Eating Authors: Lisa Shapter

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There’s not much I can tell you about this week’s guest here at EATING AUTHORS, as Lisa Shapter strikes me as a very private person, and indeed I don’t even have a photo to show of her.

But I can tell you two important things.

First, she’s a member of Codex, an online writing community founded by Luc Reid back in 2004.

Second, her first novel, A Day in Deep Freeze came out just ten days ago from Aqueduct Press.

LMS: Welcome, Lisa. So please, tell the readers here what meal stands out in your memory.

LS: I once went to hear the violinist Joshua Bell and had an extraordinary experience: I could not remember any of the music. The solo concert came with a program, the program listed standard pieces in the Classical repertoire by familiar composers but once Bell began to play I heard the first few phrases – then later remembered nothing else.

I have a tolerable background in music: I can play the minor pieces by great composers, sing back a melody I have heard a few times, and recognize by ear all of the instruments in an orchestra. I recognized the violin pieces in Bell’s program but he played all of them with such transcendent beauty that I stopped hearing them as melodies. The musical part of my brain was overwhelmed: it could not count beats, recognize phrasing, or critique tone. What was coming from the stage was simply sound, magnificently lovely sound, and it did not matter which piece it was or who had composed it.

A Day in Deep Freeze

I had a similar experience at the best meal I have ever eaten. I was taking the train west after visiting relatives on the east coast and had to make the obligatory overnight stop in New Orleans. I had booked a hotel and was arriving very late and leaving very early the next morning, so in compensation for being unable do much, I arranged to stay at a small boutique hotel with its own restaurant. I found the place online, mispronounced the street name for the cabbie, and found myself being driven to a dark street with shuttered or barred one-storey buildings. I felt for my cell phone and wondered if I was going to end up on a true crime newsmagazine when a barred window in the middle of the street turned out to be the hotel, the one lit window, with an unilluminated sign above it.

The hotel was everything I had hoped – but its restaurant was closed for renovations. Like most small historic hotels it was not near the tourist neighborhood or any chain restaurants. I asked the man at the desk if there was any other place to eat, checking for the cab company’s card in my pocket. The night clerk said there was a restaurant one block over. I was reluctant to walk on the street alone but he assured me I could see the place from the hotel door.

The only other lit window on the street looked something like a late-night deli with tables. I did not care: it was brightly lit, not about to close, and serving hot food. I wanted a plate of hash and was willing to eat at any place open and close.

All I remember is the duck.

The first item on my order was some kind of what we’d call Brunswick Stew further east, with a duck base and shreds of meat. One of my favorite dishes happens to be Thai barbecued duck and I could certainly identify the type of meat: after that my senses failed me. I grew up eating Chinese food in neighborhoods where we were the only ghost-faces in the whole place. Since we also enjoyed cooking, I learned young to reverse engineer food based on how it tasted: to name spices and methods of preparation and regional differences. I can do this with any kind of food (so long as I can cheat by saying ‘and a spice I don’t recognize’) but the duck was so transcendently wonderful that the whole process failed me, for that dish and for the rest of the meal.

I do not remember what I ate: I think there was the duck, a salad, some main dish, and a desert – but all made with such otherworldly excellence that it was just plates of magnificent tastes, tastes that I could not later remember or categorize. I have eaten terrific food from all over the world, I know a lot of the tricks about textures or umi or cues like music or decor or smells, but I still have no idea what that menu was or how it pulled off that effect.

Like Bell’s concert, it was a singular experience: memorable and impossible to recall all at once.

I do not remember the name of the restaurant.

Thanks, Lisa. I’ve had that experience in New Orleans myself, more than once. Curiously, one time, it also involved duck.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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