Alexandra Gill uncovers chefs’ remedies for the dreaded crise de foie.
The medical community would
have us believe that la crise de foie
is a mythic malady, on par with Joni Mitchell’s mysterious Morgellons disease. Experienced gourmands know better. Though this personal state of hell—triggered by overindulgence in successive rich meals irrigated by copious amounts of alcohol—might not technically be caused by an acute dysfunction of the liver, the symptoms of the idiosyncratic French sickness (interestingly, there is no analogous term in English) are very real.
The crisis begins with the typical markers of a common hangover (nausea, headache, indigestion, possible vomiting), then quickly manifests as a much more serious debilitation characterized by, but not limited to: full-body tremors, heart palpitations, numbness in the limbs (often mistaken for a stroke), swollen feet and ankles (so severe one cannot stand up, let alone walk it off ) and the dreaded fetid food sweats.
Catastrophe often strikes in the middle of a vacation or, for those working in the restaurant industry, professional development trips when there are still many fine meals to be consumed. The festive holiday season is the absolute worst time of year.
Mark Steenge, general manager of Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa in Cambridge, Ont., is all too familiar with the ill effects of work-induced gluttony. “There was a time when we went to Chicago during truffle season,” he says, shuddering. “We ate so many truffles that when I woke in the morning my room smelled of death.”
Rapid recovery is difficult, if not impossible, he explains. “It’s not like the day after a bender where you can just have a greasy breakfast and a couple of Bloody Marys with some Tylenol, followed by strong coffee and lots of water.”
No, this is a far graver incapacitation, one with potential long-term consequences.
Most in-laws will not accept “near-death by 1,000 lashes of beef, butter, cream and cognac” as an excuse for skipping Hanukkah or Christmas dinner.
Given the medical community’s unwillingness to acknowledge la crise de foie, relief will not be delivered with the simple swish of a pen across prescription pad. One could always resort to an emergency infusion from one of the newly trendy hangover clinics. But the costly intravenous treatments, which replenish the body with various vitamins and glutathione, are not exactly convenient. Should you find yourself far from a clinic, may we suggest to you a few time-tested antidotes devised by those who have suffered before us.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” advises David McMillan, co-chef/co-owner at Montreal’s Joe Beef-Liverpool House, the crime scene for untold personal crises de foie (including mine). When readying for an epic meal, his fortification recipe includes potatoes for lunch, a cup of hot water and lemon juice one hour prior to dinner and Pedialyte—lots and lots of Pedialyte, an oral electrolyte solution designed primarily for replenishing dehydrated children suffering from diarrhea.
“I buy it by the case from Costco,” McMillan enthuses, noting that many Montreal restaurants stock their fridges with the orange, green and purple elixirs. “It tastes like melted popsicles that are a bit salty.” He suggests you drink an entire 600-ml bottle four hours before dinner and another upon returning home, before retiring to bed. “It hydrates in a way that water doesn’t.”
For those who have failed to prepare, or feel nauseated at the very thought of swigging Pedialyte, Langdon Hall’s Steenge suggests a more genteel water cure. He discovered the surprisingly swift remedy on a recent trip to Charleston, S.C. “I went to a local Athletic Club and had a long steam followed by a swim and then another steam and finally a cold shower,” he explains. “I then went back to the hotel and had a very large and very dry gin martini. I was miraculously cured and ready for another evening of indulgence.”
Some swear that in such extreme cases, food should be avoided at all costs. Others maintain that nourishment is essential to recovery. But the curative sponges differ depending on which side of the country you are from. In St. John’s, N.L., nothing revives the corpse better than Jiggs dinner—a traditional Sunday meal comprising boiled salt beef accompanied by carrots, cabbage, turnips, pease pudding and potato. “It mops up everything and is kind of an overindulgence in itself,” says Jeremy Bonia, general manager and sommelier at Raymonds Restaurant, where diners can find a more refined variation in split pea ravioli drizzled with pork hock jus.
On the West Coast, however, such richness would be a recipe for additional disaster. “No oil or fat!” advises Vanessa Bourget, a holistic nutritionist and chef-owner of Vancouver’s plant-forward Exile Bistro. “Not even extra-virgin olive oil or grass-fed butter. It makes the blood more sluggish.” She suggests “tons of highly hydrating fruits and steamed vegetables” served with plain baked potatoes, rice, wholesome grains or legumes to support the liver and reboot the digestive tract, washed down with bitter herbal tinctures. “But no oil, please.”
Of course, you could always avoid extreme discomfort “by abstaining from overindulgence in the first place,” she adds. But let’s be realistic. These are the holidays. Nobody invited Scrooge to dinner.