The idea of a salad can be one of many things. And the idea of a salad also includes not only the food that is skewered onto the fork, but the way the salad is set before you.
It ‘feels’ one way if you set it before yourself. Another way, if someone shoves it without care onto the table. Yet another, if somehow a sense of care and thoughtfulness imbues how the plate finally reaches your hands and eyes.
The very taste of the food can be heightened or utterly ruined, by this thing which is part detail, part art, part craft, part theatre, part mystery – this thing which is called ‘service’.
Louis Pappas is famous for a Greek Salad, a Greek-American salad actually – a salad one might term ‘fusion’, if it were not a salad which wouldn’t probably bother with trying to gain a flossy title to impress those prone to the stun guns of buzziness, but rather just a salad trying to hold its own in a quiet somewhat undemanding way.
I went to Tarpon Springs once, several years ago. I was trying to fill time while my children were busy with their father who lives in that part of the world. I’d heard of Tarpon Springs, so drove along the road to what turned out to be a place more quiet than I’d expected in ways, a place more private than I’d expected. I was feeling slightly lost, lost in what I was doing – filling time – the air seemed heavy and bland . . . and so did I. I felt aimless and stupid, mindless, driving along in the small rented car, just ‘being there’ because my children had asked me be there close to them in case they wanted to go home. I drove, and floated. Sometimes, these years as my children have grown, I’ve been immersed in this feeling. Bland, floating, just ‘being there’ – a suspension of self required, to do the task of ‘being there’, for them.
If I had to serve a salad in that moment, I’d have to snap out of it. Because the salad would have to be served, to a real person, with something solid and real, something good, poured into the movement of putting it before them. This thing, ‘service’, is actually a wonderful thing. Nothing less, than a wonderful thing which can be full of a startling magic when heart and mind are engaged in it fully.
It’s not always just the food, the recipe, the raw ingredients, the cooking method, which makes the sense of dining a delight. Actually it never is just the food.
Like Bobby says . . . we all gotta serve somebody. He says it so well.
Let first the onion flourish there,
Rose among roots, the maiden-fair,
Wine-scented and poetic soul
Of the capacious salad bowl.
Robert Louis Stevenson
To fill the very air with this ‘wine-scented and poetic soul’! A rather endearing call to action, no?