7/4/2019 10:22

Raw Meat

It was more than 40 years ago, but I remember as if it happened just a generation ago. The student editor of the student newspaper wanted to know how well we compared with our peers. So he entered our publication in a competition sponsored by college half way across the state from us. It turned out that we were peerless, but that's not the story today.

The contest was formatted as a convention. We were provided some sort of accomodation, eminently forgettable and entirely forgotten. There were presentations, I think, but of what or by whom I have no recollection. And there was food service which is where our story begins and ends.

A banquet was scheduled for all participants as the highlight of the evening. (Actually I do not remember whether the banquet was scheduled as an evening meal, but that would be traditional.) The banquet was prepared by the college food service and I had the sense that the staff was eager to show they could do more than student cafeteria fare. The main dish was prime beef grossly undercooked and loudly despised by the young participants. Even as a socially inept college student I felt badly for the food service staff who must have been hearing the diners' complaints. When I looked again at my meat my sympathy faded a bit.

I'm no expert in food preparation, but I was and remain convinced that there is more to serving rare beef than merely the "soft, cold, red center" (to quote Wikipedia on the matter). That much was achieved, although many diners seemed to think the result was essentially equivalent to dumping raw meat on a plate.

I am embarassed in retrospect that we as student newspaper people never investigated where the aspiration to grandiosity originated. Was it the food service manager overreaching his staff's ability? Did the contest organizers hold too high a view of their creation? Perhaps their institutional masters wanted to emulate the status of a certain large and close neighboring university.

Disaffection was not only the result of inadequate skill but also of insufficient awareness of the experience and preferences of the diners. I doubt that the student participants would have been more enamored of perfectly prepared steak tartare with raw egg yolk. Was the food as badly prepared as we believed, or was the unhappy result as much a matter of conflicting expectations?

In the actual reality game every play involves multiple players. What could have been an excellent play in the context of food connoiseurs who had no concern for food-borne illness proved to be an embarassment in the context of student newspaper editors who were incompetent to judge the skill of the cooks.