The Mighty Spoon: Closing time

Even the poorest of starving students sometimes get to go out to a very fancy restaurant. It might be a birthday splurge, a graduation celebration or a really fantastic first date; whatever the reason, there’s something magical about eating at a place with linen napkins and an in-house sommelier. And when you order, you might notice something different about the food: there’s usually less of it on the plate.

It seems counterintuitive. The chain restaurant you love is cheaper, but it gives you way more food per meal: a Frankenstein-monster chicken breast, mounds of fries, a side soup and extra coleslaw. The food there is delicious, but there’s always too much of it. At some point, the salty fries and chipotle sauce start to make you queasy, even as you keep nibbling.

At fancy restaurants, though, it’s a different story. Your food is presented like a plate-sized work of art, and each bite is a perfect explosion of flavours — they use the freshest ingredients available instead of flash-frozen hamburger patties, and the difference is palpable — and eminently palatable. When you’re finished, you’re satiated instead of stuffed. There’s a fine art to balancing delicious quality with physical quantity — one that’s easily forgotten in an era of huge restaurant portions and super-sized meals.

One of the most important parts of cooking and eating is knowing when to stop. While that mound of diner food might be delicious, your titillated taste buds will soon give way to regretful stomachaches and a slight waddle when you walk home. So, in the spirit of keeping things fresh and satisfying, this will be the final column of The Mighty Spoon.

When I started The Mighty Spoon last year, I aimed to share a few of the tough lessons I’d learned in the kitchen. It took me the better part of four years to understand how to cook like a busy, poor, solitary student. I’ve proudly never been a chef; I can’t whip up a soufflé or make compote. When all else fails, I pour Sriracha hot sauce on it — just like every other student I’ve ever known.

My goal was to educate curious readers with practical recipes: how to make a big batch of soup that will keep well in the fridge for a few days; what to buy when you’re short on cash one week; how to keep cooking despite exams and jobs taking up your time. I don’t run a fancy bistro by any means, but I like bistros’ philosophy about portion control. Like every restaurant guest, it’s good to know when to stop — before you feel frustrated or over-stuffed and sick. It’s important to love what you’re making and to wind down before you crash and burn.

It’s been a true pleasure sharing my recipes with you, and I hope that you’ve gotten some new ideas and made them your own. I plan to continue writing for the Martlet’s culture section, so watch this space over the next few weeks for something new. Meanwhile, it’s closing time. Raise your spoons high, stir that soup thoroughly and don’t forget to add hot sauce.

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