I enjoy food quite a bit. I would hope so considering I’ve been working intimately with it for a good few years now. It’s also a safe generalization that I have worked around very good food, very closely for a good few years now. And because of this, I have started forgetting the novelty of new and fancy food. The glamour is gone. Nicer, finer things altogether have lost their significance to me. I’m growing too accustomed to it. I have begun to wonder: Am I a spoiled brat?
THE CASE FOR “YES”
It has been a growing concern of mine. It started with my good friend, Jennifer. She is allergic to…
Think about that for a minute if you will.
It’s mind-blowing and disheartening. On top of that she came from a very culinarily humdrum background. “Meat n’ potatos,” she always says. She is my culinary negative. She is also, therefore, the perfect person to show me a few things about myself. I have lost count of how many times I’ve caught myself saying to her, “You just haven’t had it cooked right,” or, “you’re eating that all wrong.” Through her I began to realize I had a quite narrow standard of how people should eat and how food should be prepared.
It happened with my family as well. I made a trip to my home town for Thanksgiving, and was greeted warmly by my family. My dog was given treats and my mom pointed out the brownies she’d made just for me.
Then my dad offered me a beer which I declined because it was Bud Light. My mom offered me some wine, but it was pretty cheap and reminded me of Crystal Light so I let her finish my glass. Then my dad said he would be making gumbo for the weekend. I was thrilled to have my parents’ cooking again but when I saw him, a former chef, reach for a jarred, pre-made roux I was crushed.
All I could think was, “You’re doing it wrong!” I made challah rolls from scratch for them and they brought store-bought bread for sandwiches. When my mom tried the bottle of wine I brought she thought it was delicious, but told me later that (at under $15.00 for a bottle) it was too pricey for her taste. Knowing her fondness for cheese I took her to the Whole Foods Mothership in Austin some time ago and put before her a cornucopia of varying fine cheeses. She smiled quaintly and picked out a little hunk of Pepper Jack.
It should also be noted that no food in any restaurant has really impressed me in some time. I’ve seen so many things done so well for so long I now expect my service to be perfect, my food well seasoned and my money well spent. If there were ever any errors I used to tell servers, “Hey, I work in restaurants. Don’t worry about it. I get it.” Not anymore. Now I think, hey, I work in restaurants. I know how it’s supposed to be, get it right. If my meat isn’t cooked the temperature I asked it to be, you’re doing it again. If your so-called “ailoi” tastes exactly like Sysco Kraft mayo, it probably is and I don’t want it. I went to a tapas place in Shreveport – Shreveport of all places has tapas now – and the first thing I noticed was that they misspelled creme fraiche on their menu. For as loud as I scoffed I should have been wearing a scarf and eye-liner.
As was tradition at The Good Knight, I blamed Justin. It started with him. One night I sliced a piece of baguette to gnaw on because I was hungry. Justin saw me, and slapped it out of my hand. He then sliced another piece, toasted it lightly over the grill, and smeared it all over a skillet that had just been used for our haricot verts; soaking up every bit he could of emulsified white wine, butter, garlic, shallot, salt and pepper. He sternly handed it back to me and said, “If you’re gonna snack, snack right.” If I wasn’t spoiled before by having a chef for a father, I was then. That was the beginning of the refinement of my palate. It was the planting of the seeds of snobbery.
The more I pondered my “Spoiled or Not” status the only answer I could find was not only, “Yes”, but, “Yes, and by the way you’re a huge a-hole.”
THE CASE FOR “NO”
As the days went on I continued to contemplate whether or not I should start wearing suits to lunch, swapping Nine Inch Nails tickets for a matinee of Les Misérables, using hair gel and buying ludicrous amounts of truffle oil. Then I had a happy revelation: None of those things sounded like good ideas to me! I considered myself a bit like Hannibal Lecter in that questioning my sanity only verified it -minus the whole eating people thing. If I was worried and self-conscious about being a snob, I must not be, right?
I thought a little harder about my dad’s canned roux. He was a chef for about a decade, and is still up-to-date with trends due to his current job as a food sales representative. He’s done it before. He’s over it. He knows how to make a roux; he’s done it a thousand times. Like me, he doesn’t feel like bothering with parts of the process he doesn’t have to so why not buy a perfectly good, already-made substitute? My mom and my friend, Jennifer don’t carry my taste buds around with them all day, so why should I care what they like and don’t like? I might acknowledge that, yes, it is a standard that certain foods they sample could be done better or of higher quality, but if they’re enjoying it as it is, isn’t that the point?
