“People suck, food doesn’t”

It’s a point of view I can relate to, as expressed by the lead character in “Seared”, a play about people and food in its last few days at the SF Playhouse. For someone who is food-obsessed, the play is fun on a couple of different levels – for one, the characters care about food and talk about food as much as my friends and I do. For another, they cook right on stage, and at one point I found myself sniffing the air and thinking, “Ok, onions… bacon… is that curry powder I’m smelling?”

In addition to the smells of delicious food, each scene starts on a darkened kitchen set, while the amplified sounds of sizzling, boiling and other cooking roll through the theatre. And then there’s the torture of watching someone tasting something that is clearly supposed to be delicious. There’s also a passionate paean to butter that resonates with anyone who loves food (even more than Julia Child’s “With enough butter, anything is good”).

But the people in the play do indeed suck, and pretty much everybody lets down someone else. The chef sabotages himself by refusing to cook a scallop dish that received a good mention in New York magazine, and later bails in the middle of dinner service when faced with having to cook for a major critic. His waiter/sous chef jumps in and successfully impresses the critic, then quits because he thinks he’s not up to the job. The chef’s business partner brings in a consultant without consulting the chef, and the consultant pushes everyone too far, too fast and it all implodes under the pressure.

One of the last lines in the play is the consultant saying, “We can do this without (the chef),” to which the partner replies something like, “I just don’t remember why I’d want to.”

The only thing that could have made the evening better is if the pre-theatre dinner menu at Farallon Restaurant (downstairs from the theatre) featured some of the dishes described lovingly (and tasted ecstatically) on stage: seared scallops, and seared wild salmon with spring asparagus.  But in a case of life imitating art, they can’t commit to a specific menu because they purchase only the freshest ingredients each day.  Chef Harry would be proud.

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