Etiquette: Spotless Plates

The Victorians thought it wrong to eat the last mouthful of anything. Diners were expected to leave a bit of everything in polite little piles around their plates. No one has satisfactorily explained why. Nowadays, of course, things are quite different.

English chef John Burton-Race scrutinizes every plate on its return to his kitchen. “There’s nothing more gratifying,” he says, “than plates sent back spotless. It’s the biggest pat on the back.” Burton-Race says he also approves of the French custom of mopping up the plate with bread. Obviously, he’s not witnessed an amply-girthed American doing that.

What’s troubling to me on this etiquette tip taken from The Quintessential Gentleman is the question of who, exactly, is our allegiance to. Are we as diners to flatter the chef on his commendable culinary skills or to demonstrate a bit of refinement for the other members of our party and/or the host in avoiding anything that remotely suggests piggishness, excessiveness or gluttony. And what of our dignity? Thoughts.

 

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~ by eaesthete on 01/13/09.

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