When was the last time you spent three or four hours on a meal? Does that seem like a really long time to you? I know it does to me, and in fact, it’s not something I would have even considered until recently reading about a four-hour meal n the Slow Food section of the book In Praise of Slowness by Carle Honore.
My first reaction was probably typical of fast thinking: Who has time for that? Little did I know I was about to experience something similar.
In my case, the meal was not in a leisurely Italian village but rather a restaurant in Atlantic City – not a place I would expect to find Slowness. But we did.
The meal was part of a work conference, with about 40 attendees, and it started at 6. We had tickets to a comedy show at 9 (luckily in the same hotel), and we had a limited menu of four courses, each with 2-4 choices: appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert. I thought this would expedite service, since at this same meeting last year, the dinner took about two hours. But this year, the servers apparently decided to take full advantage of our three hours.
We sat at 6, and our drinks arrived fairly quickly. Then the bread came – forty-five minutes later. We put in our orders at the same time, and our meal itself didn’t start until 7:15, with our main course showing up at 8:20. I think the meal would have gone even longer if we didn’t have a deadline, and even so, at my table dessert didn’t arrive until 8:55.
At first, I was annoyed. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to fill up on bread because I wanted to be hungry enough to really enjoy my meal as well as save room for dessert. But then I started to relax into the slower rhythm – possibly aided by the wine – and I was able to focus on the experience itself instead of looking ahead to when I would leave.
This made the meal much more enjoyable than when rushed, and more memorable. Certainly part of what made it stand out was the quality of the food: the tenderness of my filet mignon skewer appetizer; the different textures and flavors of the chopped salad; the combination of flavors and the juiciness of my chicken with bacon mustard vinaigrette; and the wonderfully moist, rich, and decadent 7-layer chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.
But it was more than that. It was taking the time to step out of the normally fast-paced world to pay attention to the food and company. I learned a lot of new things about the colleagues I sat with, which strengthened our relationship and will likely help us work better together. I could appreciate all aspects of the food, and the length of the meal made it easier to notice how hungry or full I was.
So while Slow Eating to this extreme isn’t feasible all the time, it seems well worth doing on a more occasional basis, to remind myself of the benefit and joy in slowing down.