We don’t often think about where our food comes from. In the age of Uber Eats and Deliveroo, we expect instant and immediate gratification. We want all the taste and none of the mess. If you’re a carnivore like me, it can be easy to forget that dinner was ever a living, flesh-and-blood animal.
I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m not a hypocrite. It’s a double standard to enjoy meat but be squeamish about where it comes from. I decided that the only way I was ever going to be secure in my dietary convictions was if I had the chance to actually kill and eat something.
Luckily for me, a restaurant in London is offering that very opportunity. In collaboration with Harry Parr and Bompas, The Mondrian Hotel’s Sea Container restaurant are hosting a special project entitled "Kill It: Eat It" - giving you the chance to participate in a workshop where you personally slaughter your lunch. In my case, locally-sourced crab, steamed and served with garlic butter. The meal sounded mouthwatering, but did I have the chops to chop my crab?
I met my fellow participants in the bar. We were all nervous. While our chef introduced himself, we were served the sort of drinks that would have bankrupted me otherwise: a champagne and ambergris Cognac (ambergris is a kind of fragrance obtained from whales) and a lobster-gin martini. They were gorgeous and expensive, but not enough to make me forget I was about to execute a crustacean.
Then the chef talked us through the killing process. The crabs lay docile in a plastic bucket, occasionally nudging each other. I was uneasy. I couldn’t look my meal in the eye.
We were instructed to turn the crabs on their back and use a kind of sharp, pointed skewer to lift a flap covering their soft underbelly. The we had to use a mallet to pierce through their central nervous system with the chisel, killing it instantly.
Simple… in theory.
Feeling guilty, I lifted my chosen victim out of the bucket by its hard carapace. It was hanging onto a friend for dear life, but I managed to separate them and turn it over. The chef assured me that ligaments in the claws were severed, so there was no danger of pinching, but its spindly legs were flexing. I wanted to be humane to my prey; I didn’t want it to suffer because of my clumsiness.
With my heart in my throat, I brought the hammer down with one blow and twisted. The crab twitched weakly and stiffened. It was over. It was dead.
I cracked open the claws and legs and staff took the remains away. It felt strange to have killed, even if it was an invertebrate. But I consoled myself with the fact that it hadn’t felt pain, and had died immediately. It was going to be cooked fresh, and I wasn’t going to waste any of it. Twenty minutes later it was served with mushrooms and a guacamole mousse.
The white meat of the crab was soft, buttery and fibrous: slightly salty, but fresh and melt-in-the-mouth. I sampled the meat on strips of crisp, toasted ciabatta, with salad on the side as a palate-cleanser. Despite the addition of champagne, it was sticky, messy work, and we were often compelled to pick with our fingers. Somewhat at odds with the haute cuisine atmosphere, but then again, so was the preparation. Most importantly, it was scrumptious, and more satisfying because I felt I could appreciate the sacrifice.
That animal had died so I could live. That’s not an epiphany I would have come to in Subway. Fine dining is normally detached and remote, a world away from the slaughtering process that’s fundamental to meat-eating. You might say that the kitchen and the abattoir are two sides of the same coin. But one thing was certain: I had a really good lunch.