I committed a sin recently. I admitted that I wasn’t familiar with a particular French chef. If looks could kill … you should have seen the face of my executioner. It was as if I had admitted not knowing the words to “Hatikvah” or the Pledge of Allegiance. I was dead meat.
In the professional culinary world, it’s considered gauche not to know the name and work of every single chef in the world. This is a big no-no for foodies (and I consider myself to be one – obsessed with eating, talking and writing about food). Part of playing the game is being able to throw around the names of chefs like they were your first cousins – and being totally comfortable critiquing their creations. But you know what? I’m so over it.
Are chefs equivalent to brain surgeons? Is their work so earth-shattering that we must familiarize ourselves with every little esoteric ingredient and nuance of flavor? Every time a chef discovers a new use for a lettuce leaf we should be singing his praises to high heaven? I can hardly keep up with our list of government ministers; you want me to remember cooks too? Forget it!
Let’s take E., for example – a very famous chef here in the Holy Land. Famous for once owning what was considered a top restaurant; infamous now for owing hundreds of thousands of shekels. He’s one of the stars of an Israeli cooking show, and when he opens his mouth to compliment or criticize, you just want to smack him! He can wax poetic about a simple potato. Come on, really?
I went to his “casual” restaurant in Tel Aviv recently. I was told to try the cauliflower. OK, I’m game. I tried it. It arrived on a sheet of wax paper, no plate. It tasted nice, but not at all extraordinary. When the meal was over and we asked for coffee, we were told there is none. E. doesn’t think that coffee, or soft drinks for that matter, are appropriate with this type of food, so he doesn’t offer it. Are you kidding me? What happened to appealing to the customer?
There’s another restaurant in Tel Aviv that offers molecular food. Don’t ask, because I don’t know. What I do know is that when the food arrived, I honestly couldn’t figure out what it was. From the foam, to the layers, to the architectural structure of it, I was lost – I had totally forgotten what I had ordered. And I was definitely afraid to stick my fork into it for fear of breaking the art creation.
Can’t we stop all this snobbery?
If you know the difference between vol-au-vent and choux paste, good for you. (They’re both types of pastry.) Share the info with a friend, don’t hog it. You’ve been to a great restaurant? Do tell your friends, but please, don’t preach. You hated some dining experience – fair enough – talk by all means. But don’t give lectures. There’s nothing more obnoxious than a friend telling you how awful some food was when you ate at the same place and loved it. You either feel like a complete fool because she must know better or you begin to wonder what planet she’s living on. Either way, you’re going to get a bad feeling.
And while we’re on the subject I’ll make a confession. I love junk food. There, I’ve said it. Of course, you’ll never catch me sitting at a Burger King because God forbid someone who knows me might pass by and catch me. But I’m a secret junk food junkie, and I don’t think that makes me any less of a foodie.
So … I’m on a kick to keep it honest. Food is a good place to start. Now if I could just convince everyone else around here….
Anne Kleinberg, author of Menopause in Manhattan and several cookbooks, left a cushy life in Manhattan to begin a new one in Israel. Now she’s opened a boutique bed and breakfast in her home on the golf course in Caesarea. For details, visit www.annekleinberg.com and www.casacaesarea.com.