Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Food Directives From The Ridiculous To The Inane

Frank Bruni, in this Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times, reports being told one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. He was dining at a New York City restaurant with a pricey, multi-coursed menu.

Bruni was served a specter of different (savory?!!) flavored waters with the waiter suggesting that he “make a memory of them.” You HAVE to be kidding me!

Never mind that Bruni described the drinks as “pond runoff” or that they were served lukewarm, which would make a bad situation even more dire, but the worst thing, it seems to me, is that the kitchen wasted so much time actually coming up with and THEN executing this dumb idea.

Bruni writes about all the crazy ways that food is served and the hoops you have to jump through to eat your meal the way the kitchen advises (commands) you to.

Didn’t this all start with molecular gastronomy with the chef telling diners that they had to eat the CO2 frozen shrimp eyeball BEFORE the Mississippi mud foam? Shouldn’t we worry about food that needs such explicit instructions to be palatable?

The only thing I disagree with Bruni about is THIS (although it is guffaw-inducing):
"Diners at the latest hot bistro or trattoria snap loving pictures of everything they eat, seeming to forget that it’s dinner, not “America’s Next Top Chicken Breast.” In New York, even the meatballs have paparazzi."
I’m a visual learner and, when I’m not reading the culinary literary greats, I personally prefer to read about food that I can see. (Of course, one of those exceptions was reading Frank Bruni’s reviews in the NY Times).

As far as tutelage in the WAY to eat, though, people don't need their hands held as they make their way through a menu.

Actually, the only time I think a diner needs instruction is when he or she is one of those people who has to eat one thing at a time and who segregates each item from its neighbor. They have a conniption if different foods meet on the plate. It doesn't matter that it all meets in the stomach, but on the plate, NEVER! Those are the people who need guidance...but from a different kind of professional, not the ones wearing a chef’s hat.

Hold on, Nellie! I just remembered the cheese sandwiches I ate as a kid. The cheese was never allowed to touch the bread. OMG! I’m one of them! I grew out of that long ago, but what possible reason could I have had for doing that? Maybe I just intrinsically knew that the (individually wrapped) cheese (food slices) would taste better when surrounded by turkey. Who knows?

But, really, are the chefs, who issue strict rules about how their food is to be eaten any different from the sick puppies who have to eat things in a specific order? Aren’t they both exhibiting the same desire to have some control over the often chaotic environment of modern life?

And does a fancy chef explaining WHY, WHEN and HOW you have to eat something make it any easier to bear? I personally have a bit of a rebel streak, so if someone tells me to eat something in a specific order, I’m more than likely to do the exact reverse. AND I would never stand for lukewarm water, from a pond or anywhere else.


Sheila said...

Savory water? Lukewarm or tepid savory water? That doesn't help my morning sickness - just thinking about it!

I don't like it when I get smirks from the waiters about my choice of wine with my course. I know that certain wines pair well with food. But sometimes I just like to drink what I like! Because what I like will generally taste good no matter what I'm eating.

Wine. Sigh. That sounds good.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I can't say I have ever been told how to eat certain foods in restaurants, but then again, I don't eat at places where the bill is $245 per person before drinks and tips. Heck I'm not sure I've eaten at places where it's thta much after drinks and tips! Sounds like being poor has its advantages!

He must not like food bloggers if he doesn't like people photographing their meals to enjoy their memories of him. As I sit composing my blog about my Italy trip and savor each culinary memory, I am bound to tell Frank Bruni where to stuff it!

Sue said...

Don't even think about that water in your delicate state. Who knows what could happen?

It was the coffee that always got me. That was SO hard to give up.

Waiters shouldn't smirk at anything...while you can still see them. I imagine there's probably tons of stuff to make fun of, but I just don't want to know about it.

Ahem, maybe you don’t go to $245 restaurants, but not all of us go to Italy and stay in villas and ride horses! (Even if I won the lottery, that wouldn’t be enough money to get me on a horse. I’d be happy to pet one, though.)

I imagine what Frank Bruni meant about all the picture-taking is that sometimes you lose the momentary sensation of the food if you’re concentrating on taking a picture. But, for me, it’s easier to recall how great a dish WAS (or wasn’t) when I can see it. Also, I know people like reading about restaurants and recipes more when they can see a photo.

Plus, let’s face it, it’s easier to MAKE MEMORIES when you have a picture.

Anonymous said...

I must admit that as someone who has sat in a small dining room with people taking photos of their food, the flash was a distraction from the lovely atmosphere. Especially when three or photos of each dish had to be taken to get it just right. (Usually you have some warning if people are taking group photos nearby, and while that's also annoying it's a bit more tolerable.) I've only taken food photos once at a restaurant, and that's because the dish was so beautiful I couldn't help myself. And Cy and I were the only people in the restaurant at the time.

Sheila, if you get smirks from a waiter about the wine you order, change your mind on the spot and drink water instead. Save yourself the horrible markup and decrease the tipping base all at once, while letting the server know it's because of his or her attitude.

Sue said...

You will be so happy to know that I (almost) never use a flash when I'm taking pictures in a restaurant. I know that can be annoying.

By the way, at Le Bernardin, where I did feel incredibly sheepish about pulling out my camera, the table next to us had the sommelier taking a million pictures of THEM...WITH the flash, so it left me feeling better about my (non-flash) picture-taking.

I love that advice to Sheila. I wish she (and everyone) could take you to restaurants with them.

Anonymous said...

I take offense at your statement that I need therapy because I don't like my food mixing! Your logic (used on me - rather angrily - by my grandfather when I was a kid) that it all meets in the stomach is faulty because, as I explained (rather angrily) to my grandfather when I was a kid, I do not have to TASTE it mixing in my stomach.

I generally do eat each course, even if it's on the same plate, separately (I'm better at putting more than one thing on my plate at a time, but I still don't do it all the time). But I also eat certain foods layer by layer - like lasagna, or cake. I do try to not do it in public though!

Sue said...

Let's see how deep your psychosis goes...how do you eat 7 layer dip? What would you do with a bagel with lox and cream cheese? And does a stir fry with the different ingredients all tangled up together make you want to pull your hair out? Does this apply to Pie a la mode? Baked Alaska? Cheese and Crackers even?!!

Abandoned By Wolves said...

Well, I once took a picture of an omelet (and put it on my blog), but it was at a breakfast place in Shelby, Michigan, cost $4.95 and was the single best omelet I'd ever eaten my life. (I'd come back to the place just to have one after trying a bite from the one my wife ordered the previous morning.)

But that's probably not the same thing.

BTW, people at other tables looked at me quizzically while I used my smartphone camera to take the picture, and the proprietor also seemed mildly amused.

Sue said...

Hiya James,
The folks at the Dutch Pancake Cafe didn't look twice when I took pictures. AND I even had to stand up and back away to get the entire 12 inch pancake in the picture.

If someone took pictures of MY food, I would be very flattered. Oh well. No one has whipped out his or her camera at my table yet, (except me, of course, oh, and Taste like Home's Cynthia, but since I made HER cook when she visited, that doesn't count).

Emily said...

Wait, how can you have a cheese sandwich without the cheese touching the bread?

Did you eat the cheese first? You couldn't have the cheese melted?

Sue said...

Y'know, Em, you're right. I meant to say the cheese couldn't touch the bread in my BOLOGNA AND cheese sandwiches. It had to be protected from the bread by the bologna. I never had an all-cheese sandwich as a kid for that very reason. And, of course, my cheese/bread prohibition didn't include a grilled cheese sandwich, which was a complete horse of a different color.