Light Lunch of Fear

No pastry poses a more fundamental threat to American masculinity than the quiche. This thanks to one Mr. Bruce Feirstein whose 1982 book on the subject made every quiche-loving man subject to cheap cracks and jibes, the dining equivalent of the guy who showers in his shorts after basketball practice.

But then it’s unfair to blame a single humor writer for the fall of one of the great Anglo-French food icons. The same quiche that was the toast of the 1958 Manhattan dining scene was being unceremoniously pitched out the door twenty years later, like a drunken party crasher who won’t stop singing Thank Heaven for Little Girls in a bad Maurice Chevalier accent.

Quiche’s crime? For the real men it was the fact that it was mostly meatless. This at a time when the nation still saw dinner as something with four legs attached. For the food fashionistas, the only thing the quiche ever did was get popular.

And was it ever popular in the late 70’s — but for all the wrong reasons. Bored with traditional varieties, chefs of the day stopped seeing quiche as the minimalist delight it was intended to be, and came to regard it as a kind of culinary tabula rasa, an empty medium into which they could pour any crazy culinary fancy. And so it went: four-cheese quiches, Mexican quiches, succotash quiches, cheeseburger quiches, even cinnamon-apple-raisin dessert quiches. Soon there was an ingredient-choked quiche for every day of the week, every month of the year. Before long you couldn’t tell where the fillings ended and the custard began.

And, in the end, when the poor quiche couldn’t hold one more slice of pepperoni or morsel of General Tsao’s Chicken, it quietly receded from the American dining scene and bought a cheap ticket back to France, where it could still find gigs in bus stop bistros and corner take-out joints. It has resided there to this day, making only occasional appearances on American appetizer tables and in breakfast buffets. Indeed, the story of the quiche is a sad one, yet hope still remains, as long as there are a few professional women still interested in a filling yet carb-light lunch item for under 300 calories.

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