My First Fork

A preference for one thing over another is innate. It's also a survival instinct. If this watering hole is better than that watering hole, and you're an elephant, it's in your genes to communicate that fact. And those that don't follow you take their chances. Literally.

However for humans, stating a preference - declaring that one type of food, music, or way of thinking is  "better" than another - can be perceived by some as being elitist, arrogant, or as they say in the U.K., "up one's self"; which perhaps help explain their food.

As I write this, I'm in front of a new audio system. While I consider myself a music fan and want to consider food and music as equals, I tend to listen to music while making food; the auditory being a single stimulus while the sights, smells, and tactical nature of food occupies the other senses. A good soundtrack makes audible what the other senses are celebrating.

Having been in the right place at the right time, this system is completely disproportionate to the amount of time I spend listening to music. In short, it was free and it's (normally) expensive. Really expensive. It would be as if I had been fishing a few times, and then decided to buy a river. And yet, I'm discovering things I've never heard before. Recordings I first heard through a tiny phonograph needle, are being played anew; like a high school crush frozen in time. Not in black and white, slightly out of focus and faded by time, but enhanced and enchanted. The perspective of now truly appreciating what you saw and felt back then.

This notion of the "hardware" affecting the "software" does, of course, relate back to food. And of youth.

If food is the "software" of dining, then dishes and flatware, napkins and wine glasses are surely the hardware. While none of these alters the flavor of what we're eating, they can subtly affect our enjoyment of it.

My parents had what I would call a "modest" kitchen. Dishes were unremarkable and unbreakable melamine or "Corelware", flatware was modest and no more than three of any utensil matched. Table knives were dull and/or serrated, prep knives looked as if they'd been used to hack through the wilderness somewhere. It all matched the skills and passion my parents for food. Neither utensils nor owner felt slighted; they were in perfect harmony.

While cleaning out my deceased mother's house of every item imaginable, I came across a random but remarkable memento; a single artifact which I think helped uncover my early interest in food and how it's consumed - a fork. It was very distinct from the rest; a bit too ornate for my taste but implied that the object had value. It was heavy; especially when compared to the stamped sheet-metal flatware it shared a drawer with. It was a bit shinier than the others, but not in a showy way. It felt "right" in my hands and it became my preferred fork whenever it was available in the drawer.I've no idea where it came from nor why we only had one of them (I suspect a neighbor brought it over and it was orphaned along the way).

I wonder if anyone else in my small family noticed it. Could they reach into a silverware drawer and grab just any old fork when this one was there? Were they all equal candidates for conveying such important cargo?

Surely this single piece of metal is at least partially responsible for (or indicative of) my tendency toward better utensils now. Dining out for a living for 8 years exposed me to a lot of dishes and glasses and forks and knives, and I found one company and one style that reminded me of that balance I first enjoyed so long ago, an Italian company called "Sambonet". It took me years to get enough light and focus to read the convoluted logo on the "top" side of the forks. Then I noticed the knives stamped clearly with the name. I ordered a set as soon as I could find them online. They certainly weren't cheap, but they'll be with me for a very long time. And so will that first fork.


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