Imagine for a moment that you are a judge in a cooking contest. But this isn’t your average cooking contest. This is the competition to find the Dish of the Year. It isn’t simply taste and presentation that matter here. You also need to look at the cost of the ingredients, the nutritional value of the dish and the ease with which it can be recreated in the average kitchen.
The first dish arrives. It is an exquisite beef bourguinon produced in the kitchen of one of the country’s top French restaurants. You taste it.
To say that it is intensely flavourful is a gross understatement. Never before have your taste buds experienced such penetrating flavours and tremendous complexity. It is, quite simply, the best thing you have ever tasted.
You laugh in astonishment that such a flavourful dish can be created. You cry because you know that, regardless of how many more years you have left on this Earth, never again will any dish truly satisfy you.
How could such perfection be recreated? This is more than a meal – it is a transforming experience. This beef bourguinon has offered you a glimpse of Nirvana and lifted the grey veil that normally hangs over your daily existence.
The second dish arrives. In its own way, it is an astonishing achievement. For more than five years, a team of scientists have toiled away in a windowless laboratory to create this dish. Constructed from nothing but canned meats and vegetables, its aim is to bring good nutrition to the masses. Despite being made from cheap ingredients, it is tasty, healthy and filling.
You give it a try. It tastes… nice. You would gladly finish a plate of it, but it simply isn’t as memorable the beef bourguinon. Its nutritional value is impressive, its taste is adequate and its affordability is incredible but, following the beef bourguinon, it is a tad underwhelming.
It is time to choose. It is an easy choice, but you pretend it is a difficult decision to make. You want to appear fair and unbiased, after all. Those pale scientists need to think that they at least have a shot at winning. But, in the end, you choose the beef bourguinon.
Why? Well, the problem is that the achievements of the canned food dish are all academic. In order to realise how impressive it is, you need to study nutritional info boxes and costing spreadsheets. The beef bourguinon, on the other hand, offers a visceral, emotional experience.
In a sense, a competition like this is rigged. Something that is sublimely flavoured and emotionally involving easily impresses. Something that bombards you with dry facts and figures intended to impress you usually ends up boring the life out of you.
And not only is the game rigged, it is also rather pointless. Of course, the beef bourguinon wins, but what does it actually matter? Only a handful people will ever get to taste it. Not only is it prohibitively expensive, but the waiting list just to get a table at the restaurant is 27 years long. People have died of old age waiting for a table.
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to a competition such as Dish of the Year, the term “exclusive” really becomes a synonym for “irrelevant”. What is the point of telling the masses, “This is your Dish of the Year,” if so few of them will ever get to taste it? For them, the outcome is of no consequence.
The same, sadly, is true of a competition such as Car of the Year – not just in SA, but across the globe. The “fun” cars that get your heart racing – whether it’s a Fiesta ST, Porsche Macan or Ferrari 458 Speciale – will always stand out from the crowd and be more likely to walk away with the title.
What’s the solution? Dividing the competition into categories, perhaps, because an apple, no matter how organic, cheap or healthy, is unlikely to beat a la tarte bourdaloue (that’s a French pear tart to you and me)in a competition. So let’s compare apples with apples, and allow the French pear tarts to fight it out among themselves.