All you can eat. These four words can inspire some truly primitive behaviour in human beings. Never mind that we’ve eaten breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch and afternoon tea, as soon as we step into a buffet for dinner it’s like we’ve never seen food before. Something about the oysters huddled together, the platters of glistening prawns, the mini condiment jars and a bain marie full of hasselback potatoes sends us into a frenzy.
Here’s an article I wrote for Gourmet Traveller that describes how crazed we get around buffets. Just remember peoples: it’s not the last supper.
The most attractive aspect of a buffet – that of indulging unparalleled greed – often blinds people to the numerous threats. Heartburn, humiliation and injury are just the tip of the iceberg. Yet, with some simple preparation, it’s possible to emerge from a buffet suave and sated. Here’s my game plan, wrought from many a year in the all-you-can-eat trencherman trenches.
Dress to ingest. No corsets, shapewear, pencil skirts, belts or any garment that restricts expansion or movement. A tight, structured shirt will prevent nimble and rapid canapé retrieval, while a pencil skirt or, for the gents, a kilt will impede long strides to and around the buffet table.
Follow the smorga sutra. Pace is everything. It’s not a sprint, it’s an ultra-marathon. Whatever you may tell yourself, there’s a finite amount of gastrointestinal tract and, in order to digest enough sashimi to feed a small village, you will need to drip-feed it over the course of up to several hours. To avoid system overload, try the art of tantric gluttony whereby a single olive can be the object of 30 minutes’ contemplative reverie instead of a one-second feeding frenzy: admire the glint of its lustrous skin, its yum-yum curves and almond-stuffed orifice.
Reconnaissance is vital. Adopt a demure expression and casually survey the offerings. Betray no emotion while you identify the buffet’s high-value targets (typically proteins including ocean molluscs and large crustaceans). A dozen oysters cost $12, a dozen bread rolls $2. It doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to work out which to prey upon. Take your priority targets and conduct a rigorous SWOT analysis on the merits of, say, grilled scampi versus sachertorte or lamb rack versus Peking duck. Calculate the net worth (weight of food x quantity of food ÷ actual capacity) and draw your conclusions: sachertorte and lamb rack not feasible. Dang. Grieve. Move on.
Exhibit dominant body language. The buffet line is fraught with potential conflict – people pushing dinner plates into your back and queue jumpers wielding steak knives – the threat of carnage ever close. Exhibiting subtle yet dominant body language will help convey the “don’t mess with me” message. Stand erect with your hands on your hips, legs akimbo and keep your eyes on the pies. Occupy space both horizontally and vertically – consider a top hat, foot stool or shoulder pads for added height and width.
Take a pit stop. Five plates in and you’re flagging. A well-timed trip to the bathroom to refocus (perhaps through a micro-sleep or five minutes’ meditation atop the cistern) may just prompt the internal reshuffle needed for one last selection of your greatest hits.
Takeaway. You’ve come this far – to the victor the spoils. It is your buffet-given right to smuggle out food that you neither need nor want. Study magicians’ misdirection techniques: pulling a white dove from a waiter’s ear can distract them while a whole wheel of brie goes in your pocket.
On Sunday morning you jolt into consciousness. “Please, god, let it have been just a dream.”
Dear god, no it wasn’t. You really did do all that, and at your in-laws’ wedding anniversary bash, too. Oh, the shame. If only you’d followed these six guiding principles. Unfortunately, you had to learn the hard way.
While “Flight of the Bumblebee” blared frenziedly in your head, you kneed your mother-in-law for the last prawn vol-au-vent, brandished a breadstick threateningly at a child and toppled backwards into the chocolate fountain. As security escorted you out, you declared, “Je ne regrette rien!” and shook your chocolate-covered fist at a roomful of traumatised diners. The restaurant issued you with a restraining order. They didn’t appreciate you running back inside to sweep a Cupid statuette into the maw of your sports bag.
If it’s any comfort, you’re far from the first person whose Mr or Mrs Hyde has been unleashed by unlimited self-service.
It is better to have nibbled than to have gnashed. But now you know better: it’s not the last supper.
The impulsive maggot of gluttony has metamorphosed into a buffet-fly.