Fine dining fascinates me. Not that I'm going to be overseeing a fancy soiree or anything of that nature, nonetheless I am intrigued by the effort and talent that go into such an event.
I like eating with sterling flatware, real china and crystal goblets, but these aren't included in my current lifestyle. Most of the time I eat my meals on a TV table in a living room that serves as a rehab facility of sorts.
In regard to elite fare, I confess publicly that until recently I naively thought that the ultimate in this kind of service was a seven-course meal, though I had no idea what that entailed either.
At the House of Hollenbeck the most courses we ever have would come to three and that would be on a really special day. I mean we might have salad, an entree with vegetables (or sides as they have come to be called) and maybe dessert, though the latter is not a certainty.
My recent attention to meals of many courses has come about through some of the accounts I've read about celebrations related to the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's fateful maiden voyage.
According to these reports, guests in first class were served a 10-course meal. Maybe they should have looked into that as a cause for the ship's sinking because that's enough food to plummet just about anything.
I did some Internet research and found that even the 10 courses would not constitute the finest to be offered. I learned that a full-course dinner can consist of five, seven, eight, 10 or 12 courses, and, in its most extreme form, even 21 courses. In the more formalized dining events, the courses reportedly are carefully planned to complement each other. Gastronomically speaking, the courses are smaller and spread out over a long evening — up to three, four or five hours — and follow conventions of menu planning that have been established over many years.
Instead of a few hours, I would need a few days, maybe weeks or possibly even months, to consume that amount of food.
What I've read gives the following account of a meal served to the first-class passengers aboard the ill-fated ocean liner.
The first course included hors d'oeuvres/oysters.
Second course was a soup variety, a choice of consomme Olga or cream of barley.
Third course was poached salmon with mousseline sauce and cucumbers.
Fourth was filet mignon Lili; saute of chicken, lyonnaise; and vegetable marrow farci. ( I'm not sure I want to know what that last one is.)
Fifth course included: Lamb, mint sauce; roast duckling, applesauce; sirloin of beef, chateau potatoes; green peas; creamed carrots; boiled rice; parmeniter (?) and boiled new potatoes.
Sixth course was punch Romaine.
Seventh course included roast squab and cress.
Eighth course was cold asparagus vinaigrette.
Ninth course was pate de foie gras and celery.
Tenth course included Waldorf pudding; peaches in Chartreuse jelly; chocolate and vanilla eclairs; French ice cream.
Folks, that's an abundance of food.
As I read on, I learned there's even a 21-course dinner. That defies my imagination regarding capacity and time commitment.
In the example I saw, it noted that the first thing to be served is a palate cleanser or an "amuse." (I guess we would want to be jolly knowing all that food was ahead.)
This would be preceded by a refreshing, lightly alcoholic drink if the diners were to wait or mingle before being seated.
The second course is a "second amuse." (I still don't know what the first amuse is.)
Third is caviar.
Fourth is a cold appetizer.
Fifth is thick soup, with the sixth course being — can you guess? — thin soup.
Seventh is shellfish and eight is antipasto.
Ninth is pasta (usually short, since long pasta is more suited to informal lunches). OK. I'll buy that.
Tenth is sorbet, known as "intermezzo." (And I thought that was a piece you played on the piano.)
Eleventh is quail.
Twelfth is reserved for wild mushrooms.
Thirteenth is beef and 14th is green salad. (See how far down the line the salad is and we ignorant folk eat it first. A slap on the wrist for us all.)
Fifteenth is puffed pastry filled with herbed mousse and sixteenth is cheese.
Seventeenth is pudding and 18th is ice cream.
Nuts come in as No. 19, followed by a petit four at 20th.
Last in the lineup is coffee or liquor (or both, I suppose, since we're not skimping on anything here). And the instructions state that these are properly served in the "more relaxed setting of a drawing room or salon, not at the dining table."
I'll be getting the drawing room ready any minute now.
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.