. Food was the language with which those loving matriarchs most eloquently expressed their love, and they weren't happy until you'd had your seventh helping. Until you could no longer support your own weight getting back to the car.
Karen's thrill has more to do with quality than quantity, but still, Dave rolls over, half asleep. He takes K's hand and patiently explains for the hundredth time that dropping parcels of artisanal salad over the city from an aeroplane is not only impractical and expensive, but dangerous.

And so there had to be a recipe book, so that David could sleep at night, Karen becalmed by the knowledge that while her and her staff slept, at least in other time zones, other provinces and countries, people would still be making her food themselves.

But what about space issues at the Kitchen?

Anyone whose been at the Kitchen during a busy lunchtime knows that it can get so crowded you suspect that some or other by-law is being broken.

“Do you think David,” whispers Karen in the dark, careful not to wake the children, “that clients would mind terribly if I employed someone in a lovely uniform to push people in from the door, as they do on the trains in Tokyo?” And what if the people feeding themselves in other time-zones run out of recipes?

And so of course, or should I say, of second course, Another day in The Kitchen had to be printed, and The Kitchen followed by The Dining Room.

After all, what did you think was going to happen?

Where did you think all that love, and life-force was going to go?

And I think Karen is just warming up...

Personally I'm hoping that The Dining Room will be followed by The Sitting Room, and finally The Bath Room, when Karen takes over management of the Longstreet Baths, and we are fed fascinating titbits as we steam our blissful flesh, or drift about on lilos, as waitresses swim out to us with trays of treats balanced on their heads...)

But to return to earth: I know I have shown an almost quaint lack of self-discipline in allowing gastronomic metaphors to litter my speech, like so many sprinkled pumpkin seeds, but I have used them as a fairy tale trail through my forest of nonsense, to lead to the most profound and ironic gastronomic metaphor of them all: HUNGER.

One doesn't cook, in the true sense of the word, to suppress hunger. Just as a good restaurant is not a place you go simply to appease your hunger. I put it to you that Good Food should be a celebration of hunger, physical or aesthetic..

Or to put it differently:

What does it mean to be full? Like orgasm, being full is so desired, yet so fleeting, and ultimately, empty. It is HUNGER that drives us to our greatest inventiveness, physical and spiritual, and ever since our humble human beginnings, it is hunger that always has.

So to Karen I say, may your restaurants be always full, but may you yourself continue to be hungry.

In your dreaming and striving and giving, you are an inspiration to us all.

Long live hunger!

Long live Karen !

And long live The Dining Room!

I hereby declare it open.

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