the oliver twistian convention of begging for food ("Please, sir, may I have some more?") has never appealed to me. I'm rudely reminded why at the Windsor Arms Hotel, where Toronto's Rosedale set has turned out to mark the arrival of new chef David Adkey.
The large, picturesque dining room providing the backdrop for this lavish affair is buzzing with the kind of anticipation that only free fare can generate. Chef stations, staffed by cooks who look like teen-magazine centrefolds, are arranged beautifully across the courtyard-like setting.
But with all the manicured hands grabbing at plates, it feels more like a soup kitchen. Did these people eat at all today before they came?
The gleam of hunger in people's eyes competes with the glint of the fine silverware.
It takes only a rumour that the bar is running out of red wine -- a cataclysmic event for this set, for whom good Bordeaux is a sine qua non -- to send the freeloaders into a near frenzy.
One socialite of a certain age arrests my friend by the arm. Her partner is holding a glass of white wine to his lips. She, driven practically mad by thirst for red, demands, "Where did you get that red wine?"
I tell her we may have been the fortunate recipients of the last two glasses. She releases my friend from her clutches with a gasp.
Nothing, though, compares to the elbowing going on at the first chef station, where a green-pepper crepe dressed with a soy-sauce-based glaze is being prepared.
The chef takes the time to artfully arrange a wafer-thin crepe "squiggle" to crown each serving. The "guests," however, are in no mood to take in his culinary artistry. They start clawing and tugging at the offerings almost before he's poured a rivulet of the glaze.
We move on to the next chef, where the offering is a mouth-watering crab croquette on toast. Unfortunately, not even a crumb falls our way from the ravenous hordes, who snap up the plates as if they were logoed handbags at a Holt Renfrew end-of-season sale. These people don't stand on ceremony.
A diminutive man brusquely informs my dinner companion that we're at the wrong end of the line and should move.
Finally, just as hunger starts to gnaw at our stomachs, we find a chef's station where there's no risk of being bullied by little men. We're rewarded with sake salmon. Sublime.
But our spirits plummet back to earth when a woman walks over to our table and nonchalantly deposits her used fork and sullied plate right next to the plate from which I'm eating and blithely returns to her conversation.
A dark rage at this blatant insult boils up inside me. I contemplate returning her plate to her and telling her, "I'm full, but thanks anyway." Or offering her my used plate in exchange for hers. These gestures seem too grand.
Instead, I ask her forgiveness for interrupting her conversation and thank her for so kindly offering us her dirty plate.
Her uncomprehending frown is the same one I imagine Marie Antoinette might have worn as she uttered those infamous words, "Let them eat cake!"
Well, that's one for the proletariat.
The strange turns into the surreal when rapper Snow walks into the room with his posse. What's he doing here? Wasn't he in jail in Whitby for something?
The whole experience has left my stomach turning -- and empty. On the way home, I stop at Pizza Pizza for a bite to keep from passing out.