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Gourmet-friendly careers


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What professions -- careers in the culinary arts aside -- have you observed tend to produce the greatest numbers of gourmets?

What is your job, and does it relate in any way to your gourmet tendencies, either directly or as an enabling mechanism?

Aside from the Jeffrey Steingarten brain-damage hypothesis, can you think of any reasons why so many attorneys are foodies? It can't just be money, especially since there's a distinction between a rich dude who eats out a lot because he can and someone who really cares about food.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Dornenburg and Page's Dining Out noted that a lot of restaurant critics are also (failed?) musicians.  I've found this to be not an unfair stereotype.  And opera singers are certainly not known for their moderation in things gustatory.  It seems like artists in general with their penchant for thinking hard about bits and pieces of everyday life would tend to find pleasure, or at least interest, in food, but there really does seem to be something to the music/food link.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Maybe I'm in the wrong legal speciality or practicing in the wrong city, but in my 6 years of practice I've only met THREE attorneys who cared about food.

I can't stand eating out with the folks I work with now.  They invariably choose (1) a horrid faux-Chinese place where you order lunch combos my number; (2) a horrid Greek/Coney Island place that can't even make its simple offerings taste good (think watery spinach pie and cold gyros with pink techno-tomatoes); or (3) a so-so game restaurant that makes good buffalo meatloaf, but gets old quickly.  And they think these places are good.

*sigh*  Fat Guy, maybe you should introduce me to some of your colleagues!

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many attorneys are foodies
Really? I just realized I hate food. I'm not going to eat again.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Respectfully, Steven, I DO think that it has something to do with money--not specifically the ability to collect it, but more the willingness to "conspicuously" consume with it.  I understand your insistence that there is a big difference "between a rich dude who eats out a lot because he can and someone who really cares about food", and I also realize that just because someone SAYS that they care about food doesn't mean that they really do.  However, we can't be so easily dismissive of the role of money.  Money is a factor.  An important one.

Of course, it goes without saying that you can be a "foodie", or even a "gourmet", without being rich.  You can care about what you eat, even if its just crusts of bread.  

This is not an elitist argument.  I'm not arguing that its right or proper... I'm just saying that its undeniable that MOST "rich people" (like lawyers) have more disposable income to eat more varied foods (either at home or out in restaurants), and thus statistically MUST have a greater likelihood of encountering food that they care enough about to field an opinion.

Of course it also goes without saying (but I'm gonna say it anyway!), that with greater numbers of people in a position to judge something, also comes a greater amount of people who MISJUDGE that thing.  A lot of rich people are tasteless--and I mean that in every sense of the word.

Still, it's never surprised me that lawyers, doctors, etc. comprise a large percentage of the "foodie" population.  There are simply more of them in a position to accidentally have that little invisible button pushed inside which can transform a "normal" eater into a discriminating one.

My sister and her husband are both attorneys, by the way, and think of themselves as foodies.  Law of averages... right? :)

I, myself, occupy a field that is a bit of an aberation--the Computing industry.  It's a large field, with hundreds of different offshoots, and people performing jobs that are enormously varied under a single huge umbrella.  It's an aberation because (in my experience) money has made very little difference to the most successful of my colleages--its just an aspect of the culture that many of my... er... fellow... um... "geeks" never outgrow a fixation with the concept that food is just fuel.  Many of those who do go in one of several ways:

--expensive food as a status sign:  Techies are more guilty of this than lawyers will EVER be.  The tech industries are frequently ones where money can come quickly to people who didn't grow up with it.  A disproportionate number of lawyers (at least the most succesful of the breed) grew up with money, but I've met many techies who glory in their new ability to eat in the most expensive restaurants.  

--"geek food" as a status sign: Sometimes the exact reverse occurs.  As a way to disguish themselves from the lawyers of the world the techie will glory in the consumption of what many of us consider Junk food--McDonalds, cheap Ramen noodles, Cheetos, etc.  Now its certainly possible to be a conessieur of these things (we've got plenty of them here!), but I've known quite a few people who eat this stuff simply because its what they think they SHOULD be eating.

(Edited by jhlurie at 3:28 pm on Jan. 7, 2002)

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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I'm not sure if restaurant reviewers qualify as "gourmets" but if they do I'd suggest that some gourmets started off as newspaper reporters writing on subjects other than food.

