DINNER TALES
BAKE-OFF IN FORT WORTH

BAKE-OFF IN FORT WORTH 
1990 


HOLY BLOOD AND THE CRESCENT MOON is going up again in Fort Worth. Opera is an expensive hobby for any city and part of the funding comes from gala events at which the burghers, oligarchs and grand matrons can be snobbed into making larger contributions than each other. To support our production, the opera community is throwing a black tie bake-off. The contestants are: the Mayor, the owner of the football team, one of the players, the director of the Fort Worth Opera, a telegenicly quadriplegic kid who has won the heart of the city; and me, the opera composer. 


One month earlier, when the event is proposed to me, the organizers are asking about what delicacy I might like to enter into the competition. Well the most complex items in my repertoire are “bowl de cereal” and “cup a tea”. Fortunately, Fiona has an under utilized flair for following recipe instructions, so we propose a Wolfgang Puck dish that is an angel hair pasta with broccoli. 

The event is held in a Texas sized convention hall within which there is a village of extravagantly designed kitchens built on little stages like TV sets. I think each of the little kitchens is the creation of a leading local home designer. 

Fiona and I have made some friends among the faster set in Fort Worth and some of them have stopped by our kitchen, bringing with them a gift of aged tequila. Their Texas hospitality is in perfect tune with my own shine for this spirit, and soon both Fiona and I are singing and carousing as she cooks and I entertain. A mysterious Frenchman appears wearing a sash and medallion. He wants a taste of Fiona’s pasta. 

Now Fiona has been rummaging around the fake kitchen for the proper ingredients and utensils but has come up with only an approximation of the right stuff for the Wolfgang Puck recipe. The pasta that has been provided is spaghetti not angel hair. There are no forks. But Fiona is resourceful and has managed to fix up a brew that I’m ready to try myself. The man with the sash and medallion is looking expectant so I find him a plate, tell him he can cut the phoney French accent and then attempt to ladle the pasta using the most efficient utensil that I can find, which is a teaspoon. Most of it ends up spattering his forearm. He’s holding a clipboard, which he uses as a kind of shield from my over-eager hospitality. By the time I get a pile of noodles mostly on his plate, he’s backing away. But he hasn’t got any broccoli! He’s taking evasive action but he’s not yet out of range yet so I lob the perfect broccoli, dripping with Fiona’s perfect sauce at him. The little blighter is too fast for me and he bats the flying vegetable away with his clipboard and escapes into the throng. Never mind, more for me, I sneer hungrily to myself. 

We are having a fine time but all too soon it’s time for the real dinner to begin. We are summonsed from our nifty little kitchen party spot to the big dinner tables in the dining hall. This is the dreary part of the evening. Major sponsors of the arts are rewarded with proximity to the artists. It’s a symbiotic but not necessarily fond relationship, and it’s a fact of life in “Fine Arts”. Fiona is ripped from my embrace and seated at the far side of our round table where she must endure the fawning attentions of those donors who have earned face time with “Fiancé of the Composer”, while I’m stuck on my side with the grandest contributors of all, who get to dine with the composer himself. 

You may be wondering what this is all about. For extreme fans of opera (or ballet, or any of the fine arts) who are extremely wealthy, dinner with your humble correspondent is like dinner with Mozart himself. Since every composer that they know of is a piece of cultural history (or they wouldn’t have heard of them), so must also be the composer sitting right now to their left. As I chat with these individuals, I can see them already formulating the tale for their grand children. It’s sort of like rock fan-dom but in black tie attire. And they aren’t teen-aged girls, they are ancient plutocrats. 

Finally, the dinner drags through dessert and I can’t bear another moment without Fiona at my side. I bid extravagant farewells to the opera loving oligarchs, catch Fiona eye, and we begin to make our escape. We’re almost out of the room but are caught by my handler who insists that we return to our seats. I try to reassure her that we’ve locked in the next ten years of sponsorship with the money folk. My old English boarding school trained me well in the art of brown nosing. But the prizes for the bake-off are about to be given, she persists. By now we have figured out who the French guy was and I reassure her that there is not the remotest possibility that we will be judged the winner – even though Fiona’s pasta was way better than the formal dinner. 
“Trust me, we didn’t win “ I assert confidently. 

There is no escape however and we must return to our table. As we sit back down, rejoining our dinner companions, a voice is booming over the PA. It’s the wind-up to the prize giving and no sooner do we tune into what the voice is saying, then we hear the announcement: 
“…And the winner for the Most Interesting Something, Something is….STEWART COPELAND!” 
The name echoes around my head. 
“Whaa…?” 
Fiona recovers quickly and urges me toward the stage. On my way up, I grab her to my side and mount the stage to thunderous applause. I’m still gaping as I take my bows. After years of this sort of thing, I’m pretty good at impromptu speeches so I’m just clearing my throat to thank whoever I can think of, when the large voice booms out of the PA again: 
“…And the winner for the Most Colourful Use Of Blah Blah, is…Someone Else! 
And with more applause, we are joined on the stage by another winner, with whom we unexpectedly must share the accolade. Then the voice booms out again, and it finally sinks in. The Last shall be First and the First shall be Last. Everyone gets a prise; the Mayor the manager, the player, the director and of course the winner, to tumultuous applause, the quadriplegic kid.

September 10, 2015 STEWART COPELAND