Eating Authors: Gray Rinehart

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Gray Rinehart

The NASFiC is barely two weeks in the past, and yet in a couple days I start off on a month of travel and research and writing that threatens to chew me up and spit me out. It should be glorious, and it begins this week with a trip to the greater Chicago area to hang with Klingon speakers, much as I’ve done every summer for the past 24 years. Somewhere in the midst of all that I’ll also celebrate my 58th birthday.

All of this talk of decades is as good a segue as I’m going to get for introducing Gray Rinehart, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. I’ve known Gray so long that I don’t remember where or when we actually met, which makes me think it must have been a virtual meet (cute), as he joined the Codex, the online writing community, back in 2004. Our paths don’t cross too often in the physical world as he’s down in North Carolina and I’m here in Pennsylvania. I rarely go south and if he comes north it must be under cover of darkness because I don’t see him.

Gray has a complex and lush background, including a career in the US Air Force that concluded with him retiring as a Lt. Colonel, an ongoing sideline as a musician, a political speech writer, and a contributing editor (a.k.a the slushmaster) for Baen. A few years back he even put his hat in the ring for political office with a campaign of “if I don’t make a promise, I can’t break a promise.”

As long as I’ve known him, Gray has only written short fiction. Then a few weeks ago I learned he’d sold a novel to Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. Naturally I wasted no time and immediately asked him for his most memorable meal and he quickly responded with the piece you’ll find below. Walking on the Sea of Clouds lands in online bookstores everywhere on Wednesday. Pick up a copy and be prepared to find yourself transported to the moon.

LMS: Welcome, Gray. I’m sure that with your Air Force career you’ve been around a bit more than most. What stands out as your most memorable meal.

GR: I know that other “Eating Authors” have written about “memorable” meals as opposed to “best” meals, and in some respects that might be easier. A number of my most memorable meals have little to do with the quality of the food: for example, the outrageous expense of the steak dinner I had at the Polo Club restaurant in the Marriott in Moscow; the international camaraderie of the multi-course, multi-toast “state dinners” at the Top of the World Club at Thule Air Base, Greenland; the mix of high-class elegance and rocket-themed engineering tomfoolery at the Air Force “Dining In” aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach; and so on.

But the “best” meal, the meal that I hold up as the standard against which I judge all other meals, was our 20th anniversary celebration supper in Baltimore. The memory has dimmed a bit, since that was a dozen years ago, and unfortunately I couldn’t find the restaurant in a Google search so I fear it no longer exists — but, trust me, it was marvelous.

Walking on the Sea of Clouds

It was Memorial Day weekend in 2005 — a couple of days before our anniversary, in fact — and I had taken Jill on an excursion to see Cirque du Soleil. Neither Jill nor I recall now how we ended up at Ray’s for supper (not to be confused with “Roy’s” in Baltimore today): maybe the hotel recommended it, maybe we were referred by friends, maybe we happened across it while we were exploring the harbor area. And I can’t say exactly why I decided to order the lamb chops; I don’t think they were listed as a special, but it was a special night so I think I just wanted to order something I wouldn’t choose on a normal night out.

Being so long ago, all I was equipped with was a camera-less flip-phone, so I have no photographic evidence of the chops arranged artfully on the plate, succulent little bulbs of meat at the ends of slender bones. (Not that I’ve ever gotten into the habit of documenting my meals.) But even if I had pictures, they would not convey how tender and flavorful those lamb chops were. Each one was juicy and robust, and fell off the bone as if they had been slow-roasted for hours.

Of course, it’s possible that my memory of that meal is supercharged because it was, after all, with my beautiful bride as we celebrated two decades of married life. Maybe the romantic atmosphere was less because of the restaurant itself and more because of my dining partner. Maybe those lamb chops were no different than any others, and I’ve just elevated them in my imagination because the occasion warranted it (though Jill says the scallops she had that night were also amazing, and the best she’s ever had). But even if my memory and imagination have enhanced the experience, that’s fine with me.

(One final note: Readers may notice that we were in Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend but I did not mention Balticon. I was still on active duty in the Air Force in those days, so we were not in the habit of attending conventions. However, during our explorations of the Baltimore area we did stop by the hotel and see some con-goers and some displays in the public spaces. And hopefully we can make it back up there one day!)

Thanks, Gray. I’m a big fan of anniversary dinners, not least because my own wedding happened in late August. I’m often celebrating it during the Worldcon, that frequently means fine dining in a restaurant of a city I’ve never visited before, which only adds to the delight.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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