I'd also offer the occupation of housewife / househusband - at least self-actualizing housewifes and househusbands who figure as long as they've got to cook, it might as well be on a gourmet level.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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The principle here may be not money, but client entertainment. And particularly entertainment of what I would describe as "high unit value" clients, in which case it is important that the quality (and price) of the meal bears a relationship to the quality (and price) of the services provided to the client.

Under that rule, many lawyers and accountants would likely become accustomed to gourmet eating, as would senior salesmen and executives in many other industries. And custom is likely to lead to self-education and enjoyment.

My own interest in, and then love of, gourmet food developed from that last category. I am an executive in an IT company whose job necessitates entertaining all our major clients. Did I say "necessitates" ? :)

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Without suggesting that the below rationales are the primary explanatory factors for a heavy weighing (if any) of lawyers as foodies, I list some factors that might contribute to such an effect (in no particular oder):

1. Sense of personal deprivation.  To the extent that lawyers work long hours (or worked long hours when the economy was busier) and are under time and other pressures, they may feel they deserve to "treat" themselves  to good meals.  The need to reward themselves might have some inchoate connection to a sense of deprivation (particularly with respect to personal time) that some lawyers may perceive.

2. Subsidization effects.  In general, meals undertaken to develop client relationships, summer associate lunches and other recruiting-based meals, and meals taken during weekends or late in the evening can become the subject of reimbursement.  In addition, the cost of meals taken while traveling for work purposes is reimbursed at reasonable rates. (Some areas of legal practice require more travel than others. Also, other professions, such as management consultants or accountants, appear to travel at least as extensively.)  The benefit of having meals reimbursed is not as great as it might appear.  Only meal costs at "normal", generally understood levels are reimbursed, and the contexts in which reimbursement is available tend not to facilitate enjoyment of the dining experience.

3. Waiting Effects.  Steven Shaw mentioned that lawyers often have to wait for input from their colleagues, from the lawyers representing the other parties in a deal or lawsuit, from governmental authorities or other parties.  Senior lawyers have to await the turning of documents by more junior lawyers.  Junior lawyers have to await the review of documents by their supervisors, by clients and by other parties. Researching and reading about restaurants may be one way that lawyers choose to utilize this "waiting" time. If a lawyer has to be available during a weekend or late at night, but is not needed at all times during a given period, restaurant-going would appear to be a good way to fill waiting time.

4. Flexibility/"Last Minute" Deployment.  Leaving aside the question of securing reservations and the quality of the restaurants available for booking, a lawyer who learns of his availability or non-availability for a meal late in the day still has some hope of being able to plan for a decent restaurant experience.  For the theater or other arts events, advance purchase of tickets is required and this could lead to resources being "wasted" on events not ultimately attended.  Many sports cannot be readily undertaken in the evening or at the last minute.  Since lawyers might have a greater portion of their friends working in the law who also have unpredictable schedules (colleagues, former classmates, professional contacts), lawyers may have added problems in planning leisure activities requiring the participation of a large group of people.  Restaurant-going is flexible enough to accommodate the above constraints.

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Bux -- Are you a lawyer?
Sorry, that was just an attempt at some all-American humor and aimed at Shaw. Now that I know you're a lawyer, I'll confess that some of my best friends are lawyers. Well let's say I've known a lawyer or two I've respected greatly. ;)

The money factor that jhlurie brings up cannot be denied. I don't know if I'm more of a "gourmet" than I was when I had more limited funds, in some ways maybe less, but I can talk about a broader swath of experience. I believe one can be a connoisseur of stews, but it's a lot more interesting to talk about steak, game, lamb chops and truffles and the ability to partake of a wider range helps fuel the interest.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Maybe the fact that I'm in historic preservation (of architecture) informs by interest in in authentic and ethnic foods.  The "authenticity" issues that Steve mentioned in another post are certainly alive and kicking in historic preservation.  I am not a purist in either architecture or ethnic food, but in both areas, I prefer that the original character of the object remain recognizable.  At some point, too much alteration can turn a building , or a dish, into something else completely.

On the other hand, I also like the shock of the new.

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Sandra -- Are you as interested in how an ethnic cuisine, modes of food preparation and storage, seasoning methods, or a particular dish have evolved over time?  Just as in architecture, there are temporal linkages that could be evaluated.

Also, could any interest you may have in common themes among different "authentic" ethnic cuisines (e.g., Malaysian and Singaporean; French and Russian as mentioned in another thread -- if French can be viewed as an ethnic cuisine) be compared to common threads linking certain distinct architectural styles?

