Eating Authors: Vivian Shaw

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Vivian Shaw

Last month I marked the autumnal equinox by once again participating in the Baltimore Book Fesitval, or at least a day of it anyway. It’s a glorious event and well worth the two hour drive to get there (and not because it gives me an excuse to stop at a Waffle House on the way down). Books, books, books, and lots of authors. It’s grand to see old friends and meet some new faces. One of those new faces this time around is this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Vivian Shaw, with whom I shared a panel. Her novel Strange Practice came out back in July and I confess I hadn’t read it yet. But hearing her talk about secondary worlds on the panel we shared convinced me that I had to invite her to come around and talk about her most memorable meal.

To my credit, I was able to restrain myself until the end of the panel. Fortunately for all of us, she said “yes.”

LMS: Welcome, Vivian. What’s your most memorable meal?

VS: If you’d asked me this two years ago, I would have had no difficulty whatsoever in coming up with the best meal I’d ever eaten. That was in 2004, in Chicago, the same day I met Scott McNeil and George Romero: I was at a Transformers convention and decided to take myself to an actual steakhouse for an actual steak, and I can still so clearly remember the gorgeous rich mineral taste of that first-ever filet mignon, the way it almost dissolved in my mouth. The vivid greenness of the two asparagus spears on the plate, the peppery kick of the Shiraz that accompanied it — even thirteen years later it’s incredibly easy to recall.

(The most memorable, however, was the time on British Airways in the 1990s where for reasons known only to themselves somebody had decided to add bits of squid to the fruit salad. Memorable doesn’t equal pleasant.)

Strange Practice

And then I met my wife, and going out to dinner became a kind of constantly evolving, unfolding pleasure. There was the pizza that was the apotheosis of all pizza, from a restaurant in New York that has since vanished — we had that sitting on the floor of the hotel room the night before we got married, telling each other stories, pausing to make helpless appreciative noises at how incredibly good it was. (The fact that the restaurant is no more seems somehow fitting, as if the universe decided it was going to give us perfect pizza one time in our lives, and had picked that particularly apposite moment to do so.)

Wherever we went, we found amazing things — always, from the very beginning. There was the two-course brunch at Marea, with the most flavorful chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life, after the courthouse ceremony. Steak at the Prime Rib, at Salt, at the Wine Market, at Brewer’s Art, at Cinghiale, in the restaurant of the Hotel Diplomat in Stockholm. Extraordinary steak at Bar Vasquez with spicy chimichurri, following a salmon ceviche of brilliant clarity and delicate balance. Mussels in coconut-curry broth at Lobo’s in Fells Point, and chicken-with-broccoli at Empire Szechuan Kyoto at 67th and Columbus. Pizza from Zella’s and pan-seared sea bass from NTL. Saffron fried rice and fino at Huertas. Earl Grey ice cream at the Lafayette and green tea gelato at the Met’s Balcony Cafe. Cold sesame noodles and scalding-hot gyoza. And everywhere, sushi, sushi, sushi.

It’s not just one meal, or one dish, that’s the focus of my memory now. It’s a huge, rich, delicious library-collection of memories, all of them lovely for different reasons. There are places I absolutely want to go back to and try the rest of their menu, dish by dish; there are places I want to go back to and order exactly the same thing I had the first time, because it was amazing. But it’s really the experience of going out to dinner with my wife that makes it more than just a somatic response to somebody’s culinary artwork.

I don’t often have much of an opportunity to describe food in my writing — yet, anyway — and I am looking forward to playing with that when the chance does arise. Over the past two years I’ve collected so many dishes I want my characters to experience, and that kind of intense visceral description is both challenging and exhilarating for me. One day, perhaps, I might even find the right place for the fruit-salad-with-squid — but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Thanks, Vivian. Having given up meat some seven months ago, all this talk of steak has my head spinning. Vicarious meals may be what saves me.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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