The fire to my theory that there may still be hope for my lack of overall douchebaggery was further fueled by a few nights spent out at restaurants. There, other people told me how to eat, and I didn’t like it. I went to a bar, also a tapas place, here in New Orleans with my vegetarian brother. We each ordered something for ourselves but my brother’s food didn’t arrive until almost twenty minutes after mine. The chef, himself, happened to bring it out to us and expressed his surprised and disappointment that we hadn’t yet eaten anything. He asked, “Did you not like it?” “No,” I said, “I was waiting for my brother’s food to come out.” “Oh. I thought you could share, you know? I was trying to give you time to savor the flavor.”
Savor the flavor? “My brother’s a vegetarian,” I said. We’re not sharing anything.” I didn’t expect for snack food at a bar to be coursed out, but it shouldn’t have surprised me after I saw the chef in his black jacket with his driver’s cap and trendy tattoos. Maybe I just need to avoid tapas places.
But it happened again at a humble neighborhood eatery. I went with Jennifer who prefers her meat burnt to an ashy, flavorless crisp. When she asked the server to have her steak well done the server said no! She said they just didn’t do well done there because it makes the meat taste like a shoe. “That’s fine,” I told her. “She likes shoe.” But the server continued to refuse. I’d never been told “No” at a restaurant to such an easy request and for such an egotistical reason. These were the snobs. Not me.
I think it’s impossible for me to be completely haughty and jaded. I like food too much. Just the other day a few guys at work were talking breakfast food. They were seeking a preference: Hash browns, or home fries? I wasn’t really paying attention because I was working, but when I was asked I replied, “Dude, I just like potatoes.” Then they tossed around their favorite ways to cook eggs. “Poached,” said one. “I can’t do runny,” from another. “They have to be scrambled.” When they decided to include my opinion I said, “I don’t care, I just like eggs.”
I can’t be spoiled because I truly detest waste. (Here comes the soapbox) I view food as fuel before anything else. It has been said that hunger is the best spice, and when I’m hungry I will eat anything. When I’m in a hurry before work I will toast a slice of bread, put nothing on it and run out the door with my hands full and the bread hanging out of my mouth. Anyone who asks me to cook them breakfast during my morning shift is getting super-fast, burnt scrambled eggs. You’re hungry? Eat. I have other things to do. Don’t like it? You’re not really hungry. I think being picky and choosy is a luxury many people overlook. Every time I see fancy garnish and sexy presentation I think about how people are starving and here, we’re playing with our food.
THE CASE FOR “KINDA”
I’ll say I’m not a snob, but I may be a little spoiled. There are certain things on which I will not settle. For starters, Mexican food. Living in Texas for two years ruined any chance I’ll ever have at enjoying poorly made, imitation Mexican food ever again. It was completely worth learning Spanish just to be able to order food in the places that couldn’t serve you in English, but now I’m ruined.
I can’t settle on alcohol because I don’t drink enough. I think booze is too expensive in general so when a lightweight like me feels nothing after one drink, I feel gypped. If I do drink, I want to taste it, and to feel it. I don’t want to spend fifteen bucks on cheap drinks that don’t taste good just to get a buzz. I guess that’s why I like whiskey. It’s to-the-point.
I will also never settle on sushi, sashimi or anything raw. This is mostly because I don’t want to either eat something that tastes like it’ll kill me, or eat something that will kill me. Consider the costs of fueling and manning the ships that bring dead fish thousands of miles to your town, then consider why the Filet o’ Fish is only a dollar.
“Spoiled” is just a bad word for “educated”. It is a direct effect of my environment for the last decade or so. I think I’m like my uncle. He lives in little ol’ Stonewall, Louisiana and is also a sommelier. He is a fishin’, huntin’ redneck with a German shephard named Emmy-Lou and a daughter with her own pet raccoon. But he also knows his wines and parings better than I ever will, and there isn’t a prideful bone in his body. He just happens to work in a setting that has fostered a vast knowledge of something that could be viewed as snooty.
As with everything else in the cook’s life, I take the good with the bad. We’re not brats. We just think we’re right all the time and it’s easier for us to impress people.