There’s a new book making the rounds of reviewers, and appearing as a special feature in Time Magazine: It’s called My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals.
I got an advance copy a couple of weeks ago, and did not find myself drawn to look through it. Too easy, I figured, too blatant a conceit. I still think that, but L picked it up the other night and brought it to bed. She soon put her finger on another curious aspect of the book: It is horribly grim. The content is not grim; in fact, it’s all about pleasure. But really, one chef after another is asked to describe not just that final meal, but also the setting, and the company; and as each chef does this, mentioning a table in his or her own home, with loved ones around, powerfully depressing images come to mind—of vital, living human beings facing down death. From cancer, perhaps, or a firing squad the following morning, or an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian.
But there is an upside to the book, beyond this hideous, lurid quality: People reach deep to answer a question like that, and what they say is revealing about what they actually hold dear. Or at least it can be. And here’s my first takeaway: I love Thomas Keller. I’ve never eaten at the French Laundry or Per Se, but I’ve enjoyed Bouchon and Ad Hoc. I’m positively crazy about one of his cookbooks, Bouchon.
I love him because the answer he gives in this Last Supper book makes me think that we are blood brothers. He says he would begin with half a kilo of osetra caviar, followed by some otoro, and this part is tough for me: I’ve never tried either. But then comes a quesadilla and a roast chicken, Brie with truffles, and for dessert either profiteroles or a lemon tart. I love the simple, comforting joy of all this, and the truth is that Keller’s essay on his basic, at-home roast chicken recipe—on what it means to him and how he eats it (this is in Bouchon)—had a big effect on me a couple of years ago, and I have absorbed this sensibility whole.
But the wine list is the part that really gets me: “I would start out with a 1983 Salon Champagne, followed by a Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel. I would end with a twenty-five-year-old Macallan Scotch.” I feel like a teenager again, falling in love with a new girl because she loves exactly the same kind of music I do.