Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Foodie or a Food Snob?

The term Foodie means different things to different people. Some wear it as a badge of honour, others consider it code for a food snob and then there is the idea that it is just a term for someone who loves all thing food related.

The other day younger sister called me a food snob. I had said that I wouldn’t be happy eating tinned baked beans for dinner every night for the rest of my life. Since then I have spent some time thinking about it and I still refuse to accept that makes me a food snob. I need variety and simply put, I love food! While I enjoy fine dining as much as the next person but I don’t believe it is all about fine dining and am more than happy to have cheese on toast for dinner on occasion.

I accept that there is just as much merit in the array cheap eats to be found around Melbourne as at our top end restaurants, not to mention market shopping and a home cooked meals- it about quality and circumstance, that is the right quality & price for the situation. I resent paying top dollar for a middle of the road suburban restaurant that serves diner quality meals, I enjoy my local fish ‘n chip shop but I don’t want to pay as if I have had a night out at Vue de Monde. Does that make me a food snob or a discerning spender?

Watching a few reality TV food shows recently (particularly the promos for Channel 7) I have noticed a worrying thing- the rise of a bitchy competitiveness that is creeping its way into the foodie’s real world. Recently out to dinner with friends and one diner ( & new foodies convert) announced she had discovered a great new restaurant. The restaurant was not really new and the reaction was disappointing- many of our fellow diners’ just half nodded and started new conversations, some barley acknowledged her- we may as well have said “sweetie that place is so last season” and turned to walk away. The restaurant in question has been around for more than ten years but they still serve great food, it was new to her and she should have been listened to and engaged.

I heard about an uncomfortable dining experience: one diner was openly and publicly humiliated by another diner- chastising them for breaking some obscure dining etiquette from the 1800’s. The evening became one where tension was the main course rather than the enjoyment of good food, wine and of course company. We have all been out with that obnoxious person who is rude to the wait staff and it is never enjoyable. You could “shout” me dinner at elBulli or Fat Duck but if that was the environment I had to endure (poor company), I would prefer baked beans on toast - good food is nothing without good people to enjoy and share it with.

So when did the “Foodie World” become so competitive and bitchy? I thought that a love of food, being willing to try new things and having a desire to learn was all I needed to be part of the foodie movement. I believed these values tied us together. I seemed to have missed the memo explaining that I have to have eaten at all the top restaurants (both local & global), have an encyclopaedic knowledge culinary methods and obscured ingredients and that every meal (including vegemite toast) had to be a restaurant quality experience complete with plating & garnish.

The food world seems to have it own set of cool kids, with the rest of use just pressing our faces up against the glass or trying not to get noticed, so they won’t steal our lunch money. Mocking amateur enthusiasts because they made mistakes or lack knowledge is not nurturing and does nothing to entice new blood into the industry.

Professional chefs will be the first to admit they are always learning, the best ones are enthusiastic teachers who passionately share their knowledge. As an amateur enthusiast (or as one dear friend put it amateur cook but a professional eater) I refused to be intimidated by people who know more than me, rather see them as an opportunity to learn. Likewise I try not to intimidate those who can learn from me. After all the more people who love food and have that interest nurtured, the more great chefs we might get and the fewer crappy meals we will have to endure and pay for in the future....

Are you a foodie or a food snob?