By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
Have you ever noticed how sometimes people are very quiet when eating around the table? Or the exact opposite, people are carrying on and loud? I can remember a plated dinner with my favorite professor of all time, Dr. K., and some other students. When the food arrived and people began eating it became uncomfortably quiet. Dr K. said, “aaah, the angel of silence has passed over the table.” He followed that up by asking everyone how the food was. Most everyone said “okay.” However, I was not too pleased. The food was okay but it didn’t taste the way it looked, the presentation far exceeded the flavor. On the flipside, I remember a meal in Miami with my mother and her colleagues (all professors) at “Justa-Pasta” where I couldn’t hear myself think they were carrying on so much.
Alcohol didn’t play a part in either of these two meals I mention…so, is it the chemistry of the people, the situation, the location? I think it’s the food! When the food’s good good people are loud and jovial and when it’s poor people become quiet and don’t want to say much. Anyone agree? I used to do plated lunches/dinners for 10 people and during the meal if it was quiet I would say to myself –“they’re enjoying the food” and if it was loud I’d say – “they’re enjoying the food”. Not much difference there, however the more I did these meals I noticed that the better the food, the louder the meal. When the food meets the expectations of the guests, they tend not to focus on the food and extend themselves outwards towards each other. When there is doubt about the quality of the food, people go inward and have an internal dialogue or critique of the food.
The good news is that during the last plated dinner we did, the guests were so loud there was no doubt that the food was good! The not so good news was I could tell it was louder than last time (boo). Maybe there is a science to this noise theory and it could be quantified. I could start bringing a noise meter and start a collection of recipes based on their noise quotient. Here’s the proof though, has anyone ever served a meal where no word was spoken (other than my colleague Phyllis Turnage Morris who shared her silent retreat experience in A Quiet Kitchen)? And then you find out a few days later that the food you served was at the top of their dislike list?