Full disclosure: I would never choose to eat an entire artichoke all to myself. Let alone do it in public. Don’t misconstrue. I can’t get enough of the thistle. It sits so elegantly on a crudité platter, leaves and all rising majestically above the banal baby carrots and asparagus spears. When at a cocktail party, I’d have at most three or four leaves to dip into the accompanying sauce. More commonly, though, I get just the hearts — all conveniently peeled and ready to inhale. Oh, them I could down by the jarfuls. But an artichoke in its full and natural form? Not so much.
Enter La Varenne, my weekly lunch spot for all the obvious reasons: outstanding food, reliable service, and crucially the best desserts in town. On this day, I’m told the special is a nénuphar d’artichaut. Even in English, it sounds alluring: artichoke water lily. Like a blooming flower, it holds some treasures inside… seared trevally and salmon. I say, sign me up.
First it has to be said, the dish arrives looking stunning. The curves, the colours, the lines. The whole thing treading in a small pool of ultra buttery, slightly creamy smoked salmon sauce. The artichoke is photogenic and smells out of this-world (mostly it’s the butter emulsion of course). So I set out to pluck leaf by leaf, using my teeth to scrape out the thin film of flesh clinging to its fibrous host.
Now, it’s customary to work from outside in when eating an artichoke. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that delayed gratification is the way to go, so you slowly make your way towards the ultimate prize, the artichoke heart. But because I know the centre is filled with wondrously fragrant slices of fish, I start from there. Did I mention this is a tad of a messy affair? I’ve long subscribed to the rule that one only uses one’s fingers at the table for lamb chops, chicken wings, crab and pizza. Add artichoke to that. Because there’s just no other way to get enough grip as you navigate each leaf.
I’m ravenously enjoying my dish. I mean loving it. But 50 minutes later, there’s still a lot of love to go around. I’m not counting, but my pile of discarded leaves is now a little mountain. Kids, this is the most involved I’ve been with a vegetable in a long, long while.
By the end of it all, I’m spent. I even have to tell the server to give me a moment to compose myself before I contemplate dessert. This is unheard of in Geraldo World.
Was all the effort worth while? Abso-posi-lutely. I feel like I’ve conquered the insurmountable. Seriously, in the realm of food, this is an achievement.