The Foodie Spectrum

I feel comfortable calling myself a foodie because of the way I define the word “foodie,” and it’s this: Someone who considers food one of life’s great pleasures and someone who thinks* about what she is cooking and eating.

Salmon in Lemon Brodetto with Pea Puree 

(one of my favorites)

The lowly, Food Networky Giada de Laurentis combines 3 fairly simple components to create a dish with an amazing balance of flavors.

This issue reared its ugly head recently because of a link I found lurking at this unsavory place. I actually think Bruni raises a good point about unseemly food snobbery, but in doing so manages to indulge in a little snobbery of his own.

See, in the column, Bruni lumps Paula Deen and Sandra Lee (a woman I detest) in with the Food Network Kitchens and Rachel Ray. This is a mistake.

While I would agree that all four of these recipe resources focus mainly on fairly simple recipes that are appropriate to whip up for a family on a weeknight, but the similarities end there. Full disclosure: I have nothing against Paula Deen. I’m a Southerner and I enjoy Southern cooking, however her show really just isn’t for me. I don’t consider the fare particularly sophisticated and obviously I don’t consider a lot of it nutritionally sound. Sandra Lee, on the other hand, relies far too much on processed ingredients and focuses on making singularly unsophisticated food, all while wearing a dimwitted smile on her Botoxed face and referring to herself as “Aunt Sand.”

Meanwhile, the Food Network Kitchens introduced me to this recipe, which while being extraordinarily healthy, is also unbelievably tasty and even pleasing to the eye. Rachel Ray–if you know anything about her at all (and I’m guessing most of her critics do not)–focuses a lot on recipes that are considered time-honored classics. Some of  them are treasured peasant food like any number of Mediterranean soups and stews (such as Ratatouille and Menestra) and some of them are the   anachronistic French classics that have all but disappeared from restaurant menus here in the States (like Coq Au Vin or Bouillabaisse). Many of these take hours (even days) to complete. What Rachel does is update and streamline these recipes to make them more health-conscious and easier to prepare in her self-imposed 30-minute time constraint. (Never once have I made a Rachel Ray recipe that only took 30 minutes to make, which is fine with me.) This means sometimes transforming a braise into a casserole or a stew. Are stews and casseroles as sophisticated as a braise? Probably not. But I’d rather have people eating Rachel’s veggie-infused updates than something they pulled out of their freezer or plopped out of a can.

A few years back, I made a salad. It was something I created on the fly because I craved something tasty and healthy. I thinly sliced some leftover steak and added it to a salad composed of romaine, parsley, tomato wedges, red onions and blanched sugar snap peas. I dressed all this with a simple red wine vinaigrette.  Hardly difficult, hardly exotic, but–I thought–rather clever. It was amazingly delicious.

Which brings me to my point about unseemly food snobbery. See, like music, I feel like good food snobbery is an opportunity to bring people in. “Hey, this is amazing–try it.” “Hey, this song is amazing–listen to it!” But I feel many approach food–and, yes, music– as an opportunity to exclude. That’s bad and silly snobbery, people. 

How does one exclude? Well, you could do it the way this guy did. He wrote a book about salads–which I regrettably bought–then demanded that people use ingredients like fresh hearts of palm. Um, where exactly does one procure fresh hearts of palm? Why don’t I just add a dash of Pink Fairy Armadillo sperm and soupcon of Unicorn blood while I’m at it? I’m not normally one to balk at an exotic–a qualifier always up for debate–ingredient, but come the fuck on.  I’ll stick with my steak and sugar snap pea salad, thanks.

You also exclude by demanding that food be difficult. Or the ingredients esoteric. You know what food should be? Nourishing and tasty. I make nourishing and tasty food. I have an amazing palate.  I am a foodie.

*In other words, I care greatly about my ingredients, I am pretty familiar with preferred or “professional” cooking techniques, I am confident in the kitchen, I have great knife skills,  I am obsessed with having the proper cooking implements,  I care greatly about how my food tastes, I avoid processed foods as much as possible, and I also try to avoid foods with trans fats, hydrogenated oils and preservatives. Obviously, I am not a slave to this effort, but I certainly try, and probably a great deal more than the average American.


23 thoughts on “The Foodie Spectrum

  1. First rule of cooking is that you cook with love: you're putting a bit of yourself in there for everyone else to taste.Second rule is that it should look good, or at least attractive. Not saying that you can cover up the basically foul taste of raw pig's rectum by sticking thin slices on a few artistically arranged bits of mango with a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar, but it will help. Food is for the eyes too.Then use fresh and seasonal ingredients: it'll taste a bloody sight nicer and winds up costing you less in the long run. Quality can be cheaper.Never be afraid to adapt and experiment. Personally I have no larks' tongues in the pantry, so I do without. No strawberries to go in the berry cake? Nectarines are good. If we never experimented we'd still be eating barbecued mastodon slices, without ketchup.I've bitched at length about French food going down the tubes: rather than buying a fresh lettuce with flavour for a euro at the market, supermarket trolleys are full of plastic sachets of ready-torn "mixed salad" under nitrogen that have been sitting on the shelves for a week.That's crap, and a waste of money, and there's neither reason nor excuse for it.Which does not make me a food snob, and I don't think I'm a foodie either because I'm not sure exactly what that means: I am someone who lives to eat, who loves good food and good company, and I'm willing to put the time necessary into it.Also, you should never get me talking about cooking. It's a really quick way to stop a party. ("Excuse me, I have a really heavy period coming on …")

  2. Second rule is that it should look good, or at least attractive. This actually matters very little to me, though I expect restaurant food to be attractive. rather than buying a fresh lettuce with flavour for a euro at the market, supermarket trolleys are full of plastic sachets of ready-torn "mixed salad" under nitrogen that have been sitting on the shelves for a week.I confess to using pre-washed romaine hearts. They're a great convenience. I'm willing to put the time necessary into it.I guess I'm someone who believes even quick and simple can be terrific.

  3. Not saying it has to take a long time, depends what you're cooking. But if I feel like making something that I know will take me three or four hours, I'll take the time. But yes, quick and simple can be great. I love eggs benedict. Or a good hamburger.Come to that, I think it was one of the Troisgros brothers who confessed that what he really liked to cook when he had friends round was mashed potatoes and sausages. Mind you, the garlic, cheese and cream he stuck in the potatoes was a definite step up from the average.And I still think fresh is best, especially vegetables. I have to admit that if I don't have a rougette in the fridge I'd rather go without salad. Maybe I am a food snob after all.

  4. I'll hate myself, but I must say,I can't hate on Rachel Ray.I think I can cook better than she can, but, if she convinces young people that they can cook reasonably inexpensive, reasonably good, reasonably healthy food themselves, she's doing good work. My one beef with her is that she seems to be uncomfortable with the size of her ass. She always seems to cut to a different camera angle when she squats to remove something from the oven, and that's just wrong… why can't her show be "30 Minute Meals with Gratuitous Ass Shots"? Huh? She's spot on about washing vegetables after you buy them, in order to cut down on prep time later.

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