Long, long ago in a ballroom where celebrations were constant, the music steadily played and aged wine mixed with new varieties to produce a constant stream of enlightenment. Couples were inseparable, as they intensely whirled in the vibrations of music, in utter spirit swept delight! The tables were laden with handcrafted heavenly delicacies, customized to each attendee’s delight. It was difficult to determine whether they were tasted by tongue, heart or mind. Perhaps, the blur suggested a oneness, a peak experience, a convergence of senses.
Usually, the Caterer remained out of sight. Essentially invisible, he secreted in the kitchen and watched the peals of delight and laughter, from behind a latticed screen. However, on this day he donned visibility and made the rounds, individually greeting the participants - the aficionados of his culinary delights. One of the participants, Mevakesh, inquired, “Is it true that you own many restaurants across the sea?”
“Yes”, nodded the Caterer.
Then he elaborated, “They bring me a nice sum of money, with which I both throw my constant celebrations over here and develop my influence other there; whether covert and overt. One day, I hope to be able to make the same kinds of celebrations across the sea. But, alas, they aren’t yet ready!”
“Although many of the restaurants there are mine, please be cautious, not every restaurant offers the same style of food which is I just served you here. Yes, there are many tastes and needs.”
“So, where do you recommend I eat?”, asked Mevakesh.
“Here’s an address for when you go across the sea to do business.”, offered the Caterer, handing him a parchment note with the address penned across in calligraphy, outlined in gold and inlaid with pearl.
Mevakesh arrived across the sea. But while on still at sea, he went up to the deck of the boat to breathe some fresh air. The sunlit sea gleamed enchantingly all around. Suddenly, an unexpected gale wind blew the note out of his gentle grip. It was lost!
Still, there lingered a faint, yet distinctive, aftertaste from the meals at those long, long ago celebrations. He lost no hope. He was determined to discern his way to the appropriate restaurant on the memory of the faint aftertaste alone. All that he felt was needed was to try various restaurants, until he encountered the one whose food contained a matching taste.
On the journey, he not only lost his note, but also lost touch with his nearly inseparable ballroom partner,” Mevakeshet”. She got lost in the crowd, as the passengers prepared to disembark. Still, he didn’t lose hope. He bore in his heart a faint memory of how she made him feel and was confident that she’d somehow be found and recognized too.
After a day of successful merchandising, Mevakesh was hungry. He asked some affiliates to direct him to the nearest restaurant under the ownership of the Caterer; secretly, hoping to encounter the one which felt familiarly dear to him. He walked down the block, passing the business fair, then through a few alleys. Then facing him across the street was a dimly lit restaurant which claimed to offer fine dining. He entered. The classy help in the front took his coat and gently ushered him to a seat.
The dish arrived. It appeared fine and delicate, but, raw and cold. Mevakesh looked around and noticed that what everyone else around him was eating was also raw and cold. He certainly was not singled out for a cold meal. Quite to his surprise, they all seemed to be enjoying. Noticing his reluctance to eat, the Maitre D’ came around and politely inquired, “Is everything alright?”
“Not quite”, came the honest response. “See, the food is cold and raw.”
“That’s our specialty”, assured the Maitre D’ with a raised eyebrow.
“But...I don’t enjoy this food”, Mevakesh protested.
“Ah, you just don’t know good food”, defended the Maitre D’.
“Our food is honest and healthy. It keeps people strong and disciplined. It does not add in the corrupting element of warmth, which is all artificial anyway”, waved the Maitre D’.
“May I have a word with the Caterer?”, Mevakesh asked.
“Oh, he hasn’t visited our restaurant in a very long time. But, he knows that we keep true to his old recipes and that’s probably why he never feels that needs to visit us. Plus, we send him regular profit.”, the Maitre D’ assured.
The next evening, after an accomplished day of work, Mevakesh inquired of his colleagues and customers about whether there’s another restaurant he can visit, under the ownership of the Caterer.
“Sure”, they assured.
