What follows are Brillat-Savarin’s rules for achieving the perfect meal. As far as I’m concerned, among the poetry of the rational they ought to be considered on par with The Art of War, Ovid’s Art of Love, and the Phaedo. They open with a solemn invocation to a Muse of Eating invented on the spot, and they close with immortality—but what’s in between is the stuff of everyday, run-of-the-mill happiness.
But the impatient reader may ask, how, in this year of grace 1825, must a meal be contrived in order to combine the conditions which procure the pleasures of the table in the highest degree?
That question I am about to answer. Compose yourselves, readers, and pay attention; Gasterea inspires me, the prettiest of all the Muses; I shall be clearer than an oracle, and my precepts will go down the ages.
Let the number of guests be not more than twelve, so that the talk may be constantly general;
Let them be chosen with different occupations but similar tastes, and with such points of contact that the odious formalities of introduction can be dispensed with;
Let the dining-room be well lighted, the cloth impeccably white, and the atmosphere maintained at a temperature of from sixty to seventy degrees;
Let the men be witty without being too pretentious, and the women charming without being too coquettish;
Let the dishes be few in number, but exquisitely choice, and the wines of the first quality, each in its class;
Let the service of the former proceed from the most substantial to the lightest, and of the latter, from the mildest to the most perfumed;
Let the progress of the meal be slow, for dinner is the last business of the day; and let the guests conduct themselves like travellers due to reach their destination together;
Let the coffee be piping hot, and the liqueurs chosen by a connoisseur;
Let the drawing-room be large enough to allow a game at cards to be arranged for those who cannot do without, yet still leave space for postprandial conversations;
Let the guests be detained by the charms of the company and sustained by the hope that the evening will not pass without some further pleasure;
Let the tea be not too strong, the toast artistically buttered, and the punch mixed with proper care;
Let retirement begin not earlier than eleven o’clock, but by midnight let everyone be in bed.
Whoever has been present at a meal fulfilling all these conditions may claim to have witnessed his own apotheosis; and for each of them who which is forgotten or ignored, the guests will suffer a proportionate decrease of pleasure.
—Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin, Physiologie du goût, ou Méditations de gastronomie transcendante
It’s hard not to notice: the man’s got an ego on him. But he’s not wrong, is he? This stuff is gold. Interpret some of these things metaphorically, the way I do, say, that line about giants in the bible, and he could really be talking about my local writing group in Noho the other week, a recent weekend with my gaming pals, a night of blissful exhaustion and bisquick pizza cooked over a propane burner on a trail somewhere under the stars, or a protracted dinner with the Homeless Moon. Some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.