How to Prepare for the Meal of Your Life

Six months ago you nabbed a reservation at the hottest restaurant in town. Now the meal of your life is two days away. You have to be prepared. You have to be psyched. You have to make the most of it. But how?

First, you have to be hungry. Teeth-grinding, stomach-growling, napkin-eating hungry. Lonnie Varisco, chef and headmaster at the Culinary Institute of New Orleans, says that he and his wife didn’t eat a thing the day of their hotly anticipated dinner at Emeril’s new restaurant. “It’s best to be starving when you arrive at the restaurant,” says Varisco. “Even if the food’s mediocre”—which Emeril’s wasn’t, he assures us—”you’ll love it.”

Wendy Jones, who teaches at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, recommends turning anticipation into a sublime torture. “I’d get myself excited by reading every article written about the restaurant. If I had pictures of the food, I’d even put them up on the bathroom mirror.”

But if you find yourself cranked too tight in the hours before your meal, find a way to relax. Amiram Elwork, a Philadelphia psychologist, suggests positive visualization, even when you’re stuck in traffic and in danger of missing your reservation. “Imagine yourself enjoying delicious food, being treated by the waiter as someone important. Creating those images has a biochemical effect on the brain, setting yourself up for a positive experience.”

Once you’re at the table, it’s soothing to say a little prayer, as the Hare Krishnas do to thank Lord Krishna before each meal. “It brings our consciousness to the present and makes eating a meditation and a spiritual act which nourishes the soul as well as the body,” says Jivanausadhi Dasi, who runs the Hare Krishna temple in Hartford, Connecticut.

“It helps to be hungry,” says Dr. Miles Rogish, a psychologist in York, England, “so you’ll pay attention to the details.” But hunger requires discipline, especially once you sit at the table and put your napkin in your lap. Strive for balance between your howling, primitive core—the so-called reptilian brain that signals you to lunge for the dinner rolls—and the more advanced levels of consciousness where you experience the pleasure of anticipation.

So you’ve starved yourself, tortured yourself, taken deep breaths, visualized obsequious table service, and invoked a prayer. Now it’s time to eat well. Which brings us to our final tip: Leave the sexy, tight clothes at home. Varisco, the chef from New Orleans, will don what he calls his “vacation pants” before a royal feast. Likewise, Rogish makes sure his pants are just comfy enough, “so that I can unbutton without them sliding off my ass.” Because no matter how much you’re paying for the meal of your life, you’ll no doubt be required to keep your pants on.

Illustration by Felix Sockwell