More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

31 05 2013

Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!

Capital Hotel

Capital Hotel

I spent three months, on business in Malawi, with five co-workers. We stayed in the capital city, Lilongwe, at what was, at the time, considered to be the nicest hotel in town… the Capital Hotel. As I recall, there was only one other hotel. At the Capital Hotel there were two restaurants. One was a French restaurant with a very strict dress code that required a coat and tie. The other was a much more casual restaurant called The Coffee Shop. We usually went out each night for dinner; but, when we did eat in, we usually ate at The Coffee Shop. It was on this trip, back in 1979, that I discovered what became one of my favorite desserts- crème caramel.

Crème caramel is the French equivalent of the Spanish custard dessert, flan, although the French also have versions which differ from the traditional custard flan. I have come to learn there is as much disagreement about these two desserts as there is over Obamacare. Even among professional chefs, there is disagreement over what the dessert actually is-some describing flan as a cake while others understand it to be the caramel sauce-topped custard you get at most Mexican restaurants. This is what was on the menu at The Coffee Shop and this is what I had for dessert every time I ate there.

This same dessert was on the room service menu so even when we went out for dinner, I would usually forgo dessert until returning to my room, at which time I would call room service and get a dish of crème caramel.

It was my last night in Malawi and we were all eating together at The Coffee Shop. After dinner, we all agreed on the same dessert so I told the waiter we would like six crème caramels.

“I’m sorry sir, the crème caramel is finished.” He informed me.

“What do you mean finished?” I asked.

He told me they had changed the menu that day and had taken crème caramel off the menu. Well, I was simply devastated because I really had my mouth set on crème caramel. As he began making alternate suggestions, knowing that room service meals came from the French restaurant kitchen, I asked him if crème caramel was still on the room service menu.
“Yes, sir” he replied.
“Bring me a telephone.”

The waiter brought a phone to our table and I called room service.

“I’d like to order six crème caramels for table six in The Coffee Shop.”

There was mild surprise on the other end of the line, but it was only a few minutes later and six crème caramels were delivered to our table. As mama used to say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

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