Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Paul Gauguin meats Mr Bean (sic).

Sure I learned French for three years and actually passed my junior high exams. In those days there was no oral test, so my accent must have been atrocious. But if I am anything I am adventurous, so aboard the Paul Gauguin in December 1999, where crew members were French, practice time came again, the first since 1972. (see ‘Parlay Voo Fronsay’, posted May 11, 2010)

For such a small ship, MV Paul Gauguin offered a wonderful choice of cuisine, with three restaurants, one exclusively French, so that is where we ate. Entertainer Ian Cooper, violinist enfant terrible and his barrister wife Kellie were funny and sophisticated dinner companions to myself, the irascible Milton ‘garden gnome’ Saunders and Monsieur Laurie Bennett who, for the duration of the Millennium Cruise around the islands of Tahiti, insisted he was French and pronounced his name ‘Bennay’.

So our evening meals were long drawn out affairs with repartee and laughter, lubricated with oodles of free Coonawarra Cabernet. (We drank the entire stock of Coonawarra over the almost three weeks of the cruise, the purpose of which was to be right on the International Date Line at midnight December 31 so we were the ‘first to enter the new millennium’). For that dubious privilege, almost three hundred Americans shelled out a reported fifty thou a berth, mais apres tout, we were there all expenses paid and were denied nothing in return for playing a few leisurely two hour shows! (We were worth every penny!)

However, as is not unusual, I made a goose of myself. I had decided early on to go through the menu from top to bottom and try every dish. I have eaten kangaroo, crocodile, emu, rabbit, wild duck, witchetty grub and in Timor I once ordered Kambing, but swear I was served Anging. It tasted a bit strong as expected and was defintiely preferrable to witchetties, but I say it was probably dog on the (admittedly circumstantial) evidence of one observation.

Awoken at 4am by a scratchy tape of a mullah calling his flock to morning prayers while he snored on, I dressed and walked outside the Soe, (pronounced so-eh) Hotel. There in the gloom was a kitchen wallah carrying a carcase. I asked him what it was and he answered ‘anging’. Dogs are to Timor what cows are to India, except there is nothing sacred about the yellow curs harvested from town dumps. But I digress.

Towards the end of our Tahiti adventure, the highlight of which was a three day festival of song and dance on a mountain peak amphitheatre, where young men and women display their bodies and skills in a colourful, noisy and anarchic traditional ritual, during which mates are chosen and marriages organised, I was nearing the end of my menu cracking odyssey. There remained only one untried dish, so I gave the pronunciation my best shot and ordered. I did note Kellie’s raised eyebrow and in retrospect should have realised I had gone too far when the waiter, a cheeky Gallic charmer, laughed as he recorded my naiveté in his order book, no doubt adding in his mirth-effected scrawl; ‘Australien idiot’.

Anyone who saw Mr Bean take himself to a posh restaurant for his pathetic birthday 'bash' will know what is coming but in my hubris, although I did see that episode, I missed the connection as did everyone except le smartarse garcon. Later, during confession, Kellie said she had admired my savoir faire as, in my improving accent, I ordered 'Boef à l'Americaine'. When the dish arrived Milton went close to throwing up and Laurie had to leave for a ‘breath of fresh air’ but I was stuck with no option but reluctant heroism.

Eventually the bottom of the dish revealed no clown face or printed ‘gotcha!’ But the real joker, the head waiter appeared by my side and smugly offered seconds.
I had succeeded in eating the disgusting mess by applying immaculate self control and kept it down with dogged determination, but like any sane mountain climber, one Everest is enough and I declined politely, while coming ever so close to advising him to ‘fuck off, you supercilious bastard!’

Mr Bean was able to secrete his ignorance in sugar bowls, vases, ash trays, under place mats and even managed to deposit some in the purse of an adjacent diner, but with cheating impossible under the unwavering surveillance of our eagle eyed barrister, I ate every last morsel of what an English menu would have listed as ‘Steak Tartare’. Minced steak with raw egg and diced onion, served raw and running with blood!


  1. My old hubbys favourite dish Stafford - no flinching in this corner - but again a superb delivery, I love your description of the French waiter! He was every French waiter that I have ever met rolled into one!

  2. Could this be any funnier? I don't think so! Just visualizing the steak tartare and you choking it down has caused me to laugh all over again! (However, I do love a good rare steak!) Your story caused me to think back to where I was as I ventured into the new millennium .. the Atlantic Ocean on the beach, a balmy night, fireworks lighting the sky! Where does time go?

