Though often artful in hindsight, rarely are our last meals intentional.
Elvis died after his usual ice cream and cookie bender, clueless that a heart attack hid behind his bathroom door. On Good Friday in 1865, before attending Ford’s Theater, Abraham Lincoln enjoyed a multi-course feast of turtle soup, cauliflower with cheese sauce, and chestnut-stuffed Virginia fowl. Done in by kidney failure, Julia Child was buoyed into the hereafter by a single bowl of French onion soup.
But all these are facts of retrospection; planned last meals are, far and away, the jurisdiction of death row inmates.
John Wayne Gacy—a former manager of several KFCs—remained a brand loyalist ’til the end, dining on a bucket of fried chicken and shrimp paired with fresh strawberries before being put to death. Victor Feguer, the last man executed by the state of Iowa, notoriously requested a single olive (with pit) as his last meal. Aileen Wuornos, perhaps the most famous lady murderer in recent history, skipped food entirely in favor of a cup of black coffee.
Aside from the incarcerated, history has given us a few other records of the final feasts of the truly doomed: those cursed by a peculiar combination of circumstance and perseverance, like the terminally ill, or those who feel there’s nothing left to live for. Before removing himself from this planet, Hemingway ate his favorite meal one last time: a New York strip steak, baked potato, Caesar salad, and glass of Bordeaux.
More luxuriously and controversially, former French president François Mitterrand, riddled with prostate cancer, collected 30-plus friends and family for an intentional “last meal” eight days prior to his eventual passing. Not only was it a lavish, multi-course affair, the final item was the illegal dish of ortolan, in which said (protected) songbird is drowned in brandy, roasted, then eaten whole as a napkin ceremoniously covers one’s face and head—as much to contain the dish’s aromas as to hide the act from God.
Unless we go mad, or rise through the ranks drunk on power ’til the last, or literally kill a lot of people, the majority of us are unlikely to end up in situations where our ideal last meals come to fruition.
Obviously, that won’t stop us from playing this, the darkest of parlor games: What would that dream pre-death dish be?
And who better to play it with than chefs? Theirs is a profession whose reputation is a wee bit unhinged, and their bags of tricks are deeper than most, packed not only with rarefied ingredients, but also knives, and the wherewithal to execute their deep, dark fantasies.
We took to the proverbial streets and asked local chefs to describe how they’d greet Death, that thing poet Philip Larkin described as, “[staying] just on the edge of vision/A small unfocused blur, a standing chill/That slows each impulse down to indecision.”
The responses were just as fantastic and varied as the characters above. Please enjoy... and consider your final plate, just in case.
Sausage and cheese pizza. It would be a classic pub-style pizza, with thin crust and a ton of cheese on top, paired with a huge pile of iberico ham.
Hai Hai/Hola Arepa
There are so many foods I love that it’s hard to pick a favorite. Since it’s hard to narrow it down (and to delay imminent doom a little longer), I went with the multiple-course approach.
First: Raw oysters with lemon
Second: Dumplings (probably pan-seared gyoza with a crispy bottom or xiao long bao soup dumplings)
Third: Suckling pig plate with crispy skin from Ibu Oka in Bali
Dessert: A Pablo cheese tart from Japan
...and a bottle of brut rosé champagne
Pasta with morel mushrooms and Madeira squab, maybe stuffed with its own liver (and some foie gras and black truffles)
Fish tacos on a beach in the Yucatán
Dessert: nougat ice cream from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
Chipotle! Steak burrito, extra white rice, black beans, sour cream, hot salsa, cheese, lettuce. Side of lemons. Coca Cola Classic. I’d pray that they would rip the burrito and have to use two tortillas, ’cause I’m too afraid to ask for two so they don’t judge me.
I changed my mind so many times thinking about your question. However, I kept coming back to my initial answer. I’m sorry to say, I fear it quite boring.
I’d like a large loaf of Olive Pugliese—a rustic loaf of bread with a crunchy, crackly exterior and a fluffy interior with large, irregular holes flecked with lots of various types of olives. One pound of softened, salted butter. A porron full of Barbera. Someone cute to share it with.
The rest is X-rated.
Dark Horse Bar & Eatery
I’d want my mother’s enchiladas. They’re a mix of beef and cheese baked in some delicious mystery verde sauce. She also tops it with some dope-ass crema. I wish she would tell me the recipe; I can’t figure out what she does and I can’t recreate it.
a nice, simple bacon cheeseburger. Medium rare, no veggies.
a bottle of Budweiser and a John Powers Irish Whiskey, neat.
If I’m planning on one last meal, I think it would be quite a feast. I would start with a dozen oysters, preferably from the cold waters of the Northeast, accompanied by vintage champagne. For a second course, steamed whole lobster accompanied by a great white Burgundy wine. For a main course, a 45-day dry-aged ribeye with some new potatoes and creamed spinach, accompanied by a fantastic Bordeaux. Dessert would be the best, creamiest soft-serve ice cream I could get my hands on.
Kind of decadent, I know, but if it’s the last meal I may as well go out in style!
Young Joni/Pizzeria Lola/Hello Pizza
My dying meal would be extra cold gin martinis with two olives, Manchego cheese, and potstickers made by my husband, Conrad. This was the first meal he made for me when we started dating and I was hooked. He hasn’t cooked for me since, so it’s appropriate that he cook my last meal.
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