During my recent three-week journey to North America, I had the pleasure of dining at two trendy restaurants, one in Philadelphia and the other in Toronto. Remarkably, the dessert menus of both establishments offered the same taste treat: Deconstructed Lemon Meringue Pie.
Thinking he’d be amused, I reported the phenomenon to a food fashionista colleague of mine who appears regularly on popular televised cooking shows. Instead of bubbling with interest, however, my friend rolled his eyes to suggest that I am déclassé and behind the times.
My friend is also an accomplished academician. Before I could apologize for being so gauche, he set about lecturing me on the subject of Pinterest, explaining that, even though the website attracts primarily women, if I aspire to cultural awareness, then I should know about it. As I confessed never having tried a tangelo creamsicle or sampled “green ombre cake”--whatever that might be—I wondered whether my friend had begun to consider me an embarrassment. Just then he implored, “Please don''t tell me that you aren’t aware of cupcakes having made a comeback, cupcake!”
As soon as my friend was out of sight, I clicked on Pinterest and learned that deconstructed lemon meringue pie had already become outmoded. I should have inferred as much from my basic knowledge of statistics. How cutting edge can you be, after all, if you appear on dessert menus at two popular restaurants? Anyway, before said pie becomes just a sweet memory, a few observations.
Physically, DLMP arrives as a sort of kit. Your waiter sets down all the components – lemon curd, a cookie-like foundation, dollops of meringue, etc. – and then it''s your job to assemble it. As you put your pie together, you invariably absorb comments from the other diners about how they would have done things differently (i.e., more creatively). The critiques are, presumably, part of the fun. Meanwhile you''ve concluded that the whole idea must have been conceived by a lazy pastry chef and you make a mental note to add this to the list of things (spaghetti, roast chicken etc.) that you will never order again when dining out. Of course, all of that happens before you have the privilege of paying $28 for the dish!
Philosophically speaking, however, I think DLMP has possibilities. I see it as a metaphor, of sorts, for what we''re trying to do together through the medium of this blog. Consider the ingredients. First, we''re talking about lemons - literally bitter; figuratively unsatisfactory - which can correspondingly be turned into something (literally) sweet or (figuratively) desirable. Then, there''s meringue, which is by definition, a mixture. The implication is that just as easily as sugar is incorporated into egg whites, so too any number of diverse forces can be made to mingle together.
But most importantly, the pie arrives deconstructed. Let’s cast our eyes beyond the pies to abstract an important concept. Sometimes deconstruction simply occurs as our life feels like it is coming undone. However, as I have repeatedly advocated in this blog, there is also inherent value in actively deciding to break things down. To deliberately deconstruct our lives. To take stock of the components and then to reconfigure them. In so doing, we recognize that everybody would put the pieces back together in a unique way. We, ourselves, may arrange things differently today than we did in the past and still differently tomorrow from today.
So maybe it wasn’t a case of the dessert flopping back in the kitchen and the lazy chef instructing the waiter to bring the stuff out for us to deal with it. In the alternative narrative, the patissier is not trying to salvage the work that was imperfectly done but, instead, urging us to intentionally use the dessert as a springboard to put our lives together. Deconstruction and construction are, after all, both important processes which actually, er, feed off each other.
And finally, there''s the matter of timing. This all happens at dessert -- the very last course. How reassuring to speculate that there is opportunity to carry out the respective processes of deconstruction and construction even during the latter phases of life, after we’ve been satiated by so much folly and indiscretion. Deconstructed lemon meringue pie is ultimately a statement about possibility and hope. And those qualities will never go out of fashion.
Until next Monday, shalom! And, bon appetite!