Nowadays, it seems like everyone is obsessed with food. But just because you own a micro planer, have eaten at Momofuku, sip cult Cabernets, vacationed in Paris and Tuscany one summer, and stock three kinds of salt in your larder, doesn’t mean you’re an expert. According to Bruni in the New York Times yesterday one commenting critic* on Grub Street NY , self-titled foodies wear a badge “of unsophisticated douchery.”
So what if you like being a foodie? Does that mean you have to put up with being called douche bag?
Not if you learn a few basic rules. It’s when self-proclaimed Foodies throw around their new found knowledge at the restaurants, bars, and gourmet stores they visit, that problems come up. Amateur gourmets just shouldn’t play in the same sandbox with professional chefs without knowing a few rules. Whether you like it or not, you’ll end up looking like a sand-throwing toddler next to the big kids in chefs whites.
- Rule #1: Amateurs shouldn’t be dictators. Feed the well of knowledge by experiencing new things.
Some Foodies approach restaurants defensively in order to maintain a tight perimeter of comfort in their small sphere of knowledge. Rather than put themselves in the hands of professionals, these amateur gourmets proclaim their expertise to friends and family and then, moments later, demand substitutions and variations to a restaurant dish’s preparation. In order to truly learn, the diner must go beyond their comfort zone and try new things. Even the most devoted connoisseur and dutiful scholar will tell you that they are but a student of their beloved subject.
Foodie Trap Alert: Self-proclaimed foodies are the last people in the world that should insist on dictating their will onto restaurants.
- Rule # 2 : Be open minded.
Every chef has their own individual perspective on the dishes they create. Traditional food may plated simply; deconstructed into textures, foams and purees; or recreated with an entirely foreign ingredients list. Food lovers may think they know lots of styles of food, but they should be open minded when approaching a new dining experience.
Take for example the diner that loves his Bolognese meat sauce with lots of tomatoes, dried pasta, and scrambled beef. Though the diner may have very much enjoyed this preparation, this does not mean they are an expert on meat sauces. Since Bolognese, a traditional meat sauce from Bologna, Italy, is a complicated sauce that frequently has varying ingredients like onion, carrot, celery, beef, pork, tomato—and sometimes milk, cream, wine, and chicken, depending on the chef’s origins—it’s important for the Bolognese-lover to be open minded to a chef’s variation on a theme. No two chefs will create the same dish the same way.
Foodie Trap Alert: The person that demands a chef prepare a dish “the right way” (i.e. their way) will be disappointed with their meal. What’s worse, they won’t learn anything or have any new experiences.
- Rule #3: Be flexible.
Though it’s not a bad thing to do your homework on restaurant you’re visiting, many Foodies hold so firmly onto recommended dishes from online chat rooms, reviews, or magazine articles they just about lose their minds when said dishes aren’t available to them. Like a captain of a rudderless boat, the Foodie feels out of control and without any means to get back on course. Just because a dish comes highly recommended doesn’t mean the rest of the restaurant’s dishes aren’t worth eating. Many restaurants have dishes that are seasonal and are based on availability of ingredients. Other equally wonderful menu items are available and ready to become the next must-have dish.
Foodie Trap Alert: If a must-have dish isn’t available, please refrain from getting upset. Dinner will not be ruined because a the missing item. The meal, however, will be ruined by the disappointed foodie and their irrational temper tantrum.
- Rule #4: Be here now.
As the number of self-proclaimed foodies increase, many people become transfixed by their own fledgling knowledge. Rather than appreciate a new experience, these foodites obsess over recreating revelatory morsels and bask in the opportunity to show off what they’ve learned.
Though that “cream cheese sushi roll” you had in Philadelphia might have rocked your world last year, do not expect to find that same specialty item at another restaurant half way across the globe. Conversely, though you may be excited about learning about Northern California’s wines, don’t lose out on the opportunity to learn something new about wine if you are in restaurant that has international influences. Though it’s easy to rely on old standbys, skip the Napa Cab and try a new varietal or little known producer from a region specific to the restaurant’s cultural influences.
Foodie Trap Alert: If you’re in a restaurant with an unfamiliar menu, try not to search the menu for “tried and true” dishes or regional dishes you recognize. Try the old standards and you’ll miss out on an opportunity to find a new favorite dish.
- Rule #5: LISTEN to your server or bartender.
Though you may disagree with some of the opinions of your server, bartender, or floor manager, it does behoove you to listen to what they have to say. Professional service staff know the food on the menu and work hard to support diners in having a great dining experience. A diner that asks questions about the menu and ignores the answer gives the staff the clear message: I am not interested in learning. I am looking to bolster my ego.
Foodie Trap Alert: Don’t ask a question to prove you know something about an item on the menu.
- Rule #6: When meeting a chef, don’t show off by telling them what (little) you know
Nothing turns a chef’s stomach faster than a person that thinks they know food better than they do. Just because you’ve eaten a great chef’s food does not make you more chef-like. It just means you’ve had more opportunities to eat out.
Since there are so many kinds of food to be discovered on this planet—with all its inhabitants, living things, microclimates, and cultures—it’s impossible to acquire a complete understanding of the subject. Surely, bravado and the insistence of mastery is a clear indicator that someone an amateur.
- Rule #7: Maybe you should reconsider calling yourself a Foodie
Just because you’ve eaten out at the top ten restaurants in your city doesn’t mean you’re worldly. Think out of the box, eat something new, and don’t be afraid to try an unfamiliar cuisine. Eat out, cook at home, and read as much as possible. Don’t be a foodie lemming that follows only the hot new trends. Otherwise, according to Bruni this Grub Street Reader “Saying you’re proud to be a foodie is like saying the only books you read are the ones Oprah tells you to.”
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