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Hospitality’s Eggsistential Crisis

Monday, September 9, 2019, 17:43 Hrs  [IST]

This morning, in our cottage in the oak woods of the Himalayas, we had eggs for breakfast. Big deal!!

In fact, it was. We had a variation of boiled eggs for breakfast. Boiling is a process in which the raw material is cooked in heated water. That, usually, destroys all germs but it also removes the more delicate flavours. An alternative method is to infuse the material in water that is kept just below boiling point. This method, naturally, takes a longer time and so it is more expensive, but it retains the texture and flavour of the food better than boiling. It’s called poaching. Nevertheless, some of the flavour is lost to the water surrounding the raw material which was often an egg. Chefs then decided to keep the raw egg out of contact with the water by putting it in a small dish and exposing the dish to simmering water. This, naturally, takes far more time and calls for greater care than poaching, so the term coddling was coined. Fussy diners, however, demanded even more. They said “Coddling does retain the flavour of the egg but now we would like to add a few other flavours, like grated cheese or a dash of spice. Can you create a cooking method that will give us coddled eggs with all the added flavours locked in?”

Things were getting rather complicated, but the Hospitality Industry is always willing to meet the demands of its customers. To create a new cooking method, however, the chefs needed new, customised, cooking equipment. It had to enclose the raw egg and its added ingredients and also be tough enough to be immersed in water that had been heated to just below boiling point. Moreover, this kitchenware was required to be sufficiently elegant to be brought directly from the kitchen to the dining table so that the delicate aromas of the dish were not lost in transit.

Happily, things seemed to fall into place. Back in 1751, group of 15 men had got together to start a ceramic factory in London to produce a home-grown porcelain. It was meant to rival Chinese porcelain being brought in by the East India Company. In 1789, the English king, George III, was so pleased with the English product that he decided to recognise this pioneering company. It was re-named Royal Worcester Porcelain.

Porcelain is a form of pottery that has been fired to a very high temperature. It is, therefore, more durable that ordinary ceramic even though it looks more delicate with a shine that is almost translucent. It can, also, be immersed in boiling water, cooled, and then presented with its contents on the banquet table. All this made it far more expensive than ordinary pottery but these new, costly, qualities were just what were needed for the chef-to-gourmet Screw Top Egg Coddler. Royal Worcester’s invention, first used in the 1880s, was an instant success with discerning diners all over the world. An English friend gifted us the two RW Egg Coddlers which gave us our breakfast dish this morning.

But though we called them Coddled Eggs they were still only eggs cooked in heated water: Boiled Eggs!

So, if we were in the Hospitality Business, how much would we have charged for these Boiled Eggs cooked in expensive Royal Worcester Porcelain? There’s the cost of the coddler, eggs, butter, cheese, and other ingredients added to it, plus the LPG used for the cooking, the element of the chef’s salary, the ancillary staff, the electricity consumed for the lighting and AC of the kitchen, the portion of the salary and other costs of the waiter, the overheads of the restaurant, its decor etc., etc and etc. All those add up to the intrinsic material costs of those Boiled Eggs. Then there’s the extrinsic cost.

An extrinsic cost is the additional amount that we are happy to pay for our personal feel-good factor. It’s that intangible boost to one’s ego provided by the admiration of onlookers, the glitterati ‘high’. It is the urge to see and be seen in multi starred hotels and restaurants.

Will the well-meaning nannies in the Government like to put a price tag on status-symbols?

(The Views expressed within this column are the opinion of the authors, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication)

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