Filet mignon or KFC? The word on final foods
Julia Child knew exactly what she wanted to eat before she shuffled off this mortal coil. Her final fantasy was a sensuous banquet filled with luxe ingredients: foie gras, oysters, caviar and pan-roasted duck, followed by Roquefort and Brie. For dessert, Child would have chosen a poached pear or "pungent sorbet" with walnut cake, accompanied by a bottle of the fabled dessert wine Château d'Yquem.
Meditating on one's last meal can be an instructive, soul-searching exercise. Three years ago, a former chef to Texas inmates wrote a book called Meals to Die For.Last week came celeb gab-fest My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals by Melanie Dunea. With no worries about calories, cholesterol or even indigestion, would you go for comfort food from your childhood, or a Roman-style gluttonous orgy?
Most of us will never be able to act on our resolutions, of course, since death has a way of taking people by surprise. If he'd known it was his last repast, Jimi Hendrix might not have ended his days with a tuna-fish sandwich. John Belushi — known for Falstaffian excesses — might have called it a life with something more debauched than lentil soup. And what was Julia Child's actual last supper? A humble bowl of French onion soup.
We asked some well-known Vermonters to play the "What would you choose for a last meal?" game. Answers varied dramatically. Some, like b-ball coach Tom Brennan and meteorologist Tom Messner, would keep it simple. Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's, planned a sumptuous spread that would make any subsequent activity — even kicking the proverbial bucket — nearly impossible. No ice cream, though. That's on author Chris Bohjalian's menu.
The most unusual offering comes from mystery writer Archer Mayor, who shares a culinary peccadillo with his hard-boiled but soft-bellied detective, Joe Gunther: a penchant for a very unusual sandwich.
Since recording what folks chose for a "special meal" is part of death-row decorum, we know what native Vermonter Ted Bundy and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh supped on. Like Bohjalian, McVeigh wanted something cold before he was put in the hot seat. You guessed it — two pints of Ben & Jerry's. Read on.
• Chris Bohjalian
(journalist and author of many novels, including Midwives and last year's The Double Bind)
My wife makes a spectacular pesto, with massive amounts of parsley from our garden, pine nuts, scallions, olive oil and — when we can find it —pecorino cheese. That would be the main course.
And for dessert? Well, since I wouldn't be counting calories, I would probably have the Ben & Jerry's "Vermonster." It consists of 20 scoops of ice cream and four ladles of fudge. Is this bacchanalian and grotesque? Yes. But would it take a really long time to eat? Yes again.
My last meal (assuming it isn't bread and water) would be an assortment of simple dishes by the cooks who got me started loving food.
First course: Sautéed chicken livers finished with apple brandy by Chef Brill Williams from the Inn at Sawmill Farm in West Dover, Vermont. He gave me my first cooking job.
Second course: My mom's grilled London broil steak with mushrooms and onions and my grandfather's freshly dug parsnips.
Dessert: My grandmother's "Indian pudding" — a warm cornmeal and molasses custard — with homemade vanilla ice cream.
I wish I could have my last meal tonight!
• Mike Gordon
(former Phish bassist, artist and filmmaker)
I would have to go with my mom's vegetarian extravaganza: acorn squash with maple-y brown sugar innards, steamed artichokes with lemon butter dipping sauce, salted and grilled carrots, and angel hair with pesto made from scratch . . . with extra-pungent garlic, pine nuts, fresh basil, and the water used to boil the pasta to avoid too much oiliness. Along with the other hors d'oeuvres, side dishes, and desserts, it would be enough food to last me all the way through death.
• Tom Brennan, a.k.a. "The Coach"
(former University of Vermont men's basketball coach and radio personality on Champ 101.3)
Prime rib, end cut.
• Steve Cormier, a.k.a. "Corm"
(radio personality on Champ 101.3)
Fried clams with the bellies dipped in tartar sauce. Fried clams are one of my favorite foods, and I just don't get to eat them very much.
• Al Burns
(restaurant inspector for the Vermont Department of Health)
I think a great meal would be a portabella mushroom barbecued, garlic mashed potatoes to keep away the goblins, and asparagus.
• Marialisa Calta
(author of cookbooks and freelance articles for Vermont Life and The New York Times, among other publications)
Funny, when you asked me this question, I was all about foie gras, real caviar (no lumpfish for the final feed!), real champagne (ixnay to the Spanish white wine), pasta with shaved white truffles, fresh oysters — delicacies I have had the pleasure of trying and would love to again. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought my last meal should just be something delicious and warm and lovely. In the end, I surprised myself by just thinking that what I would really, really want is my favorite meal:
Marcella Hazan's spinach and chickpea recipe
Mushrooms sautéed with garlic and olive oil
A cheese plate with my favorite cheeses — Italian taleggio, Willow Hill Alderbrook, and Riopelle from Quebec — served with a salad.
