It’s been a rather elemental week since the last installment of Eating Authors. Here at home, our furnace went out, just in time for the coldest days of the season. My wife and I spent plenty of time shivering, as well as piling extra comforters onto the bed, because for three days and nights the temperature in the house dropped to the low 40’s. We resolved that problem on Saturday. On Sunday my sister-in-law and her partner showed up, a result of a broken water main that under better circumstances serviced their housing complex, and will again by Friday. None of which really bears on today’s entry, but it provides some local color.
Rising out of these housing disasters I’m pleased to present this week’s guest, author and personal friend, Walter H. Hunt. I’ve actually had the pleasure of dining at some rather nice restaurants with Walter and his wife as our paths have crossed at more than a few conventions. We’ve even shared some memorable moments on panels together (if you should have the pleasure of seeing him at a convention, ask Walter to explain about Jar Jar Binks). But I digress.
Walter is perhaps best known for his Dark military SF series (The Dark Wing, The Dark Path, The Dark Ascent, and The Dark Crusade), but he’s also ventured into both music and religious history, exploring the Templars and Roslyn Chapel with his novel A Song In Stone. More recently, Walter has taken up with Eric Flint’s 1632 universe and is currently co-authoring a book (tentatively titled 1636: Drums Along The Mohawk) with Flint that brings the series to North America.
LMS: Welcome, Walter. You’ve been a hard man to pin down about this, but I’ve caught you at last so you have no choice but to reveal your most memorable meal!
WHH: In 2004, I was a fairly new professional author, trying out conventions I’d never attended, many states away from home. My daughter was young and my wife lacked the vacation time, so I was often alone.
That summer I accepted an invitation to visit Charlotte, North Carolina to be an attending pro at ConCarolinas. Like me, ConCarolinas was new – and somewhat disorganized. They had two author guests of honor: David Weber (who was local) and Alan Dean Foster (who was not). As was customary, the author(s) would be taken out to dinner by the convention committee.
However, as it turned out, there was a hitch. Weber wanted to go to one place and Foster wanted to go to another. And the head of programming – in charge of the accommodations – was married to someone who was a fanatic for Weber’s signature series (Honor Harrington). She wanted to go where Weber was going; he was going wherever she went.
In a panic, he came into the Green Room and asked, “does anyone have a car?” A lot of folks had arrived at the con by air or by train… but I’d driven down by way of friends en route.
“I do,” I said.
“Great,” he answered. “Alan Dean Foster wants to go to the Capital Grille and I need someone to take him there. Would you do it?” He explained his predicament vis-a-vis Weber and wife.
Okay, I thought. It’ll cost me $75, but I’ll get a good meal with Alan Dean Foster – someone I’d met during the early part of the con, and who had been a pro since I was, what, in high school. “Sure,” I said. “Glad to help.”
He was incredibly relieved. He came over to me and laid cash on the table; it was at least $150. “He’ll be in the lobby at 6:30,” he added, and dashed away to ConCarolinas’ next crisis.
At 6:30 I met Alan in the lobby. As it turned out, this wasn’t me driving Alan to a dinner with some folks from the con – it was me driving Alan to a dinner – with just me. We got into what was at that time my fairly new 2003 Nissan Sentra and drove downtown to Tryon Street in Charlotte, where I turned my vehicle over to the valet parking.
Full disclosure. I knew what the Capital Grille was about: tremendous food, ambiance, etc., all the sort of thing with which I am not intimately familiar. I appreciate fine food (my mother was a tremendous cook, and my wife has introduced me to all kinds of cuisine I never experienced growing up); I have the physique of someone happily married, and it doesn’t lie. But the Capital Grille was (and largely remains) a category of restaurant that is largely beyond my regular scope.
Alan, on the other hand, knew all about it – after all, he’d come out from Prescott, Arizona, to attend a convention where he requested it for his dinner as a guest of the convention. I don’t know if he was disappointed to have me as a dinner companion instead of the head of ConCarolinas programming, but it didn’t show. At his suggestion, I let him pick out the meal. (Thank God I wasn’t a vegetarian, I suppose).
I believe our appetizer was mozzarella with tomatoes, but I do remember the main course to be the Dry Aged Porterhouse. I ordered the same as he did. It was the most tender, the most flavorful, the most perfectly cooked steak I’d ever had. We ate it slowly and talked – or, rather, I mostly listened. He had a glass of steak-complementary wine. I had a pint of something wonderful from the tap. I recall a Key Lime pie at the end.
It took two hours at least, and I have never had a more gracious, engaged or friendly dinner with a fellow professional. The convention was 15 minutes away but it might as well have been in a different country. He told me he liked what he’d heard about my writing; I told him I admired his long resume. We agreed to not discuss Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which he claims is a book he’d rather forget. (It’s like telling Robert Silverberg how much you enjoyed Revolt on Alpha C. Which, by the way, I did – when I was 6.)
Convention food is usually less than memorable. When my wife and I are together at a convention – particularly at a Worldcon – we try to make sure we have one really good meal. Most of the rest is Green Room / Con Suite / hotel restaurant fare, sometimes augmented by Chinese or pizza during the course of the weekend. Sometimes we get the hotel brunch. I had traveled to North Carolina with my trusty Coleman cooler, which had yogurt and sandwich makings. There was another good meal at ConCarolinas that year, some sort of informal barbecue sandwich thing, but it doesn’t qualify as particularly noteworthy.
But dinner at the Capital Grille with Alan Dean Foster? For a brand-new writer, it was the most memorable such meal I’ve ever had.
Thanks, Walter. Now I’m going to have to take Valerie to the Capital Grille, and it’s all your fault!
Next Monday: Another author and another meal!
Tags: Eating Authors