The place? The Soho branch of Whole Foods Market – that shiny, sanctimonious US bastion of bourgeois food porn – rubbing shoulders with sex shops on a damp August Wednesday.
The players? a selection of jutting-clavicled, tired-eyed digital marketers in towering Choo gladiators and yesterday’s shirt, full of espresso and ennui.
The tools? Forty gleaming containers full of the purest, wholesomest, virgin-picked produce, variously roasted, pickled, steamed and soused. And a stack of small plastic pots and lids above (oh so small).
The game? The perfect salad.
Forget eVolo’s 2011 Skyscraper Competition, now open for entries; this is the toughest architectural feat in town, and these ruthless, unbreakfasted buffet queens have mere pre-meeting minutes to cram five hours of sustenance into a £3.99 tub. The boys from logistics might be able to beat them, at a push, but they’re collecting polystyrene vats of Thai green curry from the caff down the road.
Bypass the cheap fillers straight away: tomatoes and cucumber, carrot and celery and leaves are space-stealing and water-filled. Your bottom layer calls for more energy-rich mulch such as oily courgettes and aubergines, sweet potatoes and squash. Then allow the grains – lentils; quinoa; wild black rice from somewhere guilty thousands of airmiles away –to trickle efficiently through the gaps.
Now the protein: the centrepiece. Most go for the safe option, a thick layer of salmon or tuna easily tightly packed; but sometimes a real professional hits the tofu cubes, showing off. It’s daredevil soya-Tetris, and beautiful to watch.
Finally, the bonus layer of tiny clinging stuff –alfalfa sprouts and seeds before, quickly, the lid. Watch them go. These are women versed in destroying a badly dressed underling with the tweak of a manicured brow. They know how to squash.
And ah, what thrill of achievement! what success! as they sit back at their desk and watch the improbable mountain of organic fare tumble onto a plate.
It tastes so-so.