Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Overhyping Your Cafeteria Food

I work for a casino here in Las Vegas. I've worked for several casinos. And I'm a veteran of numerous academic institutions. The common thread? Mediocre cafeterias. Steam tray after steam tray of questionable foodstuffs - enchildadas that are too dry, pasta still floating in water, chili con carne masquerading as chili colorado.

But none of that's important. Cafeteria food will always be mediocre. What does piss me off is the way the food is all served with these impressive, boffo names on the steam tray placard: "Shanghai style beef tips", "panache of vegetables", "Scottish style salmon"... Cafeteria food sucks and these names just don't belong. You know why prostitutes were called tarts? Because they were a bunch of whores, and they were all tarted up. Yeah, I'm talking to you Panache of Vegetables.

So today's post is basically going to just me be venting and ranting about some of these tarted up cafeteria food names. First on the list: "Oven Roasted Tom Turkey". What you need to picture here is an aluminum tray filled with turkey slices. To be scrupulous and fair, the placard should really just say "Here is some Turkey". But no, it's oven roasted Tom Turkey. Now, I'd have to go look this up I guess, but doesn't "Tom" turkey mean that it's a male turkey? That's all it means, right? So 1) Why did I need to know that, and 2) Why was I supposed to be impressed? Frankly, it grosses me out just a bit. Chicken and cows are all female. That's what I'm used to. Why do I need to know about the gender of the animal that is now my food? The only thing "Tom Turkey" is really saying to me is "Recently, close to this food, there was a turkey penis." Thanks, placard. Good job.

In college, the soft serve machine said "Double Dutch Chocolate". Now, what makes soft serve chocolate ice cream Dutch, and how does one then double what is Dutch? Could you make triple Dutch ice cream? Or would there have to be a copy of the diary of Anne Frank hidden somewhere in the cone? I believe this is related to the broader trend of just slapping the word Dutch in front of various nouns to make them more interesting. A Dutch treat, going Dutch, Dutch doors, double Dutch, and of course the infamous Dutch oven.

Then there's the gravy. Oh my do they try to make you impressed with the gravy. I'd say probably the largest disparity between quality of food and pretense on the placard has to be in the gravy department. Picture, please, a warmed tub of your typical, industrial, processed beef gravy. You know - the musky, brown, syrupy sort. The kind that sits next to the tub of instant mashed potatos. The kind that is always congealing at the top. There you go... you got it. The sneeze shield is all fogged up. There's dried gravy caked on the ladle. Perfect.

Now why the fuck would you call that "Natural Pan Gravy"? It's not natural pan gravy. And I'll be honest, natural pan gravy isn't really so great either. It's watery, oily, and not that flavorful. The real placard, in my world, would read: "Brown Fluid - which, you'll admit - can pretty much pass for gravy." There you go. That's honest. None of this Orwell-lite trickery.

It's like they can't bring themselves to have a placard that just says "Rice". It has to be "Jasmine Rice". Tomatos have to be "Blistered Tomatos". And they must have a whole room full of potato related placards. "Idaho Russet Sweet Scalloped blah blah blah Fingerling Potatoes".

You know, I'm just going to go in there one day with some stealth placards and just replace them all when no one's looking. We'll all come in to work one day and it'll be "Rigatoni with Yesterday's Shrimp", "There's-Fish-at-the-Bottom Soup", "Fruit", and "Here are your Goddamn Potatoes".

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ordering a Cheeseburger for Your Death Row Last Meal

Well, obviously, you shouldn't do that. But surprisingly, cheeseburgers and fries is the #1 requested last meal on death rows nationwide. This is one of those factoids that I was always sort of aware of, but I was never sure if it wasn't some urban legend canard. Well, sadly, it's true. Condemned prisoners want cheeseburgers and fries over all other choices. Cokes and vanilla ice cream is the standard accompaniment.

To all of you death row prisoners: shame on you. I don't know, maybe pop culture is responsible, but I was somehow under the impression that your typical mass murderer was a Hannibal Lecter type with exquisite gourmet tastes. I was wrong. Most mass murderers, when given a once in a lifetime opportunity to have any meal they want, want a cheeseburger. Where's the imagination? Where's the zest for life? Where's the joie de vie? When they hatcheted that family they had some zest. Where did it go?

Here are two websites I visited for the cheeseburger confirmation by the way.,9950,1166252,00.html

Some of the sites I visited had amusing anecdotes. One guy apparantly ate his cheeseburger, then got a stay of execution. Over the next few weeks while his case was reconsidered, he got nothing but jeers and mockery from the rest of death row for his unimaginative choice. On his new execution day, he got a new last meal and had the good sense to order a steak. Another prisoner asked for spaghetti-os but the request was misunderstood and he ended up with regular spaghetti. His last words in the death chamber? "I wanted spaghetti-os and I didn't get them."

To be fair, I'll play devil's advocate for a minute and say that it's possible that the prison kitchen may not be able to do a gourmet meal justice. It's like those times - not often - when maybe you're at some Mexican dive restaurant on the side of the highway, and the menu is the usual assortment of taco shop junk food. But then you notice in the corner of the menu that there's also Herb Crusted Salmon with Mango Salsa and Seasonal Chutney. And you think "Okay, that does sound good.... but do I trust these guys?" You know it's the standard crew of hairy, fat, tank topped Mexican short order cooks back there. There's no sous chef. They're flipping burritos, yelling at each other and listening to something way way up on the AM band.

I guess what I'm saying is, let's say you're about to be executed and you order lobster thermidor. You're dealing with the same prison kitchen that's been serving you slop for 20 years during your appeals process. Oh, sure - they'll get you a lobster. It'll be from the tank at a Chinese Buffet half an hour down the road. They'll get the cheese and the mushrooms locally. They'll get their hands on a recipe and they'll make it. But will it be a decent thermidor? Probably not.

And, another pro Cheeseburger argument might be that what you need during those final hours is comfort food. Something you know. Something you love. It may not be the time to branch out.

For the record, I think I'd like a plate of assorted standard and jumbo shrimp, on ice, with a cocktail sauce whose brand I'd have to specify (don't make me choose now). Follow it with a porterhouse, medium rare. (Horseradish and maybe bernaise on the side). Wrap it up with hot chocolate chip cookies and milk.

That's a one-two-three punch that would be tough to beat, plus it's not too demanding for the kitchen staff. It would be tough to screw that meal up.

Maybe, what these prisoners need in their last few days, in addition to the chaplain, is a kind of last-meal consultant. Someone to make sure they're fully aware of the entire range of choices. I think maybe I could be that man.