Monty on Gluttony & Gastronomy
“We use only the finest baby frogs, dew picked and flawn in from Iraq, cleansed in finest quality spring water, lightly killed and then sealed in a succulent Swiss quintuple smooth treble cream milk chocolate envelope and lovingly frosted with glucose.”
What a great portrayal for a high-end gourmet chocolate. At this moment, if you are thinking where the gastronomy world is going, just stop now, because you are almost 50 years behind this visionary description. This is the late Terry Jones speaking in one of the Monty Python sketches, playing a confectionery creator Mr. Milton, the owner of the Whizzo Chocolate Company. Shortly recognized as Crunchy Frog, this episode must be one of the pace setters in the culinary world. Actually the sketch, written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, had a rather different motive to start with, inspired by the then newly issued Trade Descriptions in British Law, aimed to prevent false claims on products that could mislead consumers. Two inspectors (the one played by Cleese is funnily named as Mr. Praline) question the candy maker about the odd ingredients he uses in his candies. In the episode Mr. Milton seems to have full faith in what he is doing, and has an explanation and logic to everything he does; he just would not debone the frogs, saying that if they took the bones out, the confection could not be called crunchy. The depictions go on, becoming even more adventurous featuring disturbingly odd ingredients ranging from fresh Cornish ram’s bladder or lark’s vomit to cockroaches, making the poor Crunchy Frog the most edible among all. I’m convinced that even unconsciously, this single episode must have had a great impact on today’s chefs, today nobody is surprised to have bladders or other odd parts of animals or a spectrum of insects on their plates, and frogs are already passé, too out fashioned or classic to put on a plate. I also believe it is also the inspiration behind the Chocolate Frogs in Harry Potter, as J.K. Rowling is known to be a fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus series.
Back in 60’s & 70’s Britain to build up such a sentence in a TV show must have been revolutionary. Britain of those years could not be described as the most accomplished culinary wonderland, and those years any such food snobbery would be easily subject to ridicule. Nobody could dare to have such culinary creations, yet alone speak so openly about it. Actually even after almost half a century, the Crunchy Frog episode hits a good bunch of keywords that can each be at the heart of hot debates and controversies of today’s culinary world. Scrutinizing all the words and phrases chosen, the episode is very thought provoking indeed.
Eating ‘baby frogs’ can be both a very cool thing (remember miniscule baby eels) and a horrible act of unethical irresponsible selfishness that would horrify vegans and activists in defense of sustaining fish life. ‘Dew picked’ will definitely raise a few eyebrows touching a bunch of ethical issues of our times. Who picks them? Underpaid women, is child labor involved? If it is dew time it must be before the sunrise, at the crack of dawn, did the pickers get paid extra hours? ‘Flawn in from Iraq’ expression is beyond description. So, you already new that Iraq would be invaded by western forces to exploit all its resources? But, to confess that phrase alone triggers a certain curiosity factor too. What is in there with Iraqi frogs, is that another well-kept culinary secret we failed yet to discover. Shame on us, we must have explored every hidden treasure on the planet worth tasting. ‘Flawn in’ also points to another ethical issue; you know, all those carbon footprints, our soft spot on the dilemma of local and global. Wouldn’t be more ‘cool’, if the frogs hopped all the way from Iraq to our table, at least our conscience about this stuff on carbon emissions would be ousted. Though with all that hopping exercise, the tender succulent flesh of frogs could become an inedible rubbery muscle mass. Well taste sometimes versus ethical. ‘Lightly killed’ is hilarious. What other words could match, slightly or gently, nothing seems more just. Are we going to the basics here, one of the basic elements Kosher or Halal meet is killing the animal swiftly without giving any pain to the poor thing. I cannot comment how this can be done with frogs. I’m not one of those brutal kids that caught frogs on the riverside, or executed my surgery skills in the biology lab on the animals. My only encounter with frogs is about kissing them in hopes they’d turn into princes, but never mind, this is another sad story.
The Crunchy Frog episode is surely ahead of its time, it even telltales about the much-later invented craze on multi-sensory experiences. ‘Spring Surprise’ must be the first ever invention on this field, chocolate wrapped stainless steel bolts that ‘spring’ out in the mouth and pierce the cheek of the taster, a true surprise indeed.
Monty Python series surely had many other inspirations in today’s culinary scene, which is pretty much like jolly flying circus anyway. Even the Internet world owes the use of the word ‘spam’, actually stems from their Spam episode, where the ubiquitous spam is featured in every single dish of the greasy spoon café, eventually making it the word for junk mail. The menu items do have a great range of spam, from the most humble Egg & Spam, culminating to the sophisticated Lobster Thermidor aux Crevettes with Mornay Sauce served á la Provençale with Shallots and Aubergines, garnished with Truffle Paté, Brandy.
This last dish reveals the British obsession (or inferiority complex?) with French cuisine, which also leads us Monty Python’s obsession with the salmon mousse. The idea of a ordering a fine dish appears to be the Salmon Mousse those days. In today’s vision, it seems like the most horrible dish ever created, well may be not, if we think of the equally horrid mayo-jello molded salads of early American dream years. Death by salmon mousse is an unforgettable moment in The Meaning of Life, I think that scene was also the official announcement of the death salmon mousse itself, it disappeared from gastronomic scenes forever, eternally finally.
Sadly Monty Python and Terry Jones are mostly remembered by the gargantuan restaurant owner Mr. Creosote, who seems to have the capacity to eat everything on the planet, who eventually erupts and explodes grossly while the waiter continues to list French gastronomy words in deep French accent. I wish Terry Jones will not be remembered only as the gross greedy symbol of gluttony, but together with his Monty pals as a visionary genius that forecasted today’s gastronomy world back in the culinary-wise arid years of 70’s. Do watch all the episodes, there are so many issues that are still valid after all these years.