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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eating Like A Genius

With all the parties, dinners, and what-not that go on this time of year, you, as was I, may be surprised to learn that December is only the sixth-busiest month of the year for eating out [according to the National Restaurant Association, which reports August is the busiest month. I guess people really don't like working in a hot kitchen].


I would guess that what time of year is the busiest for restaurants varies from place to place. In Scandinavia, for instance, December is probably near the top for diners, what with the two Nobel Prize banquets [the main one held in Stockholm, Sweden, with a satellite meal served in Oslo, Norway for the Peace laureate]. The Stockholm affair [which might have been the name of an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.] serves some thirteen hundred guests, in a cavernous room inside Stockholm's City Hall [This room, although called the "blue" room, is actually a brick red. The ways of ancient cultures far surpass the understanding of younger nations, like the US] .


I wish I could tell you what was served[the 2008 dinner was presented Wednesday night, December 10th, the anniversary of Nobel's death. Seems like a bummer to me, commemorating a man's death with a banquet. Why can't they have it in June, when, I'm led to believe, Stockholm is resplendent in Spring colors? ], but that information is guarded as closely as the Launch codes for America's I.C.B.M.'s [Left-23, Right- one full turn past 23 to 19, Left - 6, in case you were wondering]. Thanks to an informative article in the current issue of The Scientist, I can report that the first course served to the 2007 Laureates featured lobster bits inside a circle of aspic, a disc of dill-baked halibut covered in a dome of fish roe, and apple salad, served with a "Nobel roll" [if this isn't a marketing deal waiting to happen for the Nobel Foundation, I don't know what is! Then again, it seems like the Nobel Foundation isn't suffering any "cash flow" issues. Although its finances are not public knowledge, it's believed the Foundation is sitting on a fund worth billions of US dollars. They probably aren't sweating the current recession...].


But the Foundation's solid resources do mean that the dinners served each year are, in a word, spectacular. Tastes change, of course: in the 1920's, turtle soup was frequently on the bill of fare, an item which might raise a few eyebrows today [are we far off from an all-vegetarian Nobel banquet? I think if Pamela Anderson would agree to attend, a deal could be worked out.]. But [another surprise], for about 200 US dollars per person, a restaurant located just below the "blue" room [see above] will recreate any Nobel banquet menu. A spokesman for the service says that people frequently enjoy meals served to their countrymen the year they were awarded the Nobel prize [Actually, as such gimmicks go, kind of charming, and probably more healthy than re-creating the pre-game meal before a typical Super Bowl game].


I've always been a bit curious about the Nobel Prizes; how do they decide who is honored, for instance. Is it like the Oscars, where blue-ribbon panels select a short list of nominees, then open their results to a vote? Or is it based on the Emmy [US television awards] model: anyone can nominate a candidate, then expert judges decide the winner? I'm pretty sure it's not set up like the "People's Choice Awards"; if it were, the person who invented the "Ov Glove" would have a Nobel prize on his or her mantelpiece.
Actually, the whole Nobel Prize arrangement is fascinating. Legend has it that a premature rumor about Alfred Nobel's death led to the publication of his obituary. In it, the write called Nobel "the merchant of death", owing to his invention of dynamite, and criticized dynamite for allowing more people to be killed more quickly than any previous invention. Nobel, so the story goes, was so disturbed by the whole thing that he immediately re-wrote his will to set up the Nobel Prizes [that will, by the bye, was so convoluted that it took a few years to set up the Foundation and its awards. There is still some debate over specific awards, disputing that Nobel's wishes have been truly honored.].
A tradition at the Masters golf tournament decrees that the previous year's winner selects the menu for the Winner's Banquet the next year. If I'm ever presented with a Nobel Prize [hey, sooner or later a blogger WILL win the literature award], and they ask my opinion, I'm recommending wither a Chinese food buffet, or take-out from KFC...
-Mike Riley