I’ve always been, let’s say, finicky when it comes to what graces my dinner plate. I like a particular sort of mushroom (ugh, really can’t we just be done with button mushrooms already?), my scrambled eggs prepared just so (a touch of heavy cream please and whisked in a manner that eradicates any trace of egg white), and I spend more hours than I care to admit with my local cheesemonger selecting a divine wedge of nutty Parmigiano Reggiano. This unabashed obsession with food perfectly complements my profession as a food writer and magazine columnist, but has my profession made me a clichéd asshole?
In my defense, it takes a certain amount of egocentricity, arrogance, along with a pinch of snarkiness to write about food (and, of course, chefs) critically. Imagine the moxie it takes for someone who never uttered the words “Oui, chef!” or donned a toque to pen a piece that upbraids a chef for his decision to add fennel pollen (totally overrated) to a dish. Usually, I’m not that kind of food writer but a recent conversation with an editor went something along these lines:
“I really enjoy your writing, but…”
“Well, we’d like for your restaurant reviews to be a tad more…hmm…aggressive.”
“Aggressive? I’m confused—how so?”
“You know…aggressive. More critical—really get in there and rip the food apart.”
Rip the food apart? What am I—a T. Rex? For the record, none of the wonderful editors with whom I have long-standing relationships have ever blindly encouraged me to decimate a chef, restaurant, or a menu and I was more than annoyed by his insistence that I go full-on Pete Wells and approach this restaurant review with all the force of a heat-seeking missile. What is ironic, though, is the fact that while I may not be so scathing in writing, I have found myself becoming more and more relentless in my criticism of food and restaurants in general–even when I’m not “on the clock.”
My proof? I haven’t enjoyed a meal in three years which is, not surprisingly, how long I’ve been professionally writing about food. Read that again. Slowly.
I. Haven’t. Enjoyed. A. Meal. In. Three. Years.
Certainly I’ve dined at incredible places but it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced the kind of unbridled joy you see on a child’s face when biting into a juicy peach on a summer day. You know, the kind of let-the-juice-dribble-down-your-chin ecstasy. I’ve had great meals that warrant the highest of accolades but I find myself railing against minutiae.
This gnudi would have been so much better with a chiffonade of basil.
This Greek yogurt is far too grainy–what a textural disappointment.
The seared pork belly could have stood a minute or two more in the pan. There’s nothing worse than flaccid pork. (Yes, I’m well aware of the sexual innuendo.)
These are all things that have escaped my far-too-critical mouth while leisurely dining out in the past few months and I fear that I have morphed into the kind of food writer who is so entrenched in her work that simple culinary pleasures like enjoying a damn meal elude me. It doesn’t help that most of my friends work in the culinary industry and, believe me, there’s nothing worse than a group of food pros dissecting every morsel of food or wondering what nearby farm the produce came from. It’s exhausting and counterproductive to everything a good meal is supposed to be.
In a world where 1 out of 5 children struggles with hunger*, it may sound like the mother of all first-world problems but it is a constant struggle to stop engaging in what I call “food scorn” and start enjoying (and being grateful for) what’s on my plate. Maybe it’s time to stop and smell the roses or, in my case, taste them.
* According to statistical reports from national organization No Kid Hungry