A Vegetarian Among Us
During my first visit to Paris, the June I was eighteen, I happened to be in my vegetarian phase. It was a chapter that lasted from about the age of fifteen through my early twenties, and I was a bit apprehensive about going to the City Of Lights as a veggie. My father assured me that I wouldn’t starve.
I certainly had plenty to eat and I think I sampled more crudité platters in more establishments than any other living being. I could have written an in-depth critique of Parisian crudités and filled at least several newspaper columns. One night in particular was quite memorable, and it wasn’t about crispy raw veggies.
We were with a small group and went to L’Alsace, a 24-hour brasserie in the eighth arrondissement near rue Marbeuf and on the Champs-Elysees. My father explained to the waiter that the mademoiselle was a vegetarian, gesturing to me. What would they suggest? The waiter explained that just that morning, the chef had gathered some fresh cepe. I now know that these mushrooms are commonly found in pine forests and some, known as cepe d’ete, or summer cepe, ripened at that time of year.
I had taken French since the sixth grade and I had a pretty good understanding of the spoken word. I was not as adept at forming my own words in response. My father did not need to translate what the waiter had said, but I had questions. I asked my father in English, what were these cepe that were mentioned? A wild mushroom, he explained. A fabulous fungus unlike any mushroom I had ever had. A rare treat. They would make me a cepe omelet he said. Sounded good to me.
The omelet was extraordinary. It looked modest enough from the outside, but the flavor was an explosion of the forest floor on my palate. The mushrooms were plentiful and filled the rolled egg dish. They were chewy and meaty and tasted of the earth. They were satisfying in a way that so many vegetables are not and they filled my mouth and belly with simple joy.
I don’t remember what anyone else ordered, but my entrée choice was eyed by all. I seem to remember being asked for tastes, which I provided. The evening supplied one of those experiences where you enjoy a straightforward dish, such as an omelet, and come to realize that powerful taste experiences can be had from such plain fare. That food doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated to be memorable or satisfying. All my omelets since have had much to live up to.