“May We Eat Chicken à la King?”

M.F.K. Fisher (Photo: Courtesy of Widener Library, Harvard University)

It is a wonder that I did not break my string like a balloon and float off before the day, so excited was I. I am glad I did not for the restaurant was exactly as I had known it would be: white tablecloths gleamed more brightly than ever at home, and the silver twinkled more opulently, if without our Irish hallmark, and on each little table in the hushed room were several roses in a tall vase that made my little sister and me look up at them somewhat as we did to the star on the Christmas trees that had so far dignified our only debauchery. And kind waiters pulled out our chairs, which had already been discreetly heightened for us, although I do not know how: perhaps a couple of middle-sized baking pans covered with towels? Napkins were whisked open in the air, like stiff clouds, and then laid across our especially scrubbed knees. Mother was given a menu.

It was then that I tried my first deliberate step into the sea of public gastronomy. I asked firmly a question I had been practicing for a couple of days. It was based on everything I had learned from Mother’s recountings of her flights from the family board. I said, “May we eat chicken à la king?”

It is quite possible that this caused a little ripple of interest if not hilarity among the staff, but all I remember is that we seemed to have a covey of black-coated men bending attentively over us for the next two hours, cutting all kinds of capers with the enormous silver chafing dish, the large glittering spoons, the general air of excited well-being. Mother probably sat back happily and watched the game. I took double enjoyment from seeing and tasting a dish she had often described to me as one of her favorite things in the whole world (I doubt this …). 

As I recall it now, I ate heartily, observed everything, and had enormous fun. The flame burning under the dish interested me. The hot plates interested me, and the simple but subtle flavors. The waiters interested me.  

M.F.K. Fisher

on a visit to her very first restaurant when she was six

I Chose Chicken à la King
– From the Journals of M.F.K. Fisher – 

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