Lunch was Kathari Deftera - Clean Monday Lunch. It was devised by Aglaia Kremezi and cooked by Tim Kelsey and the staff of Catz. The first meal I think that does not credit other chefs on the menu. The centrepiece of the banquet was the bread - it was amazing, not quite a flatbread but not quite a proper loaf either. A sort of focaccia type with oregano and visible salt crystals. Delicious. It was more or less a mezze - we had green and black olives from various parts of Greece dressed with oregano, thyme and lemon, taramosalata (absolutely incredible, pure white and since I profess not to like taramosalata much I was amazed) and a lovely smoked herring spread called Rengosalata. The main course was a wonderful salad made from romaine lettuce, rocket, spring onions and grilled red florina peppers dressed with a lemony olive oil sauce. A big dish of what I think were butter beans - but might have been very pale broad beans - had been baked in a garlicky tomato sauce and were fabulous. But for me the absolute star was the marinated octopus with potatoes. The octopus was pure white and purple and so tender it just dissolved in my mouth, the potatoes were tiny new ones which had been boiled and quartered and then the octopus and the potatoes were dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and thyme. How such simple ingredients could produce such amazing texture and flavour effects is totally beyond me. I missed pudding which was halva with lemon marmalade because everything was running late and my soldier background makes me unable to turn up late for anything. So I reported back to the lecture theatre and sat there alone and palely loitering for half an hour waiting for the rest of them to turn up.
The afternoon session began (late) with a paper by Mark McWilliams who is a professor at the United States Naval Academy specialising in food and literature. I think that the American Navy is in safe hands. His paper was titled "The Unavoidable Ham Biscuit" and all about ham rolls basically. He had brought with him what is called American Country Ham - a sort of proscuitto - and we will not enquire too closely into how it got through Customs. He gave a long and extremely interesting talk about why keeping the trotters on is good (it keeps the fibres of the meat long and lean) when curing and how a ham can lose over 30% of its initial weight whilst being air dried. American domestic cured ham like this is much cheaper than that we can get here - about a third of the price. Why? He also talked about beaten biscuits which apparently were made by slaves in the South before emancipation and the dough was bashed with a rolling pin to produce the right sort of texture. That is one of my projects to research (about the fiftieth) as a result of attending The Symposium.
The second paper was presented by Kimberly Sorenson and the subject was "Prints Charming:19thC New York Cake Boards and New Year's Cake" which was a bit weird. She was a young girl, very pretty and frighteningly earnest. I felt at the end of the lecture what she had shown was Scottish Shortbread moulds which would be used to make shortbread to be taken as a gift and presented on New Year's Day when first footing but she totally dismissed that suggestion. Gave no credence at all to the thought that perhaps the same idea could have come from different sources (she was determined that it was a Dutch American custom and had done all her research to prove that) so I felt a bit intimidated by her insistence that I knew nothing and she knew everything.
The final paper of the afternoon was delivered by Marietta Rusinek, a Polish student of the history of food and her theme was "Cake as the Centrepiece of Celebrations: on the intrinsic continuity between cake and celebrating. She demonstated how important cake is, from birth to grave. I really enjoyed her slides but found her English a bit difficult to follow. Her English is a lot better than my Polis (which is nil) so I was grateful that she was attempting to explain things.
We all went and had a cup of tea then and returned for the summing up, another fast moving video show with loud music and the closing session to decide the theme for 2014. Which will be markets.
My conclusions? A fabulous, fantastic, wonderful, awesome time. What have I learned? That just because people are famous and expert they can still be very nice. And that academia uses an awful lot of colons and semi colons. And drinks a lot.
I went home with my head spinning, exhausted, full of food and really thrilled that I had finally managed to do it.
I do hope they let me go again.