ColumnGood food doesn’t have to be pretentious.
It has happened again. You’re surrounded by smoke-infused drinks in mason jars and salads with shaved fennel, all paired with a group of friends that can’t stop raving about the local biodynamic wine they serve at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that you’re all so lucky to have discovered before the rest of the city does. You’re in foodie central and there’s no escape. Fortunately the beet and goat cheese salad is delicious. “Can I have another one of those cocktails with the cardamom bitters?” you ask the waiter, fully embracing a semi-cliche role that feels like it’s straight out of a Portlandia episode.
Write a food column and people immediately make certain assumptions about your eating habits.
“Well, I mean, I doubt you’ll be writing about this,” one friend prefaced with self deprecation before serving up a homemade dinner that was quite frankly better than anything I had made that week. “You want me to choose the restaurant? Oh god, that’s so much pressure,” another responded.
Here’s a little known secret: despite my love for the aforementioned cocktail with cardamom bitters and an obsession with any kind of dark chocolate and sea salt combination, most days it’s bowls of quinoa and kale, and on other days, some tacos. Fine, there’s some homemade kombucha thrown in there for good measure (I have to keep up these Foodie Underground standards somehow) but ultimately I just want good food and, despite what my friends think, it doesn’t matter if it’s served with a drizzle of truffle oil or not.
In the aftermath of the Paula Deen diabetes debacle, Frank Bruni wrote an article in The New York Times analyzing what chefs “really” eat. It was mostly focused on the austere ability of people in the food world to stick to healthy plates and portions, even if what they’re known for are gourmet delights. “Especially during my five years as a restaurant critic, I ate with many of them — and can assure you that people in the food industry are among the least likely to clean their plates,” wrote Bruni.
There is something to that statement. On an everyday basis, food isn’t meant to be consumed in crazy proportions. Food media would have us believe otherwise, making it seem like decadent meals are the norm on every table, and if you’re not aspiring to culinary greatness, something must be wrong with you. Why do you think cookbooks do so well? We’re seduced by the idea of complex dishes and exotic ingredients.
This is all well and good. Once in a while. But we must eat everyday, and if there’s one thing about food, it’s that it should always be enjoyed, and that can be done just as easily with a bowl of quinoa and kale as it can with a luxurious spread of foods with French names.
The same idea can be applied to the overdose of foodie elements. In the ultimate search to one-up each other, the food world, and in turn foodies, have gotten so caught up in the minute details, like crazy emulsions and how much coriander they can infuse into a sauce, that we risk losing track of the bigger picture. We all need to eat – every single day in fact – so what happened to the beauty of the simple meal?
This weekend I found myself hanging out in the New York City kitchen of Johanna Kindvall, my fellow Swedish foodie partner in crime. We were talking about food writing and about some of our work on EcoSalon. “But my recipes aren’t even healthy,” Johanna laughed, as she put a pan full of root vegetables and rosemary into the oven. What she meant was, she uses a lot of butter and eggs, which in a society on omega-3 and low fat overdrive can at first glance come off as seemingly unhealthy.
Her unintended irony was not lost on me. Here is a woman that loves good food and she was worried that her recipes weren’t healthy enough. Why? Because they didn’t involve a tablespoon of flax and chia at every turn? This is just like my friends prefacing a dinner with, “Well it’s only [insert really good, homemade dish here]…” Just because you’re not pureeing kohlrabi and parsnips doesn’t mean you’re not putting good food on the table. If it’s made with good ingredients and you enjoyed cooking it, you’re just as much a “foodie” as the next person.
The food world is full of assumptions. If you’re a foodie you must be a snob. If you’re eating a fancy meal, you must have a bank account to back it up. If you’re not vegan, you don’t care about the environment. If you spend a weekend trying to perfect a Swedish recipe for almond cakes, you’re never going to settle for a regular batch of homemade brownies. When it comes down to it, eating should simply be about food for food’s sake. Not what you sprinkle on top or what you serve it in, but essential ingredients that are good for you. Is that so elitist?
I am reminded of last month’s issue of Bon Appetit, where there was a spread on three classic recipes every cook should know. The article pointed out that you can tell a good cook by the simple things: how they beat their eggs, their methods of measuring and pouring, and what kind of a salad dressing they can whip up at the drop of a hat. Ultimately, it really is all about simplicity. Just like the chefs and food editors who know what they need to eat to stay healthy, excellent food, at its very core is about good ingredients in good proportions.
Ask yourself this: are you adding anise to your scones because that’s the cool new thing to do? Who cares? Does it taste good? Yes. There’s your reason. The same goes for fennel, dill, cardamom, artisanal goat cheese, wrapping things in bacon and all those other things that have come to be snarkily equated with foodie-ism. If it tastes good, eat it, not because some food blog told you to do so – except for maybe this one of course.
Combining olive oil and sea salt in a cake certainly gets me some eyebrow raises and the occasional “of course you put those ingredients in a cake,” comment, but it’s also one of the easiest things I know how to make. Good food that impresses and is almost easier than something out of a box? There’s nothing better.
Well, except a cardamom bitter cocktail.
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.
Images: Anna Brones