The American writer Calvin Trillin used to tell a story about one of his daughters who, upon being invited one day to accompany her father to a new restaurant, inquired meekly if it would be all right if she “took a bagel just in case.” This tale was repeated to me frequently as a child, as this was the role I played in my family: I was the worrier, the apprehensive and non-adventurous one, the child always wary of novelty—especially if it meant eating something weird.
As it happened, I married the opposite personality type— someone who, on a recent trip to Spain, did what he always does when we travel: he went native.
And then he ordered rooster comb.
Rooster comb is a Catalan delicacy that has been compared to chicken feet: it’s flaccid and tan-colored, with diaphanous skin and a wobbly texture. Poke it with your fork, and it has the consistency of fatty flesh: it’s rubbery, like the glove the evil penguin wore on his head in The Wrong Trousers. Bizarre, but then again, eating is often a springboard for such associations, which helps to recast the whole idea of food as entertainment (which, in turn, leads to things like Iron Chefs and extreme cakes). Like breathing and sleeping, we eat to live. It’s hard to imagine a television program about the dramatic highs and lows of oxygen intake, but food is something else altogether.
Where food is concerned, the relationship between what things look like and how we respond exists at its most primal level: What is a gut reaction, after all, if not something that attacks your gut? Food preferences are personal, idiosyncratic, and odd. They’re also framed by things like appetites, religious preferences, and allergies, and swayed by things seasonal, products regional, and palettes likely to be unpredictably mercurial. And no matter what it is or how picky we are (or aren’t), the fact remains that what food looks like has a huge bearing on what we taste.
Personally, where anthropomorphic meets edible is where I draw the line.
While there was perhaps something eerily beautiful about that floating, disenfranchised fan of rooster muscle—beautiful, that is, in the most abstract way possible—I couldn’t get past its unsettling resemblance to Foghorn Leghorn. The fact that this curious delectation was ordered as a side dish for a meal consisting of foie gras and octopus is enough to make even the most intrepid epicure reconsider the virtues of a vegan diet.
Warm gummy bears were the inspiration for Chris Cosentino’s candied cockscomb with cherries and rice pudding dessert (opposite page, top). Although cockscombs are usually served as part of his savory menu, this dish was created for Incanto’s 4th Annual “Head to Tail” Dinner in May, in 2007. Cockscombs hint at chicken flavor, but they are really more about texture (think gummy bears). Serving them with fresh cherries was ideal, and they took on the red color of the fruit, looking like they were right off the head of the bird—red is their natural color before they are peeled (opposite page, bottom: cockscombs poached in simple syrup and cherry juice). Cosentino is a champion of serving offal (and cockscombs) in an effort to not only to cut back on overall waste, but to emphasize that these underutilized parts, are in fact, edible.
Incanto Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, 1550 Church St., San Francisco, 415-641-4500.