Immediately after the Maitre d’ called the previous taste-test too easy, I decided to call his bluff and haul out something completely disgusting (to some people, anyway; I rather like the stuff): Marmite.
If you’re not British or a part-time Anglophile like the Chef, you probably haven’t been exposed to this exotic foodstuff. But then, considering that the British Isles have also produced supposedly edible things like haggis and jellied eels, most sane and rational people avoid the region’s cooking at all costs. Note that neither the Chef nor the Maitre d’ suffer from being sane and rational. Questions of our sanity aside, Marmite is a spread made from yeast extract, usually put thinly on toast. Basically, sometime in the early 20th century, some genius said, “Hey, we have all of this yeast left over from making beer. What can we do to make it useful?” (The British are, needless to say, big on that whole “waste not, want not”, thing.) It was discovered that adding enough salt to kill a horse coincidentally also killed the yeast culture, which after some processing yielded up a thick, sticky paste that might be edible. It also has an unfortunate brown color that doesn’t help many people’s opinion of it.
Marmite’s flavor is very strong and unusual, which leads people to one of two reactions: they either can’t stand the stuff and want to see its creators burned at the stake, or they love Marmite and want to get nekkid, slather themselves with it, and toast themselves between two large slices of bread. It’s also well-loved with hard cheeses, especially the sharp varieties (the Chef’s favorite is a sandwich with Marmite and Cracker Barrel Extra-Sharp White, a sort of international lovefest on bread). Marmite is also full of B vitamins, making it a popular with parents.
Fortunately, Unilever Bestfoods, the makers of Marmite, have taken the public’s polarization with the usual British good humor (or humour, if you’re feeling especially English), working the divide into most of their advertising campaigns. Even the product’s web site is divided into “love it” or “hate it” sections, allowing you to choose your faction in the war on Marmite (which is sort of like the war on terrorism, but much tastier).
As a side note, I’m sad that I never got my hands on any of the special edition Guinness-flavored Marmite. I love Marmite and I love Guinness, and the two together must be a combination greater than Batman and Robin, chocolate and peanut butter, and Donnie and Marie all mixed together in a blender.
Unfortunately for Dylan, this unholy bread spread (try saying that ten times fast, folks) would be his next challenge. He gamely took a sniff of the opened jar, recoiling in fear from the odor that emanated from it. Meanwhile, the Chef basked in the glow of Marmite-powered victory: if Dylan failed to consume this foodstuff and keep it down, he would have to be the Chef’s sex slave for the rest of his life. Or something like that – we never did actually set down any terms for failure. I can always make something up on the spur of the moment, though.
Experimentally, the Maitre d’ dipped the tip of his finger into the jar. Words can’t explain how sticky Marmite is. If you took all of the stickiness from maple syrup, melted Jolly Ranchers, a little kid’s face after a sucker, and a jar of rubber cement and put them together, you might have something the consistency of Marmite. It gets everywhere – on your fingers, your knife, your plate, your clothes, anywhere you get your utensils near, everywhere. And it doesn’t come off very easily.