Politics of caviar

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Many years ago I was treated to my first encounter with caviar. It was dinner for four at Petrosains in New York at the invite of my friend Arnie Nudell. Also at the table were Harry Pearson and Mike Kay, two dear friends who have since passed. I had never tasted caviar and a round of it was brought out as an appetizer to the meal—small toasts were included and a bottle of champagne had been opened.

My entire knowledge of caviar consisted of a single definition: fish eggs that were black instead of the red ones in a bait and tackle box. Hesitant at the idea of eating fish bait, I put a tiny amount on one of the toasts and closed my eyes. It was delicious. I wanted more. The others at the table seemed conservative, dabbing tiny dollops onto the toasts. I assumed they didn't like it as much as I, and proceeded to hoark most of it—lathering great mounds onto bread—as the others engaged in dinner talk.

Our host, Arnie, ever the gentleman, never said a word to me until it was time to order dinner. I wanted lobster and was hesitant to order the expensive dish. I leaned over and asked if I should perhaps choose something a little more affordable. The table erupted in laughter.

"You just ate $1,200 worth of caviar, and you're worried about a $50 entre?"

Who knew? I had just wallowed in the single most expensive dinner in my life (then and now) and from my perspective I had been eating a fish egg appetizer I thought might be out of a jar from a fishmonger.

I no longer eat fish, eggs or otherwise. But that night was something that's stuck in my memory ever since.

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Paul McGowan

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