Yesterday, I walked around a gallery exhibition with a new friend who’s a freelance food and travel writer. Quite frankly, between the petroleum jelly visuals and my friend’s life stories, I didn’t know which was more exciting. No, that’s not true. Though it tries, art is not for consumption by the masses, and this Matthew Barney exhibit felt more like his artist’s heel print, than the artist’s innovation himself. As the gallery talk started, we instead turned our attention to the annually-erected summer pavilion outside the Serpentine Gallery, choosing cappuccinos over canvasses. I found her stories utterly riveting, as she regaled me with news of her latest Finnish adventure whereby she paid £1200 for an eighteen-hour (lunch, then dinner) eating fest by seven top-seeded chefs. Or eating at a four generation deep exclusive luxury Japanese restaurant for the world elite, where it is by personal invitation only to dine. Or her annual experience at El Bulli, voted “the best restaurant in the world”. Exclusivity, knowing the right people, and a rather large price tag, it seems, has a lot to do with the top culinary experience.

We sat, each perched atop round red cushions, in the cave-like amphitheatre space-cum-cafe, our forks held at attention as we shared a dense carrot cake over coffee. I assumed she’d be discriminating against “normal” food experience, such as this, but instead she said no. While her dining experience is certainly wider than most people’s, she did not turn her nose up at coffee and cake. In fact, she dug into her dessert, with its heavy white frosting with relish, as we talked about the subject of sugar, its history, and consumption.

Carrot cake demolished, we rose to walk about Hyde Park. The afternoon was particularly autumnal, with clouds smeared across like whipped cream, the sky, at moments, clear blue, then threateningly dark grey. Light shone down and illuminated parts of the grounds, trees, and surrounding buildings. We strolled along the paths where King Henry VIII once rode and hunted, himself no stranger to the gastronomic experience. I ventured to ask her more pointed questions. For example, what were her pet culinary peeves (“Eggs…anything egg-related”, she sighed with regret). I asked her what she thought about the eating habits of Americans and Brits, where there is such pickiness without really understanding nutrition or the food itself. Having lived in both countries, I am dismayed at people’s attitude towards food, as if it is a kind of sport. Food here is treated as a method with which to reward or negate oneself. To splurge or deny? “Guilt of an affluent nation,” she quipped. I told her my annoyance at the marketed superiority of all things organic. She replied, “Due to domestication, there are very few edibles out there that will kill you, and furthermore, who’s to say what the right way to eat is? Everyone’s metabolism is unique. It’s just safe to say that if you eat too much of one particular thing, it’s not going to be good for you.”

I told her how when I first owned a car, I navigated and learned the map of Los Angeles one restaurant at a time, “Turn off this off-ramp on the 10 Freeway and you’ll find this awesome Peruvian restaurant. Or take a left here, and you’ll eat the most amazing Ramen!” I didn’t know East, West, North, South, but I sure knew where to find something tasty with which to fill my stomach. When I moved to London, I was disappointed by the quality of food, coupled with its expensiveness. I felt discombobulated, unable to know this city via my taste buds. Eventually, I no longer felt the thrill of eating out at restaurants, and that this caused me to feel out of step with people. “Well the prices here in London are so prohibitive,” my new friends said, “not to mention, any food you prepare yourself will be ten times better for you. The whole point to prepared food is to get you to come back, again and again. So people will put whatever it takes in the food to make it memorable on the palate.”

I had anticipated her judgement to be snotty against my lack of London restaurant verve, but instead felt vindicated by her words. Indeed, a fundamental part of me felt rocked. I suppose I was never any good at keeping up with the Joneses, and her words gave me that extra little bit of confidence to follow my own tastes, and go my own way. After all, isn’t it all about exclusivity? The friends that I have over for dinner receive customised meals, because it thrills me to see them consume something that sits just right for their palate, and to know that I cooked so precisely for them. I’m not a 3 star Michelin chef. Instead, I’m a palate profiler.

Among other people who’ve had the opportunity to be invited over for dinner, I’ve treated my friend Ken to an assortment of beef-related entrees. Why? He loves beef, plain and simple. So, Sloppy Joes, Chilli Con Carne, Beef Burritos, Mince Beef Fried Potstickers, and Cumberland Pie have all found their way to his mouth. I sear his dry-aged steak to just the right amount of crustiness, while retaining the middle a bloody pink. The gravy he gets is not mixed from a powder.

I’ve served Adam four consecutive weekends of Indian food, simply because he happened to be at the right place at the right time as I devoted a month to analysing and understanding this cuisine. Each dinner contained three to four dishes, accompanied by dhal, basmati rice, and hand-made paratha bread. Each weekend, the Indian dishes were different. Adam also got to experience my Minestrone Soup, which he exclaimed was above and beyond any minestrone he’d ever tasted before (the secret is to sweat the miniaturely-diced vegetables! And home-made stock is key).

I made my signature Potato Kale soup for my friend Ina, who is adamantly macrobiotic in her tastes. I served it over perfectly cooked long brown rice, and her delicate palate picked up the hint of chilli flakes I’d sprinkled into the soup. “Supremely awakening!” she nodded approvingly.

I cooked two separate entrees during one dinner for Alistair and his girlfriend Nicole: for him, I made a completely vegan tomato-based chickpea and Halloumi cheese curry over brown rice, and for her, I presented seared salmon steaks over raw courgette slices. Why? Because Alistair doesn’t eat anything “with a face on it”, while Nicole loves fish.

Basically, for each of my friends I do this because it’s exactly what they wanted to eat.

So, who’s up for a meal at Chez Lee’s in London?

Erica, 34, London UK

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