Last week my taste buds were reborn. I discovered exquisite bliss in a place I hardly expected to find it: chicken.
My best friend was in town visiting last week, and we treated ourselves to dinner at Chez Panisse. The great thing about Alice Water’s little tree house in the gourmet ghetto is that the food feels unpretentious. Sure, it’s internationally known, and renowned among food snobs, but Chez Panisse manages to keep a healthy dose of humility in the café menu. This can be seen in the main course we ordered: Fried Chicken. Yep, fried chicken. What a silly and ubiquitous thing to write about, you might say. But let me tell you about this chicken.
Our first impression came from the crunch of the crust as the knife split it in half; it was loud, more crispy than any chicken in a bucket could aspire to. So, of course, it had a perfect crust, but what made this chicken sing was the meat. It ought to be reclassified as Gallus gallus superioris because I have a hard time believing that these chickens are even related to the sorry excuses for protein transmission I’ve been eating all my life. It’s often said that nondescript meats “taste like chicken.” Well, not this chicken, friends. The chicken you thought you knew is bland and anemic – and can hardly be said to have much of a taste. This new chicken tastes like running through fields, coxcomb bouncing, on a warm sunny morning surrounded by pastoral springtime scents. It was moist, floral and rich. When we would take bites of this chicken we’d hold up our hand to signal the other to stop talking. Our ears would not work, our eyes would not see. All we could do was smile and chew like blind and deaf monks joyfully reaching nirvana.
Between bites we began talking about spiritual experiences and how rarely true joy is accessed in the major religions. We talked about religious practices and churches we’ve seen: singing, praising the creator and giving thanks like they really meant it. Well, for this chicken we were ready to convert. We wanted to jump and sing, sweating and crying in an exhausted ecstatic connection with the creator. The fact that something like chicken could taste like this seemed nothing short of godly; and it was a blessing.
If they had called it fried dodo bird, none of this could have happened; we would have walked out of the restaurant feeling fancy and pampered, but not transformed. But because it was just chicken we felt reborn. Rediscovering something familiar made it even more amazing, made us appreciate its humble roots and great potential even more. Our senses had been amplified, and a meat that is often the most bland and overlooked was crowned king.
Praise the chicken.