Dictionary.com describes a foodie as “a person keenly interested in food, especially in eating and cooking.” Can’t we just leave it at that?
You’ve probably noticed those over-enthusiastic enthusiasts photo-documenting every aspect of their meal while blinding other diners with flash photography. Then there are the snooty one-uppers who check restaurants off their lists for bragging rights instead of the pure enjoyment of trying something new.
What about the trend-chasers smugly devouring bacon-wrapped bacon only because it’s en vogue for another five minutes? Spoiler alert: Tasty salted pig parts have always been delicious; they will be long after the hipsters move on to the next plat du jour. For the purists, food is not fashion; it’s passion.
With the focus on the taster rather than taste, sadly, “foodie” has become an increasingly pejorative label tossed around with disdain. What the critics forget, however, is that there’s still a huge contingency of us who simply and unpretentiously love food, and use “foodie” as shorthand to describe our pursuit.
No negative connotations necessary. I embrace the art of cooking and joy of dining with the same exuberance as football fans support their favorite teams, but you won’t see me painting my face and chest green, raising a giant foam pot holder and screaming “Go Asparagus!” at the top of my lungs. I will, however, do a little dance of joy when oyster season begins.
In my opinion, “foodie” implies not just an appreciation for, but also a sense of adventure about cooking and dining. It’s fun being a culinary daredevil, and although I may have more of a risk-taking palate than some of my friends, they don’t judge me for my food fascination, just as I don’t chide them for not wanting to partake in sautéed kidneys.
When they say I’m a foodie, I take it as a compliment. If you think that sounds highfalutin, I’d like to be there when you encounter people who call themselves “gourmands” and “gastronauts.” (That second one makes me laugh. I can’t get past the silly image it conjures in my overactive imagination: floating above the dining table in metallic space suits.)
Screw the labels. I don’t think “foodie” is snooty; it’s just slang. Foodies delight in discovery and all its facets — exploring, learning, sharing. To me, the sharing is crucial. I love the connection. I love the way a shared meal brings people together and wraps them in memories as sweet as peach cobbler.
Speaking of dessert, I spent a fair amount of my Labor Day weekend devouring heavenly macaroons, decadent chocolate tarts and other tempting confections at The Taste, an ambitious epicurean event hosted by the Los Angeles Times.
There were five themed events, and I tasted my way through three of them, sampling savory bites and sugary delights as I strolled the charming back lot at Paramount Studios.
During the Field to Fork program, I watched David LeFevre of Manhattan Beach Post battle Ray Garcia of FIG in a seasonal cooking challenge inspired by fresh, local ingredients while The Times’ Food Editor, Russ Parsons, provided colorful commentary. The aromas coming off the stage were fantastic. Those of us in the audience didn’t get to eat any of the finished dishes, but fortunately there were plenty of restaurants offering scrumptious tastes of L.A.
The Blvd Restaurant served free-range quail breast with chayote-jicama slaw; Tender Greens sampled a refreshing gazpacho shooter with pimentón oil and micro arugula; Scarpetta offered porchetta with smoked Brentwood corn and pickled mustard seed vinaigrette; and Wood & Vine spoiled me with chicken liver foie gras mousse accompanied by roasted peach compote.
But the award for most imaginatively delicious menu goes to Rocio’s Mole de los Dioses for cream of chapulines soup (made from grasshoppers, an Oaxacan delicacy) and zucchini blossom empanadas.
The Taste’s Cocktail Confidential was an evening celebration of cocktail culture and specialty elixirs paying homage to the city’s talented mixologists and vibrant craft cocktail scene. I showed my appreciation by sipping an exquisite 5 Points Manhattan that the gorgeous Wood & Vine bartenders concocted with applewood smoked bourbon, a Guinness stout reduction, Punt e Mes vermouth, Angostura bitters and orange. Cheers to that!
Despite the long food lines, the Labor Day Picnic portion of the festival will go down as my favorite element of The Taste thanks to one indelible experience: I met my culinary hero, Chef Thomas Keller. He’s the reason my Moules au Safron et à la Moutarde (mussels with saffron and mustard) get rave reviews; I follow his recipes and his philosophy: a great meal is an emotional experience.
Before graciously agreeing to a book-signing session, Chef Keller captivated one very happy audience with stories about the origins of the French Laundry, how he’s learned more from his failures than his successes, and what it’s like to be part of the first generation of America’s chefs. I’m forever grateful to Los Angeles Times’ The Taste for giving Angelenos access to such greatness.
Keller was insightful, eloquent and humble. “Let’s stop using the word celebrity as it relates to chefs,” he suggested. “When was the last time you called Tom Cruise a celebrity actor or Alex Rodriguez a celebrity baseball player? I always tell my chefs ‘don’t act like a celebrity.’ The best chefs keep true to the spirit of what we are—nurturers. There’s no place for ego in the kitchen.”
He had some thoughts about the F word, too. “People come to enjoy a nice meal, not brag about it. The most important decision anyone can make about going out to dinner is not the restaurant—it’s who you’re going to go with.” Leave it to Thomas Keller to put things in perspective.
Chew on that, foodie fighters. How about we lay down the skewers and just enjoy the meal? Isn’t that more important? If you don’t agree, I’m fully prepared to eat my words … as long as they’re smothered in béarnaise sauce.
Copyright © Michelle Gigon/2012 Singular Communications, LLC.