FECES AND BRAINS

My michael@foodinriga.com inbox is a very quiet place. The same goes for the comments section beneath every review and article. For whatever reason, most of my readers seem content with reading what I have to say and then going about their business in silence. Some, however, actually let me know their thoughts on what I’m doing. Some ask why I treat restaurants with such leniency, while others think of me as an ignorant tourist who would do best to just shut up, pack up, and go home. Yet others, amusing characters with a flair for conspiracy theories, seem to think that I have a hidden agenda to dis all things Latvian, while people who obviously work for the restaurants reviewed are convinced that I’m hired by competitors.

What I am not, however, is someone who promotes the concept of fine dining. And by this, I mean really fine dining. During my Christmas escape to Sweden, I entertained myself with reading in the White Guide about the best restaurants in the Nordics. And what I read in front of the family fireplace baffled me to the point that I had to read it out loud.

”exquisite eggs cooked in the ashes of sheep feces”

Not only was every restaurant reviewed in a style which would make even a broken-hearted poet blush, and not only would every dish photographed be better suited hanging on a wall than sitting on the table, the very content of what I read was just outlandish. In the White Guide I was told of the sheer and utter brilliance of butter, wrapped in bark from a tree and immersed in a swamp, ”with all the exciting decaying processes which follow”. I was told of the exquisite eggs cooked in the ashes of sheep feces. Less remarkable, perhaps, but still noteworthy, was the grouse's brain with a taste of liver.

For the record, it should be noted that I have never eaten at these restaurants, but judging by the elitist snobbery of the critics, I doubt that I would be very impressed.

”if you think that's too cheap, they also have main dishes for around €650”

Common for all these places are the microscopically small servings on massively oversized plates. What they also had in common are the prices. Telling is the fact that some of these restaurants don't even state any prices on their website. However, I was surprised to see that a few of them actually charged ”only” about €100 for a menu, but I wasn't surprised to find that the next restaurant on the list charges a modest €300 for a burger. If you think that is too cheap, they also have main dishes for around €650. Lucky, then, that the baked tomatos are only €110.

I have always viewed modern art as something appreciated only by a small, self-proclaimed elite, embracing the excuse to hang at the free-for-all red wine buffet, flirting and smiling through purple teeth, big words of deep insight floating around like bubbles waiting to pop at the first hint of scrutiny. On the level described in the White Guide, the art of cooking comes dangerously close to this. Sure, since I have no firsthand experience of such grandiose cookery, maybe I'm just dead wrong and will be all forgive-me-father-for-I-have-sinned later. Or maybe, just maybe, the Emperor got no clothes.