Sunday, January 15, 2012

Plenty Swank

I find buffets quite stressful. When confronted with an enormous spread of food which I can approach in any way I fancy, in quantities and combinations completely of my choosing, I panic slightly. I'll expend an extraordinary amount of mental energy planning what to have, running through all the possible ways I could assemble my first plate and what I would have on my second plate if I can manage it. For a short, frenzied period, my brain whirs like a computer, calculating how much of that I could manage and whether or not it would complement that or would that have to be assigned to plate #2 because it's going to overpower the taste of that and how much do I like that in the first place, should I even put any on my plate...

I have improved my buffet technique over the years and can now sidle up to a spread quite nonchalantly, without the swivel-eyed, tense and awakward frenzy of before. I put small amounts of whatever looks good on to my plate and then go back for either more of what I particularly liked or whatever I didn't try on my first go.

That's what I do now. Most of the time. At probably every other buffet I've been to. Except wedding buffets - my restraint, as in so many things at weddings, does not apply. And kids' birthday parties; I'm supposed to be setting an example to children by finishing everything on my plate and not rejecting anything on offer so there is rather a lot of cramming and third, fourth, fifth trips to the table. And hotel breakfasts - those don't count because I'm on holiday and I've got to try a bit of everything even if it means I'm going to feel faint the rest of the day because I'M ON HOLIDAY AND I PAID FOR THAT MASSIVE COLD MEAT PLATTER. And... buffet lunches provided at work are also exempt from my Good Buffet technique because it's a work thing and you've got take 100% of perks when offered to you in your job or you're losing out (and Tesco Value sausage rolls are remarkably resilient and will last at least two more lunches if you take whatever is left on the floppy foil tray...)

On reflection, perhaps my Good Buffet technique needs refreshing. Here is a book I bought from a charity shop in Farringdon which I am hoping will give me guidance.

This book opens with diagrams of how guests should navigate the buffet table and how hosts should lay their tables for the convenience of their plate-toting guests without losing any glamour or decorative allure. Later pages have recipes and theme suggestions, such as 'All Time Favourites!', those favourites being two types of exquisitely shaped and decorated loose human stool and a tray of squeaky novelty dog toys. Those are not my favoured buffet items.

The instructions for 'Duchess Franks' is to slit frankfurters lengthways, nearly all the way through. Line the slit with slices of ham, place sliced dill pickles and processed American cheese inside then pipe mashed potato on top to create a processed meat cream doughnut. For a laugh. Obviously. Not for the taste sensation. Because all the flavour in the photo is in the 'steak' at the front, those neat piles of diarrhoea garnished with chopped bogies. They are simply dripping with something foul. If it was Pestilence's turn to make dinner for the other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Come Dine With Me, this is the buffet dinner he/she would serve.

I can't bring myself to comment on the glistening round turds on the chafing dish. They are all sporting showgirl headpieces made of mushrooms and feathered toothpicks. They are filled with blue cheese and horseradish sauce. There's not much more that can be said, apart from a low, incredulous 'Nooooo...'

There's another dish to be served from a chafing dish which is just a third iteration of shaped minced beef in a sickly sauce: it is, apparently, plenty swank.

Each meatball has a stuffed green olive in its centre. The rice or pilaf looks diseased. The French Cream looks like it's been tipped out of a French letter. It's swank, yes it is, and plenty.