A gourmet writer’s guide to business networking, part 1

A gourmet's guide to business networking, part 1

Typical English breakfast: OK there is black pudding. But do you Yanks really want us to eat Grits?

If you go to live business networking events (yes, yes, as opposed to dead ones) do you ever notice the quality of the food? Do you regard it as purely a means of refueling your brain, as in “food for thought,” or does its quality affect how ebullient you feel in the lively discussions that abound?

As some of you already know, I am a “serial networker” as someone on LinkedIn called me recently. I have had more business breakfasts than Gordon Ramsay has said the F-word on TV, and enough business networking lunches to feed a small developing country for a year.

Unlike those lucky people who don’t really notice or care about the food they savor in a business environment, it matters a lot to me, which is probably why I am fat. But so be it. I love food and feel quite upset when there’s something wrong with it.

So here is my guide to the typical foods we encounter on these business networking occasions … particularly useful for people traveling between the UK and North America. This week we look at …

Cooked breakfasts

Bacon. In the UK the Brits love “back” bacon which is largely pork meat with only a small rim of fat along its slices or “rashers,” as they are called. When a) the bacon is of good quality and b) it is not cooked to within an inch of its life, it’s OK. But more often than not it is cooked for hours, then kept in the hot tray to stew a bit more. The consequent result makes metal-capped boot leather feel tender. But in North America – and especially Canada – breakfasts usually offer what the Brits called “streaky” bacon, consisting of narrow strips of meat interlaced with crispened fat. It may be unhealthy but sure tastes amazing. Especially with a dollop of maple syrup.

Baked beans. Not something I have seen at breakfast in North America although they do love their oven-baked beans in other contexts. Probably wise considering the beans’ gas-creating tendencies. Brit baked beans are usually served warm in a tomato sauce which works nicely to make your eggs less uninteresting. Tip: stick mainly to the tomato sauce and leave the beans out unless you want to make yourself unpopular, especially if you’re still in the meeting for another an hour or so.

Black pudding. Writing as a North American who lives in the UK, my impression of black pudding is that it looks like sliced turds dumped by a dog with intestinal bleeding and tastes, very probably, much along the same lines. It is made from pork blood and a few other atrocities. Many Brits love it.

Butter. As served in little plastic containers that require surgical instruments to open properly and yield enough butter to cover a 1 inch square of toast if you’re lucky. Ditto jams, jellies, marmalade, etc.

Eggs, poached or fried. As normally found in a hot plate on the buffet table floating in an oil and water mix that looks like cheerfully colored sewage.

Eggs, scrambled. Can vary from a block of yellow concrete (in which case be sure you ask for a jackhammer/pneumatic drill along with your other cutlery) to a fresh pile of loose vomit. When in doubt, in the latter case, wait until they have been sitting in the hot containers for a while, so at least they’re cooked.

Grits. Oh boy, is this one a surprise for European visitors to the southern states of the USA. Heaped upon your plate is a mound of grey, translucent gloop that you could swear is wriggling around like young maggots. Americans tell you grits are good. Trust me: they aren’t. I would rather eat wallpaper paste.

Hash browns. Nice if they’re good, horrible if they are soggy or dried up. Fortunately the breakfast buffet’s heating/drying influence often helps the soggy ones to become more appetizing.

Pancakes. So much depends on where you are when you consider pancakes. If in Europe, delicate, light pancakes with or without fillings are considered a snack, an appetizer for lunch or dinner, or a dessert. In North America, they stuff the European pancake versions full of culinary steroids so they swell up like whoopee cushions, stack them up on a plate with bacon and other incongruous goodies, then often pour maple syrup or other gooey juice all over them. Disgusting? Only if you’re trying to diet…

Porridge. Crushed oats: a quaint delicacy shared by the Scots. Considered a very healthy option these days. I used to feed a simpler version to my horses.

Mushrooms. A common element of the UK business breakfast. Usually out of a can and over-warmed, they are easily mistaken for small slugs floating in salted water.

Sausages. Essentially a British concept but now gathering favor in North American breakfast buffets too. An excuse to chop up inferior meat and other ingredients mixed with cereal plus a few herbs and spices, shove all that down a bit of pig’s intestine, tie both ends and voilà. Surprisingly they are usually very good as long as you don’t think too long about what’s in them.

Toast. Or as it’s usually known at business networking breakfasts, cold cardboard. Need I say more?

Tomatoes, grilled. There is nothing more delightful than a tangy, fresh raw tomato, sliced with a little oil, salt and pepper, right? So why do the Brits have to heat them up until they collapse into slush?

More next week … in the meantime, what experience do you have of business breakfasts? Please share…

photo credit: Ewan-M via photopin cc

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  1. […] case you didn’t catch up with last week’s article, I am a “serial networker” as someone on LinkedIn called me […]

  2. […] probably seen the two earlier articles in this series about my gastronomic experiences at business breakfasts and buffets. This week I get my teeth into (geddit?) the sit-down lunches and dinners many of us […]

  3. […] case you didn’t catch up with last week’s article, I am a “serial networker” as someone on LinkedIn called me […]

  4. […] probably seen the two earlier articles in this series about my gastronomic experiences at business breakfasts and buffets. This week I get my teeth into (geddit?) the sit-down lunches and dinners many of us […]

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