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The Perfect Omelette

June 6, 2008

The morning I left for the East Coast on a business trip last week, I happened to read an extraordinary article in the March issue of Gourmet Magazine. Francis Lam's piece on the art of omelette-making is one of the most wonderful bits of food writing I've read in my life.

The article is brilliant because it's deceptively simple, like the subject that it covers. We tend to think of throwing some eggs in pan as just about the easiest thing one can do in a kitchen besides making toast, and Lam's salty-humorous story explains that there's much more to making an omelette than meets the eye.

Similarly, there's much more to this philosopher-chef's article than I first supposed. I was reminded of a few crucial life lessons in the author's egg-splattered prose. "It was astounding how something so commonplace, so elemental, could have so many variables," writes Lam, "You just have to learn to see all those variables, to recognize what effect every moment of heat, every motion of the hands has. To get back to that thing I tasted, I would have to know exactly what to look for and nail it every step of the way."

In just a few short lines, Lam pretty much sums up the eternal tension inherent in gaining experience in any field or activity as we go through life. This tension can also be summed up by the old adage "the more I know, the less I know."

But Lam's quest to create the perfect omelette goes beyond merely imparting this truthism in a roundabout way. The journalist manages to find a means of surmouting the problem. It's not really a happy one, though it's sweetly Sysiphean. Here is a link to the full article on Gourmet's website. Read it and I guarantee you'll never look at a plate of eggs in the same way again.

Epilogue: A couple of hours after I read the article, I arrived at San Francisco airport for my flight out east. Once I cleared security, I went in search of breakfast. I ended up at an airport diner where I foolishly ordered an omelette. The greasy concoction that arrived on a paper plate after five minutes brought Lam's description of eggy perfection into sharp relief. Having just read about master chef Daniel Boulod's intricate omelette-making techniques (which Lam describes in detail in the piece) and imagined the giddy heights to which cooking eggs can rise, I was now confronted with the opposite end of the spectrum. The omelette infront of me was cold, rubbery and radioactive yellow in sheen. Could an omelette get much worse?

I was hungry so I tipped the contents of a little paper sachet of salt over my breakfast, grasped my plastic fork and knife, and tucked in anyway. I feel guilty admitting this, but I polished the thing off and quite enjoyed myself too. Recalling Lam's article made me smile.

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