Tim Key: There is nothing so liberating as a pile of pineapple chunks


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The Independent Online

I've just ordered 'off menu'. I think that's the phrase I'm after. What I'm saying is, I've asked the guy for some stuff that's not written down, he's given me the nod, and now I'm sat here waiting for it. And I am feeling very, very alive.

It's the first time I've done it. I'm 37, and I'm painfully shy and hopelessly shackled to things like convention and regulations, so this is a big step for me. But a necessary one. I'd had a look at what they were offering and nothing did it for me. The closer I got to the front of the queue, the more I didn't want to eat 'Wolfgang's Egg Benedict' or 'vanilla French toast' or 'a muffin'. Nothing appealed and I felt wretched. Slumped forward, my hands clutching my knees. Tearful.

Then I spotted a pineapple.

I think it was there for juicing purposes, or possibly it was ornamental. It was certainly a majestic example of the genre, about a foot tall, including the green stuff. And, from the teeth of 'settling for scrambled eggs', I summoned up the courage to wave a hand towards the fruit and ask the guy if he would kindly "crack her open and chop her into chunks". He winked, and he frowned, and he named his price. And now I'm awaiting the golden flesh.

I think my reticence to go off-piste over the years comes from my father. Ever since I was a little boy, he's drummed it into us that a menu is there for a reason. If there's stuff on there to do with pasta and pizza, then the chances are that's the stuff these guys are comfortable cooking. They are probably Italian, and they probably thrive on cooking Italian food. What they don't want is some tool ordering a chicken saag. An experienced Italian chef wants nothing less than to be Googling recipes and fannying around looking for spinach. "Stay on menu, son," my father would say. Often quite fiercely.

My father respects a menu, almost as if it is a religious text. In fact, he won't even stray on to the specials board. He's stuck in his ways, of course; he's never worn jeans or suntan lotion and never put his car in a multi-storey car park. And a specials board appalls him. His logic – addled though it is – is that the chefs won't be on top of that stuff. The dishes on the menu are their bread and butter, what they practise on a daily basis. He doesn't want to buy into a situation where he is challenging a chef to stretch himself. He hates the idea of some guy stressing out, having to fry an artichoke and somehow incorporate truffle oil into something.

No, the menu is where you will find my father. Actively looking for the simplest dish, with the least possibility of causing panic in the kitchen.

Until now, I have been my father's son. The closest I've come to ordering off menu to date was in a pizzeria in Leeds about five years ago. I thought about bringing in a topping from one of the other pizzas on to mine. But then I imagined how appalled my father would be. How disgusted. And I pulled back. If my father were to see the egg from a Fiorentina balanced atop the hams and pineapples of a Hawaiian, he'd go ape. But now look at me.

My father won't be particularly pleased to read about these antics, but frankly I don't care. I'm feeling liberated; free. And excited. My legs are jiggling like crazy and my body is ram-jam full of adrenalin. I'm quite close to whipping off my T-shirt and standing on my chair.

I can see my chunks. They're being prepared behind some glass there. They look so succulent. And around me, a café full of dopes. Grey, conformists, nibbling their menu-food.

And now here come the chunks. And the menu-people are starting to look over at me. And they're licking their lips and staring at the chunks. And they are wondering how the hell I've done this.