At the height of my career as a pro eater, I secured a resy to the illustrious Momofuku Ko. I was honored to be chosen. I hoped I was up to the challenge.
On the night in question, my dining companion and I nervously dressed, showered, and took a cab to the East Village. The restaurant, marked by an apricot on a frosted glass pane, is unassuming in atmosphere. We squared up to the bar, and straddled our backless stools.
Prior to the meal, David Chang led all of the diners in a rousing hymn of praise and thanks that we could all be a part of this dinner tonight. For most of us diners, being permitted to pay for this meal was the achievement of a lifetime, something we’d been dreaming about ever since we first heard that food could be elevated into a lifestyle. Our stomachs had been prepped for this by endlessly dissected dining experiences in multiple countries. We’d studied food, we’d immersed ourselves in wine. We’d poured money into our educated gullets, and we had yet more to spend. We knew our stuff, and we knew it well. We were advanced eaters, the top of the ranks.
We were ready to eat this food.
The meal began with a single fried porkrind on a piece of slate. My stomach jibbered and bounced in bliss. Everyone clapped. Kate Bosworth, who’d been admitted not because she was an advanced eater (quite the opposite), but because she was a celebrity, realized right away she wasn’t anywhere near advanced enough to be eating at Ko, and withdrew from the meal in shame.
Ten diners remained.
Chang served the second course. English muffins smeared with rendered pork fat. I began to be nervous. Would I be able to eat this course successfully? I felt the pressure of making it all the way to the finals. Granted, I’m no novice when it comes to dining, but if you blow it at Ko, you’ll never be taken seriously as an eater again. And I’ve always taken pride in my ability to ingest. Would this evening be the end of all my dreams?
But then, oh joy! I was able to appreciate the English muffins. I had made it through another course.
Next, fluke sashimi. I swallowed it down with nary a hitch. I was dimly aware of some commotion by the door – later, my dining companion told me that some people who’d failed to orgasm over the English muffins (thus revealing themselves as food amateurs) were bounced from the restaurant altogether – but at the time, I was so in the zone, I’d ceased to be aware of my surroundings.
Eight diners remaining: kimchi consumme over an oyster. I began to entertain another fear altogether: what if I went all the way tonight at Ko? If I successfully ate this dinner, I would reach the top of the top bracket of diners. Where would I go from there? What does one do after reaching the top? Eat at Per Se again? I began to feel oddly depressed.
Coddled egg with caviar. I am knocking each course out of the park. I hope my dining companion is keeping up – I’m vaguely aware of his presence, but I can’t worry about him. I have to focus on my own performance. The big one is coming up: the course in which some diners are given the spare ribs, and others, the shitty chicken. David Chang is walking up and down the bar, looking over our shoulders, studying our jaw muscles as we chew and making notes on a clipboard. Am I eating in good form? Am I murmuring appreciation in the right degree at the right times? Am I vocal enough to show surprise at the excellence of the food, but not so much that it seems I’m unacquainted with taste arrangements at this level? I have to get those spare ribs – I’ve trained my whole life for those spare ribs. I’m good enough, and I deserve them!
If David Chang gives me the chicken, I’ll kill myself.
Scallop with clams. I’m in another place entirely. I’m eating without even thinking now, just like I was born to do it.
Shaved foie gras torchon with Riesling jelly, lychee and pinenuts. Oh, God. I wasn’t expecting this. I’m not very experienced with jellied dishes. Oh, no. This is a disaster. I have to appreciate this appropriately! I must get those ribs! I put a bite in my mouth, just as Chang stops behind me. He can sense this is my weak spot. All eyes are on me. I feel Chang’s breath on my ear.
I like it!! I LIKE IT!!!!! Oh, thank God! Waves of relief crash over me and I break into hysterical, relieved laughter, as the other diners applaud, and David Chang, the master, sets a plate of spare ribs before me.
‘Congratulations,’ he says. And he applauds.
And I? I do what I do: I eat.
For I, my friends, am an Eater.