Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Food Snobs

Yesterday I tried a flax bread recipe that was truly awful. At 2 cups flax meal to 5 eggs, it was a toss-up between an overpoweringly flax challah or a really gritty omelet.

The sad part is, it didn’t have to be that bad. It could easily be done with only two eggs (enough to bind and replace the gluten) 2 teaspoons of baking powder (stop trying to thicken it using the first action of the baking powder and just use fewer eggs!) and some added herbs (Italian blend, herbes de Provence, or even an apple pie spice blend for something sweeter).

The whole experience was enough to make me think, “Did this woman even taste this before she published it?” Or maybe she did, and thought it was “good enough.”

But I don’t want “good enough” food. I want good food. And it’s all MP’s fault.

(What a strange pairing of words. It just occurred to me that it should be pronounced either “güd füd” or “gōōd fōōd,” but not the strange combination we have.)

MP cooks. I bake. I can read a recipe and know if it will work. MP can read a recipe and know when it needs to be changed. But MP has one up on me in that the spices in the cabinet talk to him. Yes, people think he’s nuts. And then they eat his food, and they shut up about it.

(For the record, I knew the flax recipe was not right when I started, but I wanted to know what the author’s original vision was. Apparently, she was hallucinating.)

Last year MP read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life and is now focused on fresh and local. (This is the only thing that could possibly have gotten him interested in my gardening, because there are spiders out there, dammit.) It really does make a flavor difference to go down to the farmer’s market and eat what was grown in your county or state. But I think more than that, MP wants to meet these people. He wants to see the face behind the squash and meet the people who feed the chicken he’s making into soup. He’s the only guy I ever heard of who goes to the butcher to “hang out.”

Some people, particularly family members, say that MP is a “food snob.” And though he wouldn’t say it outright, I think it hurts and offends him that people don’t understand.

Last week the New York Times published an article describing the necessity of guanciale -- cured, unsmoked pig jowl -- for creating a true pasta all'amatriciana. The butcher told MP that this article resulted in a spike of customers coming in to find this rare in the US product (she was proud to say that she not only carried it, but made her own).

MP asked me, “How can somebody read something in the Times and then decide they have to have this?”

“Because it’s fashionable," I replied, “It’s one-upmanship. In some circles it’s like your jewelry or car – just another way to show your status.”

MP snorted. I will not be getting a Prada handbag anytime soon. (But if I ask nicely I might get a duck confit…)

And this is what I think irritates MP about being called a food snob: to him, a food snob eats what someone else says is fashionable or worthy, then asserts his superiority over others who don’t eat the same. In short, a food snob expresses bad manners through culinary subjects. (Worst case scenario: buying expensive appliances/knives/pans to decorate the kitchen and then not knowing how to use or care for them.)

To MP, it’s very simple: Does it taste good? And “good” is many things – fresh, simply prepared, or well-composed play between flavors and textures. But it can also mean “fitting” – because miles from home there is nothing better than a beer and a cheeseburger in a dive bar for comfort, and a barbecue joint off a two-lane read that smokes pork-butt in the parking lot using hickory logs and their own Carolina sauce, but only has a “B” license, is worth a look-see.

I have sat on the floor in Grand Central Station eating street gyros with the man – he’s no snob (though I confess, the reason we were there was because the night before we’d eaten at Le Cirque, and after Berkshire pork in three cuts (cheek, belly, and tenderloin) with apple-rhubarb ravioli and a port wine reduction, plus a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, we needed something soothing to ground us in reality). Oh, he’s definitely exacting, demanding of himself when he’s trying to express one of his food visions, but he does recognize that the key ingredient of any good food is passion – the love that went into the creation of it.

Shoot. Now I’m hungry.

(And just as I set out to publish this, MP sent me an email titled “OMG it’s a Spice Weasel.” Not a Snob, but such a Geek…)

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