They pointed to a small restaurant in the market area. Mevakesh went. It had the convenience of being nearby. He entered. The room was well lit, filled with chandeliers. The foreign accented help were sweetly friendly, but unprofessional. They all wore clothing reminiscent of a different place and an earlier time. To him, they appeared all costumed up! Though strangely, they didn’t behave as though they thought of themselves in this way. His meal was alternatively too salty, greasy and sweet. No dish beheld a taste and texture which seemed proportionately balanced to him, let alone bore any shred of the recognition he so desperately sought.
His face betrayed dissatisfaction. One of the kindhearted help came by to inquire,”Why is your face so sad?”
“Because I can’t enjoy this food. It just nauseates me!” Mevakesh scowled, while rubbing his aching belly to massage it.
“Oh!” laughed the help. “This is food designed for the Caterer’s elite. You need to have very a refined culinary palate to appreciate this food.”
“Have you seen the Caterer?” asked Mevakesh.
“No and yes”, responded the help. “We don’t actually see him. Now and then, he privileges us with vague feelings of his presence. It’s hard to tell whether they’re new feelings or merely fresh reminders of past feelings, from the time when we sat in his presence on the other shore of the sea; the time he fed us dishes in this style. Our palates are trained to taste these vague feelings while eating our food. It's only our specific recipes which brings it on for us. It’s such a pity that you can’t taste it along with us.”
“Do your recipes ever change?”, inquired Mevakesh.
“Our Maitre D’ makes trips halfway across the sea. There’s an island midway where he meets highly ranked staff members from the Caterer’s kitchen. With each visit, they remind him about more of our forgotten dishes and then instruct him on the recipes. After each such encounter, he returns with the sweetest delights!”, explained the help.
“Your system seems very nice, but, I can’t change what works for my palate”, sighed Mevakesh.
“You aren’t supposed to. You are supposed to find the restaurant which offers dishes to match your palate.. You’ll know when matches in the soft spots of your palate, belly and heart. You’ll just know when it does. All will just click! That’s your sign”, assured the help.
The next evening, Mevakesh asked around the market place for yet another restaurant owned by the Caterer. He was pointed to visit the next neighborhood over. He arrived along a bustling well lit street. It was evening. He made his way to the address. There before him were a string of similar looking restaurants. The one he was addressed to was very professional and inviting. They not only offered service, but lively friendship to boot! Dish after dish came rolling out.
The food and beverages tasted more familiar to him than they had in the previous restaurants. But there was still something missing. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. With each question to the waiter and his various attendants, the attempt to identify what was missing just seemed to get more and more elusive. If he asked whether a dish had the right amount of salt, the waiter was able to demonstrate to him that it had. If he asked whether a dish had the right proportion of spices. Again, the waiter came through with an excellent demonstration that everything was alright. In fact, the waiter seemed unusually intent on trying to convince him that he arrived at just the right restaurant, that this was just the restaurant the Caterer intended for all seeking souls...
“What about my tastebuds? What about my palate, belly and heart’s inner seat of recognition?” asked Mevakesh. “Where do they factor in?”
“You can’t totally trust your taste buds, stomach or heart to help you find your way”, retorted the waiter “Do you honestly expect that they have not become distorted by the change in air on your journey across the sea and even more so by the air on this side of the shore?” retorted the waiter.
Mevakesh thought to himself flustered, “So much seems right here and yet something elusive is missing. I can’t figure it out. But one thing I know. The distortion argument could have been used by the other two establishments as well. And if I can’t use my tastebuds, stomach or my heart to find my way then what can I use, as it is all I have to rely on?”
So Mevakesh tried another angle to attempt to get at what’s going on. “Have you ever met the Caterer?” he inquired.
“No”, the waiter responded. “However, our Maitre D’ is the only whose tastebuds, stomach and heart is refined enough to share a meal with him. He has a special vehicle that regularly takes him across the sea, at astonishing speeds. There, he personally dines with the Caterer; learning interestingly new recipes to bring back.”
“What happens to you when you eat from your Maitre D’s newly prepared dishes?” asked Mevakesh curiously.
“Our intellects soar in deeper understandings and our kinship with the Maitre D’ solidifies. Then we feel a deeper sense of privilege in our role as his foot soldiers”, shared the waiter.
“Is that it!” exclaimed Mevakesh in shock. “What about experiencing the tastes and feelings of your overseas origins?”
