The other America, of tidbits and DIY lunches

I couldn’t resist the temptation to write a postscript to the gastronomic experience of the last four days, and thereby, give a hand to the official reporter of the adventure.

In addition to the geographical factor (we crossed four States), the logistic aspect also counted a great deal, not to mention the very different situations we discovered. So, I’m starting with Chicago, which is considered to be one of the capitals of US cuisine. And we were certainly not disappointed, thanks also to the great professionalism of Fernando Marfil, with his experience in the luxury hotel sector. The cooking show organized at the World of Whirlpool was, without doubt, spectacular, but also, and above all, high quality. We were welcomed with a glass of Californian Merlot (had we wanted, there was a large selection of American beers available) and delicate puff pastries, with vegetables, straight from the oven; the guests were served a rapid succession of flawless canapés, that culminated with irresistible bite-sized hamburgers. Among the dishes prepared on the futuristic cookers of the World of Whirlpool, an unbeatable sirloin sticks in my mind; it had been braised until it had begun to caramelize, and it was so tender that it melted as soon as I looked at it. The optional pairing, with an airy mousse of crème fraiche and radish was spot-on. There was a good selection of cheeses, all American, all to discover, paired with fruits and various types of bread. The sweets were a presentation of chocolate in all of its forms. How divine!

Day 1: Chicago – Benton Harbor – Brandywine

Skipping the enormous breakfast selection, we came to lunch on the following day, which was, alas, unclassifiable, as it consisted of rolls and packets of crisps, and if that weren’t enough, we ate them on the coach and watered them down with the deadly, well-known and universal national fizzy drink. In any case, for the purposes of the news, here’s a rundown of the contents of my appetizing and extremely delightful “DIY lunch” issued at the exit of the World of Whirlpool: XXL bread roll stuffed with a variety of unidentified cold meats and salami, mayonnaise, or something similar, an anemic lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato; a biscuit affected by gigantism, not bad; a bag of bacon-flavored, crisp-like snacks; an apple (which was my salvation). The salt content would have been enough to preserve the catch of a whole anchovy season in Monterosso, but it had the merit of masking the real flavor of the food.

Things got better in the evening, with the dinner served at 6.30 pm, in accordance with US customs. An excellent introduction with Californian red and white wines. Worth noting was the Pinot Noir, which was generous and without pretense. On the table, in a warm and cozy mountain lodge setting, we were welcomed with the classic mixed salad, presented, however, with a few refinements. It was pleasing to the eye, and refreshing to the palate, which was still deadened by the forced salting of lunch. The main course fell into the category of “surf and turf”, with a mixed grill of meat and fish, accompanied by an excellent selection of mixed vegetables. I won’t say what I thought of the abundance of scallops or the chicken (both exemplary), but I felt sorry for the poor sockeye salmon, which I image was of noble heritage, but which was, sadly, overcooked. At the end, an irresistible monolith of chocolate, in its more classical of guises, of the “black forest” gateau, saved the day.

Day 2 – Brandywine – Benton Harbor – Greenville

Good, substantial and rich breakfast in the lovely dining room of the lodge. At lunchtime, we were received by the chairman, Jeff Fettig, in the “executive dining room” in the world headquarters. We were a little in awe, and our interest was certainly not focused on the food, but on the discussion of the great topics of innovation and of the company’s strategy. The questions came thick and fast, but the chairman answered tirelessly, even managing to eat without anyone noticing. There was an art to it all. The gastronomic appearance suffered from the need not to wait even one second for the most important man in the team, and as a result, the chicken and beef kebabs, accompanied with pilaf rice and grilled vegetables, were a little tough. They were already suffering from anonymity, and the wait depressed them further. No first course, and the dessert was a single portion, a choice between an excellent lemon pie and a delicate clafoutis of blueberries. There was no alcohol on the table, this was, after all, a place of work.

Evening came, and our coach reached Greenville. Waiting for us in the very latest “KitchenAid Experience” shop was a group of women pensioners, former employees of the factory, who were ready to spoil us with canapés that they themselves had made. Loving little grandmas, blessed housewives who, with a smile, presented us with deep, rural America, on a dish. Surprising roulades of water chestnuts and bacon, in a barbecue sauce; baked cheese in a pecan crust and cane sugar, to spread on bread; king prawns in a tomato, radish, Tabasco and Worcester sauce; fresh herb cheese, and vegetables all unknown to me, also for spreading; fresh vegetables of every kind. A breath of fresh air, a small gastronomic discovery, with simplicity and, above all, with heart.

The actual dinner took place in the Bistro off Broadway, situated in the building that housed the original factory of the legendary mixers. The setting was that of a mid-west diner, with colored neon signs advertising this or that make of beer, suffused lights, wooden floors and a long counter. We dined in the company of the Mayor and of a county politician. It was compulsory to try the beef, one of the various local cuts that are unknown on Italian tables. I ventured for a flat iron, a particular cut from the front, but Marco was less adventurous and more cautiously chose a “New York” (a sirloin cut “the other way” to us). Of course, there were plenty of French fries, and they were good. And plenty of icy-cold beer. It was impossible to face the dessert, the US portions are difficult to tackle for our European stomachs.

Day 3 – Greenville – Clyde – Detroit

Breakfast at the “Comfort Inn”, without any hitches, with a pleasant variation of the “do it yourself” wafer. In fact, we were assisted by a sprightly grandma of the west. Here, everyone is so polite, and always ready to do their utmost to make you more comfortable, to serve you what you want, the way you want it …

At lunch, the dismal bread rolls reappeared, but then, the schedule was so full that there was no alternative. We fed ourselves with a classic foot-long “sub” (from subway”, because of the elongated shape), which came in the ham, cheese, or “club” (a bit of everything) version. We chose the latter. Again the giant biscuits, which were good, albeit a little boring. And to drink, there was the Atlanta “soda” again, in its unmistakable red can.

We ate dinner in the airport, in Detroit. We were spoilt for choice. Marco was attracted by Mexican food, which, to be honest, was very inviting. We gave in. I realized that the director of Varesenews, in fact, didn’t know anything about pico de gallo, fajitas, jalapeños , chipotles or chili con carne. To tell the truth, he had said little, if indeed anything, about the food during this trip. This was the least adventurous side of his personality. This would have to be remedied, no authentic native of Viterbo can be without an opinion on culinary matters. There must be a way, in the near future, I hoped. In the meantime, I ordered him a “classic bacon barbecue burger”, which came with solid French fries. The waitress asked to see my identity card when I asked for a draught Budweiser. She wanted to check that I was 21!! The paradoxes of the rule followed to the letter!

And thus, our gastronomic adventures in the American mid-west came to an end in the most classic of ways, with a perfect, and, alas, highly calorific hamburger, as we were already dreaming of “linguine”, ravioli and risottos. Incorrigible.

Pierre Ley

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