It was January in New York City and the air was so cold I could feel it hit my lungs. The sky was blue, but every sidewalk, every chimney top and every tree was coated in a thick layer of solid white. Beautiful to look at, catastrophic under foot.
In the midst of this winter Wonderland there was me, trudging in a pair of $30 boots from the Army Surplus store through the streets of Little Italy. I was on my way to meet a guy I’d heard about through another guy, who says he could sort me out with some stuff.
My poison on this occasion was Miracle Fruit. A tiny red berry originating from West Africa that contains Miraculin – a sweetness inducer that temporarily alters your taste buds so that everything bitter becomes sweet. Could this finally be the answer to my Irish boyfriends disappointment in my lack of appreciation for Guinness?? I hoped so.
I entered the building via a lift that opened directly onto the street. I wasn’t sure I had ever been in such a lift. No lobby, no entry system, no resemblance to anything familiar. Was I entering into a Wonderland all of my own?
When up to the 4th floor I entered a long, thin office with white walls and wooden floors. A young man in trainers was standing at a reception desk.
‘Is this where The Supreme Commander works?’ I asked.
Supreme sat alone at a large table in a glass room. With a huge smile from ear to ear he was slapping a machete into his left palm.
‘Why the machete?’ I couldn’t help but ask.
‘It’s my thinking machete’.
I left it there.
The Supreme Commander is the alter ego of Franz Aliquo, a 35-year-old brand development creative who hosts ‘Taste Tripping Parties’ (courtesy of Miracle Fruit) on the side of his day job. I was referred to him by a friend of mine who described him as ‘one of the only true renaissance men in this world and in a universe of people that talk the talk, he actually walks the walk’. Sounds romantic doesn’t it? You can see why the machete came as a bit of a surprise…
On the table was a small white box. I wanted to rip it open and get munching but Supreme advised me to steady myself. There were rules. He told me to sit down.
‘The fruits are packet tightly in dry ice. DO NOT touch the dry ice with your hands or you will severely hurt yourself (says he stroking a giant blade). They last no more than 20 minutes at room temperature, so only open when you are ready to go’.
‘You eat one fruit. Some people need two but one is usually enough. There is no such thing as a dud fruit, it is the person that is the problem.
‘Remove the fleshy part with your teeth and circulate it in your mouth for about a minute, covering your tongue in its juice. Spit the big pip out and swallow the fruit. Then eat a lemon. The effects should last anywhere between half an hour and 2 hours. OK, you are ready’.
I passed of my $50, tucked the white box under my arm and headed back out to the snowy streets.
Supreme had given me a list of foods that he recommended I tried. So with this in my hand and the box under my arm, I headed to the local grocery to buy the weirdest selection of foods, for what was to be the maddest tea party I had ever thrown.
Two lemons, 3 olives, one gherkin, a tiny packet of cream cheese, cheddar cheese, three cherry tomatoes, a yoghurt, a small pot of hot sauce and another of balsamic vinegar, blueberries, strawberries and the all important can of Guinness. I was ready. I headed back to our hotel room and lay it all out on the bed.
By the time my boyfriend Chris got back I was chomping at the bit. Slightly less enthusiastic about ruining his dinner, he agreed to join me in my evening of taste bud bending bonkersness. I opened the box.
Inside four wedges of polystyrene was a clear plastic bag, inside that was a big lump of dry ice and a smaller bag containing ten Miracle Fruits. They were frozen, obviously – this was frustrating. So frustrating that I didn’t bother waiting until they had defrosted before plopping one into my mouth and hurting my teeth on its coldness. Chris did the same. We rolled them around our tongues for a few seconds to warm them up before biting into them and doing just as Supreme had said. One minute later, we were ready. I cut a lemon in half and we both began to eat it like an orange. It tasted like lemon sorbet.
‘How do we know these aren’t just sweet lemons’ asked Chris, understandably skeptical.
‘When have you ever eaten a sweet lemon’?
We ate another two Miracle Fruits anyway, just in case the frozen one hadn’t worked.
Next up was a gherkin. It tasted like Canderel mixed with vinegar and was utterly revolting. I looked over to Chris who was making a face that simply said ‘just sicked up in my mouth’. This was surely proof the Miraculin was working, as one of the major connecting points in our relationship is our mutual love for pickled vegetables.
I then scooped a huge dollop of Philadelphia onto my finger – it tasted like icing. The blueberries, my favorite fruit, were almost too sickening to bear. I put a heap of wasabi directly onto my tongue and it didn’t burn at all, but I knew its strength when it hit the back of my throat and I almost choked. The cherry tomatoes were like sugar bombs, but then the olives just tasted like olives and balsamic vinegar seemed to be more sour than usual. Some of the foods that Supreme suggested tasted no different at all, and every time that happened we just reached for the lemon to make sure it wasn’t bitter. It never was.
I opened a bottle of Guinness and made sure I had Chris’ full attention. After a few loud glugs it was gone. That bitter taste of old tea bags that usually has me wincing wasn’t there. Instead it had hints of chocolate milkshake, and I could have drunk seven of them at once through a straw. If he hadn’t been aware that I’d just OD’d on Miraculan, Chris might have been rather impressed.
With our full tummies of bizarre ingredients and a healthy dose of indigestion, we went to bed. I wondered if my tongue would be its usual self by morning.
As the alarm clock sounded at 7am all I could think about was the lemon. Did the Miracle Fruit really make it taste like candy, or was it just freakishly sweet? I sunk my teeth back into it and the bitterness had my eyes flowing with tears. The Miracle Fruit had worked!
That morning we were leaving for London. I had four fruits remaining and the thought of wasting them didn’t sit comfortably with me at all, but what on earth to do with them?
I placed the white box in the center of the bed and left a little note next to it saying ‘Eat Me’.
My trip to Wonderland was over, but maybe for someone else, it was just beginning…