“We can’t trust such things. Perhaps, the experiences are just our imaginations playing tricks on us. Like, I already said, ‘Distortions to taste buds, bellies and hearts happen!” emphasized the waiter.
Mevakesh left utterly confounded. He decided that this could not be the restaurant the Caterer had in mind for him. He had to trust his sense of taste, belly and heart; as the Caterer was much too kind to leave him without some basic means to discern of what’s personally right for him.
As he left, he noticed a disheveled woman collecting alms on a street corner. By now the evening was dark and rainy. Her face was covered in grime. Layers of blankets and kerchiefs sheltered her sad scrawny body. She was unrecognizable, possibly even to herself.
Being good hearted, Mevakesh dropped coins into her cup. As the coins clanged in her cup, something wafted down onto the rainy sidewalk from amidst her layers. Visibility was blurred by the darkness and rain. But whatever dropped, glinted faintly familiar in the streetlights.
As Mevakesh stooped down to pick it up, the woman extended her arm protectively, to block access to her prized possession. However, he got down close enough to see that it was his lost parchment note! He looked closely at the face of the woman. Through the rags and the grime, there was a hint of close familiarity that danced in her eyes. He suddenly felt an intense feeling that he needed to get her into a dry area with clear lighting for a closer look. Maybe, he could even persuade her to relinquish the prized note.
“What might be her price?” the businessman in him mused. “Doesn’t everyone have one?”
He smiled compassionately, “You look like you hadn’t had a nice meal in a while. Would you like to join me for meal at a restaurant? I really could use the company.”
She silently nodded in approval.
Mevakesh saw an inexpensive restaurant down the block. It did not belong to the Caterer, but, there were other considerations: It was raining and he was not sure that his company would want to be inconvenienced with a longer walk. Plus, he did not know whether, being a beggar, she would even feel comfortable being taken to a fine establishment. He started for the door the restaurant and she nodded emphatically, “No!”
He looked at her in askance. She nodded with her head and gestured with her hand, “Follow me”.
Taken aback by her boldness, in a mixture of shock, curiosity and genuine kindness, he followed along. She led him down winding streets. Though being led by a total stranger would normally be concerning, he noticed that they were all well lit streets, in refined neighborhoods. This calmed him and heart palpitations never even arose.
After quite a walk through the rain, they got under an awning and there in front of him was a restaurant he has never before seen. Through the window, he could see people enjoying. The help was noticeably friendly. The whole vibe of the establishment was vaguely familiar.
Once inside, the help at the front desk was exceedingly gracious when he requested that his silent guest be given a chance to wash up in the privacy of the woman’s room before dinner. A woman from among the staff accompanied her to the restroom to help her out. Meanwhile in dimmed lighting, he was seated at an intimate candlelit table for two.
The dishes carried by the waiters and waitresses wafted with familiar fragrances. Having been exposed to aspects of familiarity beforehand, and disappointed, he was dismissive of mere hints of familiarity. He looked up and down the menu eager to order, but, he wouldn’t dare, as his guest has not yet returned.
He closed the menu and placed it aside, dreamily reflecting on his journey. After what seemed like a long wait, a dose of delicious perfume entered his nostrils and over his head he heard in the sweetest voice chime, “May I please join you?”
He lifted his eyes and standing before was a well dressed woman, jewelry and all. Her eyes shone like the sun and her smile just beamed. His heart skipped a beat! She was clearly a well off woman. She appeared very familiar and not at all like the beggar, he had just followed.
Noticing his confusion, she took the menu and pulled out the note penned in calligraphy - outlined in gold and inlaid with pearl. She held it up to the address on the menu for comparison, to show that they matched. His mouth opened wide. Amazed!
“Mevakeshet?”, he uttered in shock!
“Yes!” she smiled widely, reaching out to hug him.
“Wait... but who was the beggar woman who led me here?”, he asked still caught up the surprise of it all.
“Me, of course”, she laughed.
“It was a mock up.”, she clarified. “The Maitre D’ told me that you needed to be led here by your own acts of kindness. So, I lured you along, right to where you belong.”
Suddenly, the Maitre D’ appeared serving each a glass of fine blended wine. Time seemed to disappear. Magically, hours melted into minutes, as they were lost in a shared bliss of their own making.