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The silent lunch treatment

Posted: November 10, 2013 - 12:08am

Silent lunch is one of the most dreaded punishments for school children, second only to standing against the wall at recess.

Teachers have a predilection for silent lunches. While students want to hear each other talk, school teachers want to hear themselves think.

Crafty seventh-grade faculty at my daughter’s school put a new spin on silent lunch for middle-school miscreants by pairing the stricture with alphabetical seating. My daughter got to know the eating habits, which were not silent, of someone new.

A New York restaurateur is taking diners back to the school cafeteria of their childhoods. Chef Nicholas Nauman is cashing in on the silent lunch niche once monopolized by educators, though he gives them no credit.

Enforcing the silent lunch philosophy in his establishment, he claims he derived the idea from an interaction with Buddhist monks.

At his Eat restaurant in Brooklyn, he requires patrons to sit quietly – probably with their hands in their laps, another teacher favorite – throughout a four-course meal. The chef introduced the institutional lunchroom atmosphere of this fine dining experience after observing that Buddhist monks in India eat breakfast without talking.

Foolish man. He didn’t need to go to India to see morning abstention from verbal interaction. No one speaks at breakfast!

Those monks, along with the rest of the world, heard more than one teacher harp, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”

It would be regrettable to start the day with eggs, bacon, grits and severe words one can’t take back. It’s best to sip coffee and let the caffeine percolate.

Since Nauman’s menu doesn’t include a four- course, silent breakfast, I’m confused as to how he made the leap from analyzing early morning monks to shushing evening gastronomes. Does he fear they have nothing nice to say?

In an interview, he defended eating a gourmet meal in silence.

He said requiring his clientele to shut their traps and chew their food improves their delight with his fare. Forks clattering on plates, dishes clinking in the kitchen sink and mouths masticating meat create ambiance. Chef Nauman said he senses great energy in the restaurant when noise is subdued.

My opinion is that Mr. Nauman, a man who needs to hear himself think, followed the wrong career path and takes it out on his clientele.

The energy he feels is that of diners reliving a time when they and a hundred other second-graders squirmed under orders to “zip it” in the cafeteria. They want to hear each other talk.

They will burst any second and negotiate standing against the restaurant wall in exchange for being able to tete-a-tete with others at table.

Merely pantomiming “pass the salt,” however, may push their chef to implement the modern ABC order penalty.

Chef Nauman probably looked forward to the silent lunch treatment in grade school. He cites Buddhist monks as the inspiration for his restaurant’s institutional atmosphere because that explanation appears more enlightened than admitting his surly second grade teacher, Mrs. Sundwretchen, taught him everything he knows.

There is no other explanation for this chef’s branding campaign. The monks he observed ate in silence and never mentioned anything about the quality of their rations.

What faulty logic to arrive at the conclusion that food tastes better when the only sound in the room is other people’s chewing and slurping. Anyone who ever ate in a school cafeteria will testify that silence didn’t make the mystery meat any more appetizing or any less of a mystery.

(Lucy Adams is the author of The Beast of Blue Mountain. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at lucybgoosey@aol.com and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.)

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