Sunday, March 10, 2013

The First Fabulous O-M-T People-Food Pairing Sweepstakes

Part of my initial navy flight training in Pensacola included a week of survival training in the wilderness of the Florida panhandle. We learned to forage for nuts and berries just like Ewel Gibbons, but at the end of the week, weren’t all that impressed with how many parts of that pine tree that were edible. Suffice it to say, we drank a lot of water purified with nasty-tasting iodine tablets and slept under the stars with empty stomachs. And all we talked about during that time? The very best food we would be having when we returned to civilization. Yeah, nothing like talking about the food you can’t have while you’re picking cactus spines out of the prickly pear fruit so you can actually have a small morsel of food. So, the very first thing we all did when we got back to NAS Pensacola was hit McDonald’s. True story. Pathetic.

Fast forward twenty years and it’s 3:00 am and I’m reminiscing the same sort of thing. Trust me, it won’t be a quick run to the golden arches when I slip the surly bonds of the VA Hospital! In fact, what struck me was that it’s not just the food, it was the experience. When I look back over my life, some of the greatest joys I’ve had with people have included breaking bread in exotic locales and the familiar alike.

I’ve had some incredible experiences that were literal pageants of food and the people I spent it with made it an amazing, memorable experience.  If you’ve ever attended a Christmas dinner in King Hall at the Naval Academy, that’s one such sensory overload. Another incredible over-the-top experience was at L’École Navale in Lanvéoc, France. An all-night gala of every possible kind of French tastiness known to mankind was the order of the evening and it ended at dawn with choreographed fireworks. A few years later, a group of us pilots and aircrewmen went ashore away from our duties off the coast of the former Yugoslavia for a liberty call in Istanbul. The six of us got to try more Turkish dishes in an authentic setting, wine flowing, and memories making for the low, low price of $3.7M Turkish Lira (about $40 US at the time). Not a one of us spoke a word of Turkish, but when we left, we were fluent in friendship.

Not everyone has the opportunities I have had as a naval officer, but every one of us has equally memorable times with friends, new and old, that paired with the right food, create what I consider “perfect moments.” A few of the most poignant ones that didn’t require international travel and intrigue that instantly brought a smile to my face and a grumble to my tummy:

Best steak I ever had – filet mignon oskar at McCormick & Schmick’s, Minneapolis with Brian
Best Sunday brunch – crab cakes Benedict at C’est La Vie, Laguna Beach, CA with Dassi
Best pasta ever – spaghetti a la carbonara at Broder’s Pasta Bar, Minneapolis with Heidi

You get the picture. What made these meals perfect was the pairing of the best food and the best of peoples. I’m not talking so much about going out to eat as much as I am about making memories. We make the memories and when you put the right food in there…well…it’s perfect.

So, my mind in going to these places in the wee hours of the morning was to make this an interactive project for us.  I’d like to create a perfect moment with you as a way of saying thank you for all you have done and continue to do to keep me in positive spirits through the long haul of my treatment.  The rules are simple.  I’m going to put out five basic categories for the ‘perfect moment’ people-food pairing and will choose the best in each category on the day I am discharged from the VA Hospital after my transplant. I will make arrangements to come to your location and we’ll make that perfect moment together. (Disclaimer – if said winning entry involves exotic travel, one of us has to either win the lottery or be already independently wealthy).
The idea behind this is not something you’d like to do as much as something you’ve done before and can vouch for it being simply perfect.  Neither is it about 'going out to eat.' I've been the guest of some of the finest cooks ever and the meal wasn't in a restaurant. This about no hassle for either of us and I also want to make it less of a bucket list kind of thing because if anything, I hope this will spur you to find perfect moments with the people in your lives as well.  For me, I just want to create some with you.

OK, here are my categories:

1 – The Eureka Moment.  We’ve all had our salad days when any money spent was too much, so we found the freebies, the cheap eats, the best kept secrets. Is it a food truck or ice cream that no one can touch? What’s the experience that makes it magical? Price limit on this one is $10.

2 – Ethnic. Have you ever stumbled upon some place that if you didn’t speak the language, you might be at the mercy of the owner? Yet, when you left, you were suddenly fluent. It doesn’t have to be ‘authentic,’ but again, we’re talking experience. 

3 – Sunday Brunch any time! Trying to get a table Sunday mornings is hell just about anywhere, but there’s a reason for that. We love our Sunday brunch. Where was it so worth it you were willing to wait because the whole experience was nothing short of transcendent?

4 – The Warm Blanket. I’m naming this category in honor my favorite med tech, Nikki. Comfort food is the name of the game here.

5 – Diabetic Coma. I don’t typically do desserts these days because they’re HUGE and have more calories in two teaspoons than my meal, but where would you go to have dessert on its own because it’s just that good.

So, describe for me your perfect pairing here. When I come to your town to take you to this place, where are we going and what are we doing? Be as descriptive as possible. Extra points for creativity because after all, this isn’t about best places to eat, fancy or stark, expensive or cheap; it’s about making perfect moments to look back on and setting the bar to keep making more. Please send your entries to me via email at todd_park@hotmail.com and include “Perfect Moment” in the subject line so I can keep track of it.  I’m absolutely serious about all this and am so looking forward to making a *lot* of perfect moments even if there are more than just these five. You can enter as many times and for as many categories as you want and if you have a perfect moment that doesn’t fit the description of one of these categories, send it in anyway. These are the ones that I just came up with during my nightly dance with lucidity.
For your viewing pleasure today, I present "Say" from the movie, The Bucket List, which was delightfully schmaltzy, but in view of today's making perfect moments, I think it's appropriate and I hope that during those perfect moments, you get to "say what you need to say."

Be well, stay strong, much love to you all J