MKR, caviar and I: Red Symons has a gastroporn moment

Gastroporn is the same as regular porn. You don't get to consume it. In magazines it's just a still life; meat and jus on a bed of mash.

On TV ads, it steams. The food is always referred to as "the Hero". Working as "the talent" with fried chicken, cheesecake or potato chips, you accept the role of support actor. An actor should never work with children, animals or food. They get all the attention.

Television "reality" shows like MKR have included that essential ingredient, the couple. They present food in the form of a reaction shot. Sure, you can salivate at an image but someone has to be seen to enjoy it. The eyebrows raise, the mouth widens and curves into an affirmation. The description of the taste does not answer the question, it simply prompts curiosity. It seems satisfying while sating nothing.

A Chinese millionaire writer walks into a Swiss bar with his grandmother and buys the most expensive dram of single malt scotch on the menu. It is 132 years old and costs ???7500. This is a true story.

Is that enough? Millionaire writer? China comes to Switzerland with grandma? One shot for the price of a first-class airfare?
If you were eavesdropping next to him at the bar you would ask, "How was it?"

How does a whiskey taste? Peaty? Burning? Sharp? Does a century of slumber flatten the tang?

He said: "It had a good taste. It's not just the taste but also the history."

The kids had been watching Gordon Ramsay, food expert and foulmouth, on a program that focused on caviar. They wanted to translate pixels to palate so I went off to the Vic Market with the usual list and a mental note for sturgeon roe. I asked the Polish guy selling kranskys if he had any and he tilted his head to the right suggesting that I should try the French, a couple of stalls down. I conceded that caviar did not come from Poland, pleased with the paradox that it didn't come from France either.

I queued patiently and was eventually served by Madame du Maison. In my inevitable theatrical way, I loudly inquired: "Do you have something resembling over-priced caviar that I can pass off to the guests as the real thing?"

Fortunately, she was amused and went in for the kill. She produced a tiny glass jar the size of the ones that hotels serve jam and marmalade in. On the lid was what I assumed was a date at the end of the last century. Perhaps, like wine and spirits, caviar is optimally aged.

It turned out to be just shy of a three-figure sum for a teaspoon of caviar. One of the hazards of being a professional extrovert is that I cannot deal with the shame of apology and retraction. I bought it.

The pay-off came with the presentation to the kids. I told them the story and the price. The jar was opened and a score of dots were scooped onto a tiny ornamental teaspoon. It slid into the mouth in a room enveloped by attentive silence.

This was the moment. There was a single-minded focus on an experience without precedent, a rare moment of wonder.

How did it taste, you ask? Not important, I say. The word "good" may have been articulated but it was unnecessary and insufficient.

I have buried the tag to the 132-year-old whiskey story. Some days or weeks later, the Swiss hotel contacted the Chinese millionaire writer with an apology and a refund. The single-malt scotch was a falsehood with a fake label, 40 years old and blended.

And yet, at the moment of first tasting the dram, he had the complete experience, the moment of wonder. "It had a good taste".

Sometimes it's better to just watch and imagine.

This story MKR, caviar and I: Red Symons has a gastroporn moment first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.