I will not eat crême brúlè
I encourage people to learn foreign languages. I tell them that making mistakes is a very powerful way of learning. “Get out there, use whatever knowledge you have, stumble, have a laugh and move on,” I say. I live by that myself.
So why does this rule not apply to restaurants? It does. I applaud waiters who make an effort to serve their customers in a language they do not speak fluently. That is excellent service.
Then why am I suspicious of badly written menus? Should I not be more concerned with the chef’s cooking skills than with their orthographic accuracy? I am. Yet the menu is a printed document; there is every possibility of getting it right. The chef should compose it, but not necessarily write it. I expect professionals to know the limits of their abilities. They should do what they are good at and leave the rest to others.
When I detect sloppiness in a menu, I suspect sloppiness elsewhere. And I wonder what the reason for this sloppiness may be.
Is somebody overestimating themselves? Then maybe that happens in the kitchen as well; maybe they are serving complicated dishes they do not master? Is the restaurant owner a miser, making pounds and saving pennies? Then maybe they are saving money on hygiene and quality ingredients as well? Or do they think it does not matter because it is just a detail, and most customers may not notice it anyway? So what other details are they neglecting, just because they think they can get away with it?
Go to the trouble of getting your menus correct. It is a small investment. You want your guests to marvel at your heavenly cooking, not laugh at your infernal spelling. And do not rely on Google translate – the results will not enlighten your foreign guests; in some cases, it may throw them into fits of laughter and you risk someone choking. In your restaurant. On your food.
We experienced an alternative way of presenting a menu in our favourite restaurant in Sicily. When asked for the dessert menu, Maria Teresa gave a performance worthy of a poetry slam. She would sum up the desserts and explain them. It knocked me down every time. She could do it in fluent English as well, but as students of Italian, we would of course wrinkle our noses at that.
“We change the dessert menu from day to day, according to our pastry chef’s mood”, she explained, “so it is not worth printing.” Maria Teresa was reciting a different poem every day!
I was in awe. On the last day of our stay, she graciously allowed me to record the menu on my smartphone. 48 seconds of sheer poetry. I have the ambition of transcribing it and learning it by heart. Perfect homework for Norwegian winter evenings. Next time I get to Sicily, I will surprise Maria Teresa by reciting her 16 July 2015 dessert menu. I may need more than 48 seconds to get through it, though.
In the meantime, I am looking forward to my next crème brûlée.
Thanks to pastry chef Antonio Di Maggio for the pictures