“Delicious is Over: Tough Dining is Here at Last,” by Eva Meckna

Sep 8th, 2021 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

From the moment you enter the austere and tragically hip Konqrete Fuud Centre, you will be swept away by its passionate serenity. Cloisterlike in its stillness, the restaurant’s concrete walls, floor, ceiling, and accoutrements express a deep civility and liberating blankness. There are only eight tables in the 1,200 square foot room, each a lacquered slab of concrete sparsely surrounded by utterly tasteful concrete stumps. The ambience promotes the intense focus of savasana without the relaxation. One does not lounge at the KFC as much as one perches, aware and yet ineffably calm.

Owner and chef JeanPaul Emile Poutez (he likes to be called “Pout”) is a skeletal tower of a man who moves with a somber, stealthy grace and whose physiognomy mirrors his huge emotional presence. He espouses heartily if quietly the “Tough Dining” movement which has been at full throttle in Europe for over a decade, but is at last gaining a foothold on this side of the Atlantic. The idea of TD is to bring the internal foci of the diners to the physical experience of eating as a reflection of the hard and often bitter circumstances of the human condition. In other words, the chewing of hard, cold, tough viands, with surprising and often unpleasant mouth feel and flavor. At times it takes true strength of will to swallow. Rigorous as this sounds, devotees rave about the visceral satisfaction of honing new tastes and tolerances, and the final post-prandial triumph and sense of earned reprieve, which they call “overcoming” a meal.

Pout has been in the restaurant business four years, counting the two he spent in his pubescence at MacDonald’s, where he was known as an absolute artist at the deep fryer. He hails from Pittsburgh, graduated with the coveted Bronzed Oven Mitt from the long course (four months) of the Albuquerque Académie de Cuisine. He immediately moved to New York, determined to “promote silent Tough Dining in a world gone mad with noise and pleasure.” And silent it is. Without music, the clucking of incessant conversation, and volleys of shallow laughter, the aural peace invites deep concentration on the engrossing and challenging offerings.

What if someone told you that you were about to consume crushed, frozen fish eyes spread on artisanal mulch crackers? Forget your prejudices a moment, your tastes developed in early childhood, your philistine repugnance threshold! TD is an adventure like sky-diving, driving blindfolded, or three-legged waltzing: at first repellent, then exciting, and finally exhilarating. The “Piscine Orbs” proved a highly salted appetizer of viscous and tough textures, and from what this critic could tell from the facial expressions and low grunts of his tablemates, quite the unexpected hit. The grey fluid (called “Ashen Surprise”) served like wine (only nearer the freezing point) in jagged-edged stemware of stainless steel was perhaps less pleasing, especially at first (the true TD experience), but one can with effort move past enduring to almost savoring. Pout informed us it is a secret “vintage” of his own devising, but our party clearly suspected it involves the water used to process the “Piscine Orbs.”

The salad was a flattened melange of dark, wilted (possibly run over) unusual greens, definitely spiked with grass clippings. One diner with infallible tastebuds opined New Jersey backyards as a possible source. There were woody shards of white heritage carrots, pressed tomato peels, and some unidentified small tidbits which we all humorously thought to be possibly gravel or kitty litter polpettes. The dressing was souplike, and was redolent of gas station fumes and Pine Lysol. Another chance to hone one’s tolerance.

Oh! But the entrees were triumphs. My vegan friend had the slab of barely cooked and then flash frozen butternut squash with anise-lime-spider sauce, which (as with so many of the other dishes) appeared to have been pre-eaten. I had the beef hooves with Elmer’s-prune reduction. It was served in a wondrously kitschy-hip plastic container not unlike those used to drain the oil from my Maserati. Another diner had the planked whole octopus which had been so lightly roasted it appeared to be still moving. The unsweetened cranberry-black truffle-cow bile sauce was shattering.

We all agreed that the highly textured rolls (Are carbs back?) were an amazing enigma. Another secret of the proud Pout, who merely hinted at foam pillows and hammer-smashed acorns. Again we all wondered though, kitty litter? Served with a substance akin to the old Prell shampoo (and the same color, I might add), we almost savored here. Enjoyment so quickly, of course, is a crime in the Tough Dining ethos. “Keep the focus sharp and the effort high,” is Pout’s refrain.

And what about dessert? Is it anathematic to TD? No. KFC offers only three, but that is quite enough. A grey frozen mystery substance called “Poutez Gris” served with an “eating stick” featured a papery mouth-feel derived possibly from wood ash. A black cakelet called “Briquette” was served à la table, and post-flambé the white-coated morsel was presented on a lake of castor oil syrup with a dollop of a whipped Vaseline. The pièce de résistance, however, was the triple scorched Crème Broilee. Instead of a caramel treat, this hearty, rubbery custard had the fragrance of car trunk gym socks (so like a number of our favorite cheeses!), and the taste of aspirin melting slowly in one’s mouth.

The evening was a dining experience like none other, even for this veteran critic, and my dinner companions and I agreed that a meal at the KFC is a most twisted, fascinating adventure for the palate. I will advise you that reservations are booked three years ahead at this time. However, it’s a $$$$$ experience you will never forget. Be sure to dress warmly since Pout insists that keeping the dining room at a crisp 48 degrees is the absolute “center of gravity” for his cuisine.

Bon Appétit!


Eva Meckna is, as her husband always said, an English major gone horribly wrong. She worked at Black Sparrow Press back in the day and still lives and surfs in California. Her work has appeared on Points in Case, Funny-ish, Little Old Lady Comedy, and the Daily Drunk.

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