Nutrition And Ambience: Meal ‘A’ or Meal ‘B’


Hi folks,

Geneva, the saleve, switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland, in Spring, with the Jet d'Eau (fountain) and the Saleve (hills) in the background.

Nutrition is certainly an important aspect of a balanced exercise philosophy, and your approach to nutrition will be impacted by the types of foods that you normally consume. In order to expand your culinary repertoire you might consider trying food from a wide range of cultures and countries. I had the good fortune to spend five years of my life in Geneva, Switzerland, in the late 1970s. I loved that place, finally managing to speak passable French, albeit with a Swiss accent. Located in the center of Europe, this country enjoyed a remarkable range of food stuffs. Such produce included the best of the best from all over Europe. Excellent French, German, and Italian wines, cheeses, meat products, and sea food, and many things that I had never seen before having lived in England up until then. I was introduced to culinary experiences beyond my imagination.

I loved going to the supermarkets and choosing what to cook for dinner. We also ate out quite a bit, mainly for work-related functions. It was in Switzerland that I encountered real hamburgers in a genuine American restaurant, and McDonalds. The kids really liked Mickey Dees because they could run around and make a noise, something frowned upon in the local Swiss, Italian, Portuguese and other restaurants. It was as though kids had to be ‘seen and not heard.’ This, I think, is one of the reasons we ended up here, in the good ol’ US of A.

It was, however, in Switzerland that I experienced the strangest and best evening of dining of my life. It was odd, yet effective. I was invited to attend a meal with about twenty colleagues, in a famous restaurant in France located on the other side of The Saleve (see figure). The Saleve is a long scarp face overlooking this old swiss city on a delightful lake. We routinely went out to eat across the border into France, because everything was about one quarter the price there compared to Switzerland due to currency exchange rates at the time. That evening, once through customs, we drove for about an hour, becoming lost in the French countryside several times, to arrive at an old, quaint French farmhouse.

Our entire group arrived almost simultaneously in multiple cars. One of us knocked on the large, ornate, iron-bound, wooden door, to be invited into a warmly-lit foyer by a ‘little old lady.’ She was 85-90 years-old, if she was a day! We were politely ushered, or should I say herded, into a large dining room furnished with a beautiful, centrally-placed rectangular, stained and highly polished, pine table set for exactly our number. The room had just the right lighting, silver utensils that glittered in response to various candelabra set into the ancient plaster walls adorned with old paintings. Carafes of water and bottles of red table wine, with fresh French bread in wicker baskets, were distributed along the table, all just within reach. We sat, ate bread, as only the French can bake it, and drank some wine, debating a whole range of topics all the while. It was just perfect. As we were starting to wonder when the service was going to start, in comes the same little old lady in a white apron, carrying twenty menus. They were old, weathered and just right. I don’t know why they were just right. They just were. Maybe it was the wine going to my head, but I don’t think so as every event appeared to be carefully orchestrated by our hostess.

The menus were distributed, one apiece, comprising a single folded parchment, which when opened revealed two detailed menus. One on each page. On the left was ‘repas A’ (meal A) and on the right repas B. The lady then withdrew, and for the next twenty minutes we argued and discussed the meals various attributes, each having seven or eight courses. And of course we consumed more of the excellent bread and wine, but we were now ready for the promised meal to begin. Just as we had each elected either meal A or B, back in she comes with a note pad. Now that was quite a touch, you’ll see. Approaching the person at the head of the table, she enquired as to their chosen meal.

This person replied, “I’ll have meal B, please, madame [in French, naturellement].”

The old lady immediately looked very apologetic, and stated clearly for all of the table to hear, “I am very sorry, monsieur, but meal B is not available this evening. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer meal A, it is truly delicious.”

It was a dance, there was only meal A, and for the whole evening we never did meet anyone but this little old lady, and we heard no noises of cooking or evidence of other staff in the entire house.

Clearly, the French understand the joy of choosing as a necessary prelude to dining. We proceeded to have meal A, which I can honestly say was the most enjoyable, best prepared, tastiest and most satisfying dinner of my life. If I remember correctly, it began with liver pate that was perfect with even more crusty French baguette, followed by soup, then cheeses (not at the end of the meal!), two different meat dishes in rich gravy with assorted vegetables, a small dessert that included some fruit, and finally what I can only describe as an amuse bouche, followed by cognac, and freshly ground coffee as a ‘digestif.’

There was no meal B. Only the French could do this with such aplomb, the reasoning for which would be beyond the ken of the crude Anglo-saxon palate. I loved it!

There is a sports psychology lesson in here somewhere, but I am not quite sure what it is. Oh! Yes! Quality and ambience are as important as quantity when it comes to food.

Having said all of that, any kind of food eaten after a solid bout of training always goes down well. One of the many advantages of Ironman training.

-k Your Medical Mind



  1. I wish I had been there!

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.