Jennifer Wolfe is the Supervising Producer of the CNN Entertainment Unit. She previously reported on the outing of Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila.
A good friend of mine from Atlanta is a former pastry chef turned attorney. Clancy and I frequently talk food. We also cook together and when it comes to the culture of the restaurant kitchen, I lean on her for guidance. As a hardened veteran, Clancy doesn’t blush at colorful language, so I was a bit surprised when she blanched at the “F” word.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because chefs HATE foodies!” she said emphatically.
I thought that was a pretty strong assertion, “Really? Chefs hate foodies?”
According to Merriam-Webster, a foodie is “a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads” - which sounds fairly benign to me.
I asked Clancy to elaborate on what so strongly aggravates her about foodies. She explained, "Many seem to have the 'Emperor's New Clothes' syndrome. Whatever the current trend says is fabulous MUST be fabulous!”
She continued, “Foodies will flat-out drop some cash on the worst pile of crap if they saw it on 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives' or if Bobby Flay threw it down. They have no real opinion of their own.”
Are foodies really self-important mindless drones subject to the herd mentality?
They are if you believe Jason Sheehan of Seattle Weekly who refers to foodies as “coup-counting, lock-jawed, cake-eating, nose-in-the-air dimwits who, with sticks planted firmly in their flabby asses will make their weekly cruise out to the hottest addresses in town, get weak little culinary boners over year-dead trends, focused-grouped Frog-humping menus and anyone doing New American comfort food or French-Asian fusion in million-dollar spaces.”
I decided to conduct an informal non-scientific, geographically diverse poll of chefs and restaurateurs from Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, New Orleans and Atlanta to get their thoughts.
Suzanne Goin, the chef /owner of Lucques, AOC and Tavern in Los Angeles had a mixed reaction to the phenomenon. Said she, “To me it’s never negative, it’s kind of done, that term - can you just calm down and eat your food and like it and not have to be a foodie? But that’s me being the jaded food professional. It’s better than people not caring about food.”
But Ron Eyester, executive chef and owner of Rosebud in Atlanta, (whose alter-ego The Angry Chef may be familiar to Eatocracy readers) thinks “The whole idea of the foodie has gotten out of control and it borders on being elitist.”
What especially bothers Eyester is people who come in “with a preconceived notion of what a dish is going to taste like. You admire their enthusiasm towards coming in to eat, but they’re sometimes more excited about it than you are, to a point where it’s way overzealous.” Eyester cautiously adds that this frenzy seems to go hand in hand with the foodies who like to “Yelp” or review restaurants religiously.
Goin admits she doesn’t even read Yelp anymore because “It’s hard (and) what people don’t understand is it’s a very personal endeavor. Sometimes people say the wildest craziest things and it’s hurtful to people who are working 15 hours a day to make it happen.”
Foodies are a touchy topic for more than just chefs. A Seattle sommelier and restaurateur (who wished not to be identified) added “Waiters hate foodies, but then waiters hate everyone.”
"Hate" is a word that seems to be tossed around quite a bit, when foodies are mentioned.
The owner (also not wishing to be identified) of a well-reviewed New Orleans craft cocktail bar and restaurant believes foodies fall into two simple camps: “Haters and those who really get into it.”
He particularly dislikes the customers who come into his business and try to play stump the bartender. “Every now and then here’s one person who looks deep into the annals of cocktail history, or maybe has a cocktail that their local bartender made up and they’re like 'Do you know how to make this?' Then you don’t know what you’re doing. No, we know what we’re doing, but I’m not a f***ing computer.”
Eyester laughs, “The foodie feels empowered by their passion for food, which creates a false bravado of how knowledgeable they think they are about food. The ironic part is they’re simply being spoon fed something from a food personality: 'Well I saw something on the Food Network, and why don’t you have it?'”
“Well because we try to cook seasonably and that jacka** was probably in California.”
It’s arrogance that seems to stir the professionals’ pot the most, but to be fair, not all foodies are equally annoying.
“I can’t really speak for all chefs, but on the whole there are different types of foodies and most are tolerable,” offers one highly regarded Boston chef at a boutique hotel.
He has point; as in any group, there’s a small percentage of fanatics who generally ruin it for the rest.
Even my friend Clancy concedes, “Foodies keep our doors open and the money flowing. And it's for that reason that our smiles fade and our eyes roll when we walk back into the kitchen after our presence was commanded by the foodies at Table 42. They are a necessary evil.”
For the record, Team Eatocracy doesn't consider themselves "foodies." One's a food freak. One's a "restaurantie" per Alan Richman. They try to be as non-obnoxious about it as they can possibly manage.