Crimes against Food

There are some things you just should not do to your food...or drink

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By David Hammond

At more than one Korean restaurant, servers have taken time to school me in the proper way to attack a dish. For instance, with bibimbop, I usually like to keep all the vegetables, proteins and rice separate. At least twice, however, I've had the hostess/server come by my table, tsk-tsk and correct me in the proper manner of consuming what is probably Korea's most popular dish.  "Everything should be mixed up," I'm told, as the helpful person proceeds to enthusiastically amalgamate all components of the dish for me to enjoy before she steps back and stands there watching me as I eat a forced smile, nodding as though to confirm, "Oh, yes, your way is definitely the best."

I usually find this here's-how-you-should-really-eat-it helpfulness to be only slightly obtrusive. I know the good people at these restaurants mean well, so I just go limp and consume the damn thing in whatever way I'm told.

However, there are times when I am so appalled by the dining behaviors of others that I can barely contain myself …though I always do.

At a recent oyster buffet at Shaw's, I was enjoying dozens, including my favorite, the Belons from Maine. These oysters are originally French, and the name is actually "protected" by French law, so although I and others refer to them as Belons, it's probably more proper to refer to them as European Flats.

I adore Belons/European Flats: they're lush, meaty, almost crunchy with gracious mouth-filling flavor. The shucker in Shaw's kitchen, who I was told also works at Benny's, is a master: each oyster was cleanly opened, the adductor muscle expertly cut, with an ample amount of liquor retained in each opened half-shell.

Drinking this liquor, as any oyster lover will tell you, is at least half the enjoyment of eating oysters.

Thus, at Shaw's, did I watch in horror as an older gentleman, about my age, stood at the generous buffet, lifting oyster after oyster – including my beloved Belons – and then, with the expressionless face of a serial killer, proceed to drain the liquor into the ice bed before transferring the oysters to his plate and refilling each of them with what looked to be a few teaspoons of squeezed lemon juice.

Aware of my own many shortcomings, I'm fine with people eating food in whatever damn way they please. Different strokes, etc., though I do wince when this guy savaged the oyster, or when people pour ketchup over a good steak or, as I saw one woman do years ago (and it has scarred me forever), put a teaspoon of sugar into red wine to sweeten it up.

Now, if you're going to mess with the natural flavor of oysters, which I rarely do, then lemon is not a bad way to go – far better a squirt of the citrus than a dollop of horseradish or cocktail sauce. But to first dump the oyster liquor, as though it were some inedible food-related waste by-product like a chicken bone or gnawed-upon artichoke leaf, that's just wrong, it's disrespectful, it's, it's…a crime against food.


Reader Comments

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Jolly Lama  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 5:18 PM

Charlotte, I'd say making your happiness dependent on Mr Hammond's retirement is a better example of the way karma really works. You click on his column week after week and predicitably, reliably, inevitably get worked up enough to make your foul public pronouncements. When in fact you could retire him from your life at any time by accepting his existence, resisting the urge to click, and getting on with your life.

Mufasa from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 4:41 PM

Really, Charlotte. Lighten up. We need to eat animals because we all exist in a delicate balance, & you need to understand that balance & respect all creatures. We eat the cow & the oyster.When we die, our bodies become the grass, & the cow & oyster eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.

Sarah Corbin from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 3:49 PM

I love that in Oak Park even food is controversial. Keep on eating on David. Always entertaining..

Matt on Madison  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 9:06 AM

In honor of Charlotte I am ordering a Double Porterhouse and lobster tail tonight. Agree Charlotte chill out.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 22nd, 2013 11:02 PM

Wow, Charlotte chill out.


Posted: October 22nd, 2013 7:17 PM

I would have expected nothing less than your infantile response.You're nothing but a lowlife coward along with hammond. But Karma will get the both of you and that will be a blessing to all the animals that you two scumbags ingest.

Steak Burger from Oak Park  

Posted: October 21st, 2013 8:02 PM

Oh, lighten up, Charlotte! Go have some rice cakes and tempeh, and let us carnivores do what God created us to those creatures below us on the food chain. Your sniveling just leaves more Belons for us, and yes. Of course you drink oyster liquor...with some Fava beans and a nice chianti!

Charlotte from Oak Park  

Posted: October 21st, 2013 6:45 PM

The day I read of your retirement will be the happiest day in my life. I wouldn't trust your opinion on food for all the money in the world. Nothing but artery clogging plates of death.

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