  3. you are one of the most entertaining blokes in bloggerland, to be sure! stafford, i love your command of the english language, and not too shabby of a job with the french, either ;) THIS was a marvelous story you've shared...kudos on keeping the tartar down!!!

  4. I do love steak tartare but questioned my sanity in ordering it once in Venezuela. It was wonderful, though, in the square in Brussels, along with my mussels.

    Your travel tales leave me laughing hysterically. I would not do well on a French vessel but could manage quite well in Spanish.

  5. Just dropped in for a quick read. Indeed good stories lately -- and agreeing with Sheri here mate. Your written stories are very entertaining and you seem to use the english language as a performing musician might use a popular and familiar instrument with an appreciative audience.

    Compliments on your success and apologies for not being able to spend much time commenting here lately.

  6. If nobody ever ordered steak tartare it would disappear from any menu where RSANE or Stephanie Myer was not expected! Come on, admit it is an unfortunate left over from a time before man learned to make fire! Ha ha! What fun!

  7. Ooh - that would have been ROUGH going for me - I like my steak burnt - where you need a buzz saw to cut it.

  8. Very funny account of what sounds like a dream cruise, Stafford. I could relate because I too am a bit of an adventurous eater. I once had sea urchin in the Caribbean. It was served in its outer shell, looking a bit like a hairy melon half. One scooped the contents (which tasted most like briny custard) out with a spoon. All good, until the hairy melon half started moving away across my plate after I had finished eating its innards, making a break for freedom, no doubt. The other seven diners at the table all went a little pale.

  9. Stafford, you are a DELIGHT..et votre français? C'est très bien, ca!

  10. Bug, sometimes I cook kangaroo. That must be eaten very rare otherwise you do need the chain saw to cut it up, teeth like Jaws and battery acid as a condiment!

    Pattiken, seems the poor thing was still alive! Ummm... (thinks) I am fairly sure the mince I ate was past galloping off!

    C.L.Smith, thanks but you just blew any chance of being hired as a critic of Littérature Francais! :-)

  11. Ha ha C.L.Smith
    Yes our Stafford is just the berries
    and we love him...bad food choices and all
    Thanks for sharing this funny story

  12. A Burp A Minute
    " La Smartarse Gastronomical Operetta "
    Or ' Rumble in the Bowels '
    Comedy Trip of ' Blurts and Farts '
    Great Mirth and " Runny Howls "

    **Un autre souvenir magique de musique **

    No need to ask why you are now so ' Addicted to Stir Fry ' Stafford....

  13. Suz, I object to the bad food choices comment.
    Bet you've never tasted witchetty grubs! Actually, I am forced by honesty to quote Ernie Dingo, Aboriginal Australian who was heard to say in Crocodile Dundee 2 to Crocodile Dudnee AKA Paul Hogan, regarding bush tucker (includes the above grubs) 'It might keep you alive Mate, but it tastes like shit!'. 'Nuff said!

  14. Very entertaining and well written post - you have a great talent for description and vernacular vocabularly. I so love your French waiter and what you wanted to say to him. I think they had this dish on Masterchef and George forced himself to taste it and he actually was very impressed. Unfortunately your post made me feel a little nauseus so I'm not giving you the extended laughing words (gigglesnort etc.,) for this one. Still 9/10 ;)

  15. Wow, you sure have tried a lot of very interesting foods. I don't think I would ever be brave enough to try kangaroo, crocodile, emu, or rabbit. But I have had duck, and I loved it!

  16. GB, disappointed there were no hapthfpfgigglesnortsbrahahas, but 9/10 ain't bad. The taste was Ok, it was all the blood!Yuk!

    meleah rebeccah, crocodile is related to chicken both evolved from dinosaurs) and has similar meat while emu is dark meat like duck breast. Kangaroo is similar to beef steak but has no cholesterol, the reason it must not be over cooked. And rabbit, well of all those I find it the least palatable but during WW2 because they were in plague proportions, we ate so many my ears grew long and furry. Seriously, I do have big furry ears! I have my ear hairs cut at the hair dresser's so people don't stare.

  17. Wow! I had NO IDEA crocodile is related to chicken! Nor did I know any of the other food relations!

    Im pretty much a chicken,cow and pig eater. I love Bacon Cheddar Cheeseburgers! But ONCE I ate an ostrich burger! And that's about as brave as I will get!


(leave a message)