The gastronomical world reflected


Before smartphones were invented, I managed to waste an equivalent amount of time on newspapers and magazines. Not only did I read the Ann Arbor and Detroit papers, but I subscribed to political magazines ranging from many lefty publications to Conservative Digest. I even subscribed to the Edmonton Sun in Alberta, for some unfathomable reason. I was on every mailing list you could think of, but I was fascinated by the different points of view.

When an article stood out among the others, whether it was humorous, ironic, poignant, or sobering, I clipped it and carefully affixed it into a scrapbook with gluestick. I called it “The World Reflected,” and over three years, I filled Volumes I – VIII with an abundance of audacity (the Roman numerals lent gravitas to the project).

Even then, as I was struggling against the inevitable decision to attend law school, I was in the food business, working as a tuxedoed waiter in a French restaurant. Among the plethora of articles I saved for “The World Reflected” were some that were food-related.

One of these was a compilation from the Chicago Tribune, of the “best, worst and the weirdest food stories.” Thank you for doing the research, Phylis Magida. Many decades later, I am here to pass them on to a new generation.

How about the “worst soup in the world?” A woman complained that what she was served on her train dining car was the most awful broth she had ever tasted. Turned out the soup was served from a pot where the cleanser hadn’t been poured out. Since it had turned the water dark yellow, the waiter assumed it was consommé, heated it, and served the woman.

Or the “most exacting gourmet?” A Parisian was so angry that his wife had undercooked the roast, he kicked her out of bed so hard she broke her neck and died. When he completed his seven years of hard labor, you guessed it – he remarried. His new wife did not make the same mistake, but erred too far in the other direction. This murder earned the Parisian only eight years; it was reported the jury was not unsympathetic.

Famous geniuses Percy Bysshe Shelley (poet) and scientist Sir Isaac Newton were so busy being smart they could never remember to eat. Shelley would occasionally pop out of his study and ask his perplexed wife, “Mary, have I dined?” Newton was so indifferent that a friend once pranked him, by putting chicken bones on his empty plate at a dinner party.
Newton assumed he had already eaten and made no move to take more.

But my favorite is the “worst table manners in the Western world.” This was a toss-up between Charles XII of Sweden, who buttered his bread with his thumb, and Anne of Austria, who was seen several times plunging both hands into the ragout. One can only imagine the loyal subjects nudging each other: “YOU tell (His/Her) Majesty.” “No, YOU.” “Are you kidding? Did you see that guillotine out back?”

Upon reflection, maybe the world hasn’t changed so much in 40 or 400 years. The emperor wears no clothes, and no one will dare tell. The only difference is that we can now read about it on our smartphones – no gluestick required.  


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.