By: Ryan Gilbert
One thing that most people look forward to while traveling is the tasting of local cuisine on their trip. As I got ready to head to the Wales I thought I would be somewhat disappointed in the food the country had to offer. I pictured bizarre stews, blandly seasoned vegetables, and many other foods leaving much to be desired. I had after all just come from America where our food relies somewhat on shock value to make sales, and restaurants are constantly trying to outdo each other to achieve the biggest portion, taste, and reputation. But when I got to Wales I experienced something completely different.
In my experience, they have much better food in Wales than they have in America. I can’t explain it. Perhaps it’s because it’s a new country and I am giving it too much credit. Or perhaps they have different standards of basic ingredients than in America. But with every dish I had I felt like I was understanding a message from the local culture that I couldn’t find in America. The message was this, cooking is an art, and we’re proud to let you experience our masterpiece.
I’m not saying that America doesn’t appreciate food at certain levels of cuisine. We have 5 star restaurants, countless styles of barbecue, and always enjoy a backyard cookout. But we still have the idea that flipping burgers is just a stepping stone to something better. I did not experience that message in Wales. Even the TGI Friday’s, serving simple American dishes, somehow was done better in Wales than America. But this was constant in every dish, from classic Italian to a cheap battered sausage at 1 in the morning. The only explanation I can think of is that the chefs in the kitchen felt a sense of purpose when they cooked, and took pride in every dish they made. The same cannot be said in America, where every burger flipped is a reminder of “better things” yet to come.
Communication through food is often only thought of at the highest levels of cuisine. Where chefs can bring someone back to a place or memory just through what they put on the plate. But if someone is passionate about giving every customer a great experience, they can communicate that by giving them a tasty dish no matter how fancy the restaurant is. I experienced that in Wales with every restaurant I went to. Here are just some of the few meals I’ve enjoyed so far on my trip.
The first meal is the best thing I’ve eaten so far on the trip. It’s a bowl of gnocchi in white sauce sprinkled with chicken, pancetta, and arugula. The meal was fantastic, but accompanied with a very attentive wait staff the meal was one I won’t soon forget. I know that my whole group felt so cared for and could tell that the restaurant was the pride of the family who owned it. They saw members of our group multiple times in their restaurant because we all knew it was a place to relax and unwind after a long day.
This next meal is nowhere near the complexity of the last one but it was still memorable just the same. We all had a long day in the city and decided we needed a brew and a snack. I wanted to try a local dish so I ordered the Scotch Egg. It was incredible. The outside fried to perfection while the yolk was perfectly gooey. It showed signs of careful, intentional assembly and preparation, and I felt the cook had made it with me in mind the whole time.
Another example of communication through cooking is my experience at a Chinese restaurant. I ordered the orange chicken and was extremely disappointed in my meal. At least Seventy-Five percent of my meat had bone or cartilage inside and I had to spit it out. I felt like I wasn’t valued as a customer there, and they used the cheapest cuts of meat for my meal, while still making me pay full price. The message was received loud and clear.
Sometimes doing the simple things right can make such a better impact than doing the complicated things in a mediocre way. The milkshake I had at TGI Friday’s hit the spot like nothing else could at the time. The consistency of the ice cream and combination of flavors was exactly where it needed to be. I could tell it wasn’t just put in the blender and left for minutes as the cook went to do something else. But it was watched and tested for the perfect milkshake experience before it made its way to my table. I know TGI Friday’s must make a lot of milkshakes, but I still felt like they made mine with care and pride in their work.
The last item I want to show is just a simple cup of coffee from a small cafe in Cardiff. Even a cup of joe can seem extraordinary when done with a passion. They brought the flavor out from inside the cup and made the outside of the cup edible as well. Something to expect from perhaps a famous cafe as a special offer, but not this whole in the wall coffee joint as a regular menu item. It was true artists using their creativity to impact their customers day in such a positive way.
Food is an excellent communicator. It can send messages of welcome, love, acceptance, and pride. While it can also send messages of indifference, like I experienced at the Chinese restaurant. Wales definitely has embraced this fact and is working everyday to communicate their passion for food and all the joy, camaraderie, and memories it can bring. I hope that when I return to America we can start to do the same. Flipping burgers isn’t the bottom of the totem pole if you flip everyone with a mission. A mission to send a message of love with every bite. That’s exactly what I experienced in Wales.