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I was really just poking fun at myself for complaining about contemporary bagels, but you have asked some interesting questions that I will enjoy thinking about.  Analogies are always imperfect, but there may well be certain similarities between food preparation and architecture (aside from  Careme's comment on pastry-making) that stem from the roots in and expression of a particular culture that both activities share.

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I think lawyers as gourmets is somewhat of an east coast phenomenon.  It is not limited to lawyers, but across all sectors of the professional service industry (consultants, bankers, executive search, etc.)    Overall, I have noticed entrepreneurs and people associated with the arts tend to have a stronger appreciation of gourmet food and quality restaurants.   The creative and passionate personality traits needed to succeed in those fields are often evident in their love of food and wine.  

On the west coast, Venture capitalists and technology executives are the primary drivers of the gourmet culture.   While a lot of the newly created wealth has focused on flash more than substance, there has been a huge increase in the number of quality restaurants along with increased access to the best food and wine.  

The fact that travel is a big part of being a lawyer must also play a large role in developing ones taste.   I doubt compensation alone would explain it since lawyers, while well compensated are not in usually in the upper echelon of wealth creation.  Senior traders and money managers, on average, make more than Partners at the large law firms yet proportionally there are not as many gourmets.  

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Quote: from Fat Guy on 8:16 pm on Jan. 7, 2002

What professions -- careers in the culinary arts aside -- have you observed tend to produce the greatest numbers of gourmets?

What is your job, and does it relate in any way to your gourmet tendencies, either directly or as an enabling mechanism?

From observing this site, I would have agree and say that the law profession produces the most "gourmets", looking at published work, well the diplomats seem to do well. I do think that money does play a great part in the development of an interest in food etc. It allows for an oppertunity to accessibility to a whole range of interests, not necessarily food though. Money doesn't equate to taste, but poverty doesn't produce very many gourmets either.

I don't feel that I could/would ever be a "gourmet", as my interests in food are to narrow. My income doesn't provide for much fine dining, so if I am interested in, say woodcock then I have to cook it myself, in the majority of cases. But this does mean that my knowledge/experience on the subject of food etc is rather limited in scope. I imagine that there are many people that have an interest in food/wine etc, but without the ability to develop this further it remains just an interest.

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How are the terms "foodie" and "gourmet" being used here? Is a "foodie" someone who eats at expensive restaurants a lot because they have the disposable income to do it? Is a "gourmet" only someone who has published writings on food? Wouldn't that mean that someone who isn't a writer isn't a "gourmet"?

Lawyers that I know personally are into conspicuous consumption, and like to eat at the trendy places. They do not have daring palates, and are not creative cooks. They would probably wonder about people like us who spend time hanging out and posting on a food bulletin board.

I'd like to see the different definitions people give to these terms.

And what do you call a person who appreciates fine foods, irrespective of their entertainment budget?

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I don't feel that I could/would ever be a "gourmet", as my interests in food are to narrow. My income doesn't provide for much fine dining, so if I am interested in, say woodcock then I have to cook it myself, in the majority of cases. But this does mean that my knowledge/experience on the subject of food etc is rather limited in scope. I imagine that there are many people that have an interest in food/wine etc, but without the ability to develop this further it remains just an interest.
I don't know if I would call you a gourmet to your face. It would depend on how big you are as well as wether you would take it as a compliment or an insult. "Limited in scope?" Would we prefer a narrow interest that was very deep or a broad, but shallow interest?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Back on track......

In my experience of working with Bankers and Lawyers - which is vast - the food they have to eat comes from Deliverance! (Thats what we feed 'em anyway!) And they always order sushi.

(Edited by SamanthaF at 6:43 pm on Jan. 9, 2002)

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  • 1 year later...
can you think of any reasons why so many attorneys are foodies?

Did I miss the thread that contained the evidence that "so many attorneys are foodies?" Is this based on anecdotal evidence or was there some study done. I don't think you can base it on the fact that there may be a fair number of lawyers hangin' round here. The sample size is probably too small to support such a claim.

I was interested in food long before I went to law school, so I don't know that there is a connection. I do know that I've gone to many fine restaurants on the client's tab. My wife and I can afford to eat out in fancy/interesting/good restaurants due to our incomes. But the interest was definitely there before all that.

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