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greg duncan

© 1998 John Mahoney

The Gallivanting Gourmand

Avoiding Hearburn Hotel

GREG DUNCAN

Recently I was in Toronto for the Ontario Newspaper Association's annual convention and I was unable to fly out and meet my column deadline. Why, with all the available technology, could I not simply hit send on the computer and deliver a column on time via email?

The answer is simple. More often than not, I put pen to paper the old-fashioned way and someone else types it.

I blame my typing shortcomings on the fact that during high school in India, when they were offering a typing class, I broke my wrist and was unable to pound the heavy keys on the typewriters. These typewriters were of the very first generation and are apparently still in use today in India. They resemble something more akin to a large printing press.

Old habits never die and now I find that the thought process flows much easier for me as the ink flows onto a page from a 29 cent Bic. This provides much frustration for those at the far end who must deal with my poor and often illegible handwriting.

Nonetheless, I have delivered some 300 columns about food, thanks to their efforts. Yep, I can wheel a mouse around at top speed and send e-greetings with the best of them but the endeavor of producing anything over 300 words is daunting and frustrating for the keyboard-challenged.

Rules to eat by

Conferences such as the one I attended are often accompanied by conference food, which in most cases at first seems good and then, by the fourth day, awful. I have attended many and often refer to myself as a conference casualty. I have learned a few survival techniques to deal with this situation.

While attending a conference:

  • Always purchase bottled water to have in your room.
  • Always pack Rolaids, Tums, or Immodium (an anti-diarrhea pill).
  • Just say 'no' to that tenth cup of coffee.
  • Never, ever order the fish over the beef.
  • Get to know your waiters by name and tip them generously.
These simple rules will enable you to maintain stamina so you can network properly and attend all those exciting seminars you came for in the first place -- also allowing you more time on the floor than in the bathroom. Believe me -- I've learned my lesson.

Bonus rule: Never return your food to the kitchen if unsatisfied as we all know what a disgruntled chef can do to your food before sending it back to you. Hmm... you thought that was an oyster?

Party tricks I am constantly amazed at the tricks people at conference dinners pull out of their sleeves. I've seen a fellow tie linen napkins into so many animal forms that a balloon-tying clown would be ashamed.

The fellow who can balance wine glasses on his nose comes to mind while the granddaughters who stacked toast in the shape of the pyramids at Giza were impressive.

This week's winner was able to tie the stems of maraschino cherries into a knot with her tongue and with her mouth closed.

I on the other hand, am still learning what cutlery to use first. The British method, or the French, or is that American? Either way, it seems you work your way from the outside in until you have no cutlery left.

You also need to know that if you leave your seat, you leave your napkin on the chair to indicate your return. Left on the plate, your napkin sends a signal that you have departed for good. I've been left out of dessert by this mistake.

More often than not, desserts are the best things offered at these events as it seems hotel chefs are well-trained in the art of pastry making but lack a flair for prime rib.

Salad says it all The introductory salad is often a good indicator of what is to come. If it is poor, you can expect worse. Grated carrots on iceberg lettuce do not promise much. On the other hand, pine nuts, prosciutto, and melon with a balsamic vinegar lead the way to a decent meal.

In the event that you've been served rubber chicken at dinner, you can always head back to your room and order in from a local restaurant. This can be a challenge so I often pick up take-out menus at the lobby as a security measure. Hotel clerks hate to part with them. Managers have often instructed them to deny these menus to guests. After all, they want to keep you captive in their hotel. Make friends with reception or the bell person in order to ensure a late-night snack.

I hope you'll find this helpful in successful conference dining.


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Copyright © 2000 Greg Duncan/Log Cabin Chronicles/05.2000