Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Food Writers

I always get mixed emotions when reading certain food writers.

Background: I got a wild hair and decided to start reading through as many titles on the Recommended Reading List for the Le Cordon Bleu Graduate Program in Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide in Australia. I'm kind of a geek that way. I'm starting with It Must Have Been Something I Ate, by Jeffery Steingarten, mostly because I got it on sale at Barnes and Noble. Next up is The Philospher in the Kitchen by that wacky French foodie of yesteryear, Brillat-Savarin. Anthony Bourdain has not yet made it to the list. I await the day when Adelaide realizes their folley and adds Bourdain to the list. But I digress.

I may have mentioned before some of the feelings I get when I read Bourdain. There's a little of me thinking, "I know what you mean man, I totally understand", which is usually followed by, "am I high? Of course I don't know! My experience is nothing compared to him!" And occassionally, I realize that had I gone to elementary school with Bourdain, he probably would have beat me up a lot.

Back to Steingarten. I just finished reading his "Cast Party" article, which tells the story of his self-imposed home confinement, following a nasty fall and a fractured fibula. It was kind of like a "Day in the Life of a Food Critic" that lasted a couple of weeks. As I read this chapter, I realized a few things, many of which I realize every time I experience his work. For example, I realized that he is a snob. I mean, he's really a snob. Some people might see this as a bad thing. For me, it's a relief. I can be a snob sometimes too, but I don't think I'm ever as much of a snob as he is. At least not yet. And then I realize that not only is he a snob, he's a well-educated snob that knows what he's talking about. This man has earned his snobbery. I'm not kidding when I say that he's eaten everything. For details, refer to his landmark release, The Man Who Ate Everything (also on the recommended reading list).

And then I think about my own experiences. I went to cooking school for about a year. I tried out a number of dishes, from foie gras (creamy, savory, actually quite good if you can afford it) to cow's tongue (the texture leaves a little bit to be desired, IMHO). I worked in the school's restaurant a couple of times and a local steakhouse, and then embarked on an externship to the bakery at the Deer Valley Resort, where the pastry chefs there whipped me into shape and made me almost useful in the bakery by the end of the season. Then I left the professional culinary world (except for the occassional catering foray) and started playing with computers again. I don't cook every day anymore, but I still try to play with new recipes and culinary experiences as often as possible.

So I guess I haven't earned as much of a right to critique food as Steingarten, but I guess I've earned some. Certainly more than most. And while my eyes occassionally pop when I read his works, it's still nice. He has a way of making me feel better about things. I don't know how that works. He could run circles around me, but that's okay. He knows his stuff.

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