And, for dessert, my mom's apple crisp. With homemade vanilla ice cream.
I'd ask my brother-in-law, who knows wine, to pick a really good red. And then — because it is my last meal, and I won't have to pay the bill — with dessert (or the cheese), I'd have a glass of Château d'Yquem, which is a wine I've always read about but will probably never try, on account of it is WAY expensive. I'd have to research the proper vintage, but from my reading it would have to be at least 20 years old, as it is only after two decades that its "character" emerges.
• Grace Potter
Steak with truffle oil, with breaded, baked mac and cheese (with Vermont cheddar, of course) and a glass of Chianti.
• Ben Cohen
(co-founder of Ben & Jerry's)
Miniature roast beef and shrimp salad sandwiches
Mini potato latkes with applesauce
Mini grilled garlic breads
Deep-fried turkey tidbits
Grilled octopus and calamari
Drink: frozen lime daiquiri
Palate cleanser: champagne sorbet
Dungeness crab, with garlic or black-bean sauce, from a Chinese seafood restaurant
Fresh corn on the cob from Vermont
Al's French Frys
Drink: a nice Pinot Grigio
Eclairs, Napoleons and profiteroles
• Gregory Douglass
Hearty comfort food. Prime rib, rare, with mashed potato.
"Death by chocolate" cake, or anything "death by chocolate."
• John O'Brien
I'd love to be able to cook my last meal, something simple. I don't want to die with indigestion. Peruvian Fish Chowder. A simple salad with really fresh greens, toasted almonds, some citrus and a mustard vinaigrette. Cheese. A homemade baguette. A really good pear. Chocolate.
(mayor of Burlington)
For a last meal I'd choose the roast beef, mashed potatoes, onions and gravy, and carrots that my grandmother made almost every Sunday. You had to be there to appreciate it.
My mother, when it was a special occasion, would make turbot — a flat fish in the sole family. It comes from the Channel waters over there. She would make poached turbot with a hollandaise sauce. You have to get a special dish to be able to poach it in. It's kind of an unusual item.
Once the fish is poached, it falls apart. It's always an event, and it's very delicious. I haven't had that in years on this side of the Atlantic. And a nice bottle of wine, a Chatreau Petreus, '64. Those would be the two highlights of that dinner.
• Tom Messner
Chicken wings and gravy fries. Sugar on snow for dessert. "That's one hail of a meal."
• George Schenk (founder of American Flatbread)
White truffle honey with some nice hard cheese and some local artisanal bread. Last year I was in Italy, and we happened to be in an area where they had truffles. A woman said, "Do you want to see a truffle factory?" They sold them fresh, but also preserved them in oils or in this white truffle honey. I bought a case, and I'm down to my last jar.
• Kathy O'Brien
(real estate agent, former "Survivor" contestant)
Coming from an experience of being stranded on a deserted island for 50 days with no food, I had plenty of time to think about what food I like the best.
I'm about ready to visit the pearly gates and my stomach says . . .
Huevos Rancheros — made in Tulum, Mexico. Incredibly light and yummy. Toasted "everything bagel" with lox, cream cheese, tomato, red onion and capers.
Butternut squash ravioli from [L'Amante].
Fried clams from this little hole in the wall south of Boston in Nantasket Beach.
Fresh steamers with butter — and how funny is that? I learned from "Survivor" how great fresh seafood can taste straight out of the ocean and cooked immediately.
Plus a side of fried calamari from Silver Palace, lightly salted and sautéed with jalapeños.
"Al's Awesome (Osso) Bucco." My sweet boyfriend makes this dish that is orgasmic; it is so succulent and tasty.
The Molten Chocolate Cake from Tully & Marie's in Middlebury
Homemade S'mores as we make camping on the islands in Saranac.
And to say "adios," I would end it all with one great shot of tequila with all of my friends, family, Patrick my son and Al, my main squeeze!
• Archer Mayor
Well, I've got a couple, so I'm not sure which one I'd choose. One of them is in homage to my daughter. I would therefore perhaps get sentimental. There's another one which people who know me well would absolutely recognize as being my last, rather than Al Capone's.
For my daughter, it would be Annie's mac and cheese, Alfredo sauce-style, and Heinz vegetarian baked beans. This is where most people find it appalling: all mixed together in one big brown glop. I find mac and cheese by itself kind of boring.
Mine: whole wheat bread — health and decorum are key — but what you put on this sandwich is Velveeta, mayonnaise and jam. It's a long and torturous pass through unmitigated tastelessness. I love the combination of tactile and tastebud-related sensations. Slippery and gooey, sweet and sweeter that combine to send me into orbit. The fact that everyone else is turning green or turning away [only makes it better].
Those are the two that immediately leap to mind.