NEW YORK — Lucius Lucinius Lucullus, that old Roman rake who used to pig out on flamingo tongues, locusts marinated in honey and baron of Carthaginian boar, then reload on stuffed dormice after a trip to the vomitorium, may have been born two millennia too soon.
The real age of the gourmand apparently has just dawned in a glitter of takeout three-star restaurants, stainless steel saucepans from West Germany, gourmet shops piled high with 600 brands of cheese and 200 blends of tea, and enough high-tech home kitchen gadgetry to relegate a TV chef like Julia Child to the Stone Age.
Satisfying the whims and cravings of "foodies," also known in the trade as finger kissers, is a multibillion-dollar industry. Its ramifications range from designer bagel slicers and gourmet popcorn poppers to videocassettes of world-class chefs and an endless proliferation of cookbooks, wine and food magazines, cooking schools, chic caterers and charcuteries serving the very latest in gastronomic gratification.
One needs a computerized carte du jour to tell what is haute and what is not on the culinary scene these days. Minimalist cuisine rather than nouvelle now is considered more fine-tuned to the sensitive taste buds of modish connoisseurs of la bonne table. California and Mediterranean cuisine observe the latest uneasy truce between the dilettantes and dietitians. Southern Italian apparently is moving ahead of northern Italian, so polenta, corn meal, is out and melanzane, eggplant, is in.
Woks and waterless cooking seem to have gone off the boil lately, while guilty gourmets who counted calories and shopped for polyunsaturated sunflower oil now salve their consciences with goat cheese and spa cookery.
Since schools of redfish have been blackened almost to the point of extinction, Cajun cooking is giving way to the less flamboyant creole cuisine, although the lines still form at the door of Paul Prudhomme's K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans hours before the first chili pepper has been sauteed.
Prudhomme's discovery of blackened redfish, like the flash fire that incinerated the Chinaman's oinkery in Charles Lamb's " A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig," was one of those happy happenings that from time to time turn the culinary world upside down, and set off an occasional smoke alarm when the maitre de cuisine oversells the sizzle.
To the fervent foodie, food is an art form, as rapturous as a Giuseppe Verdi overture, as exciting and sensuous as a music hall poster by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, that Gallic gastronome who always carried his own nutmeg and a grater to flavor a proffered glass of port, as compelling conversationally as the new income tax law or the latest Trevor Nunn musical on Broadway.
On the 5:07 to Westport or East Hampton, your with-it Wall Street overachiever or unindicted arbitrageur no longer natters about the nuances of his wishbone-rigged sloop or the newest Nautilus torture device at the health club.
He, more than she, is apt to argue the heat distribution merits of a blue enameled steel Chantal double boiler, tooled in West Germany, over Caliphon's hardened aluminum model with nickel-plated cast-iron handles, both in the $75 range, or the advantages of a Le Creuset's ironwear saute pan over Bourgeat's copper bottom line or the Corning Glass entry in the lucrative pot and pan market.
Manufacturers of the new generation of food processors and multifunction mixers are now more male-oriented in their advertising, as if bearing out super chef Paul Bocuse's droll dismissal of the growing number of female executive chefs in top hotels: "Women are good for one thing and it does not take place in the kitchen."
Modern macho man definitely can stand the heat in the kitchen, but his pampered palate often requires mail-order deliveries of baby veggies from California's Monterey peninsula, black truffles flown in from Perigord, France, Vidalia onions from Georgia and genuine Seville oranges for his caneton nantais a la bigarade, a duck a l'orange dish.
If real men don't eat quiche, it's because they prefer beet ravioli with chive butter and caviar, lamb chops stuffed with rosemary, baked in filo pastry and served on a bed of two-colored sweet pepper sauces, lobster bisque Armagnac and some of the other recherche recipes preached in the gourmet gospels according to Craig Claiborne, Gael Greene and magazines like Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Food & Wine.