“You disappoint me, Ramsay,” remarked journalist and Top Gear host James May as the chef vomited into an orange bucket. As very few will recall, Gordon Ramsay challenged May in the third season of The F Word to a contest that would determine which of the two had the largest man-parts. Following a rather uneventful partaking of snake whiskey and bull penis, the waiter brought forth the main course—shark meat. Ramsay could not stomach the Icelandic delicacy, and was reduced to cowering under May’s judgment.
I look on the award-winning so-called master chef with the same smugness. While I did not have the capital necessary to travel to Iceland and procure aged Hákarl, I was able to sample shark-fin soup—a popular dish in much of Europe and, oddly, Michigan—prepared in a rather suspicious third-floor Moscow apartment I visited over spring break.
The initial preparation process did give me pause—the ammonia-rich stench pouring out of the kitchen made even walking into Leo’s seem like strolling through a field of wildflowers in early spring. Fortunately, the smell of chicken bouillon soon joined the unappealing odor of raw man-killer slowly simmering on the Soviet-era gas stove. To the soundtrack of faint cursing and the abrasive click of the striker attempting to reignite the occasionally fading flames, my body slowly adjusted to this novel shark smell.
As I sat on the traditional Russian taburetka and stared at the bits of carrot and cucumber floating in the shark flesh-infested bowl, the odor must have begun to affect my sanity. I sprinkled some salt, pepper, and chopped parsley into the broth and took the first sip.
Those who claim that a new food tastes like chicken deserve the same fate as Jaws of The Spy Who Loved Me. Aside from being slightly fishy (no pun intended), shark is unlike anything I have ever had the misfortune of consuming. Numerous Icelandic culinary experts recommend that first-time diners plug their noses to avoid an inescapable gag reflex resulting from the smell, but since my guide was elsewhere, he did not make me aware of this suggestion. The shark assaulted my senses, rendering me incapable of sight and speech as tears briefly filled my eyes.
The shark’s taste had consumed every other ingredient in the soup. The chicken broth never had a chance, and the salt did little to alleviate the shock of what initially seemed like rotting, zombie salmon flesh. But then it was over. This first bite proved the most difficult—I finished the remainder of the dish with little effort.
Shark is certainly an acquired taste, and I have no desire to further develop it. Still, I emerged victorious from the experience. As Americans consume shark meat in the harshest and most unforgiving of environments—Russia and Detroit—Ramsay’s comparatively weak body rejects the same meal of champions in his own restaurant. Gordon, grow a pair.