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neild
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So at risk of starting a flamewar (but an intelligent and respectful flamewar, I hope), I'd like to raise an issue that's been bugging me ever since I started reading (and occasionally writing, for Grubshack) food writing in recent years:

I'm a fan of food, but not particularly a foodie. That is to say, I like exploring different cuisines, but I hadn't until recently patronized the sort of high-priced restaurants that people who Take Food Seriously seem to adore. The kind that Jim Leff of Chowhound calls "shmancy".

Recently, though, I've ventured into a few, mostly to see what I was missing. And what I found was - I don't especially like them. The food is usually fine enough, but tends toward dishes that seem to be striving to be "interesting" - which isn't the highest accolade for food in my book. ("Can I have another plate of this to go?" is more like it.) And while I suppose there's something to be said for observing the creative powers of chefs in a shmancy environ, I have a hard time swallowing a ษ pricetag on an entree when I live in a city where I could be having a really fantastic squid kung pao or yemiser wat or even just a good honest plate of pasta for under ten bucks.

In fact, all my favorite restaurants in this city - Thai Cafe, Grand Szechuan International, Jackson Diner, Cucina di Pesce, Meskerem, Ocean Palace - are also among the cheapest places to eat in New York. Which leads me to believe that either there's something wrong with me, or the entire expensive-food industry that has turned my Brooklyn street into a yuppie mall where you can no longer get a decent pasta primavera is a sham designed to separate the gullible and trendy from their hard-earned cash.

But, of course, there are plenty of people like Mamster who aren't gullible and trendy (have you seen his haircut?) who appreciate the shmancy stuff. So, I'd like to open this up for class discussion: What's up with foodies, and should we be honoring them as the vanguard of food appreciation, or planning to put them up against the wall as soon as the revolution comes?

Respectfully,

Neil deMause

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Neil, I assume you know that pasta primavera was invented at Le Cirque.

Given the choice, if I am paying, I will always try a new cheap restaurant over a new expensive restaurant unless I have a good reason to believe that the expensive restaurant is unusually good.

On the other hand, there is something I like about the experience you get at a really fine restaurant, where the food is inventive yet familiar and the service prompt but not obsequious, and you get a chance to try some things you can't get anywhere else.  Psychologically speaking, it combines the best features of a regressive and an exploratory experience:  these people are charged with taking total care of me for a couple hours while I branch out and enjoy some new and interesting food.

Obviously this doesn't matter if the food isn't great.  I think most ษ entree places are as you said:  not at all bad, but not worth ษ when you can get phad thai for Ů.  But at my favorite fancy restaurants (La Cote Basque comes to mind), the food kind of pops in your mouth:  you take a bite and say, wow, that is the most asparagusy asparagus I ever tasted, or, my god, how did they get the fish so crisp and yet so light?  It's a particular kind of cooking associated with trained chefs.  It's not inherently better than the down-home cooking we both prefer most of the time, but it is different and is worth seeking out some of the time.

I haven't tried many expensive restaurants in Seattle, but those I have tried have been almost uniformly disappointing.  Chefs here seem to be aiming at what people have read about in Gourmet and simply not hitting it most of the time.

I dunno if I answered any of your question, but  the revolution comes, instead putting me up against the wall, can I be put in the stocks in the village square?  I'm thinking a light fish stock.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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  • 1 month later...
either there's something wrong with me, or the entire expensive-food industry
I strongly disagree with your premise. You seem to imply that we should all appreciate the same things in life. Perhaps in an ideal world, we'd all appreciate everything. Most of don't have the time, money or inclination to develop a taste or even an appreciation for everything. I find fine cuisine and fine dining to be an art form. I could easily make analogies to fine art, folk art and popular or commercial art forms. Just as easily I can make similar analogies to the music world. I suppose the best reinforcement I can get might come from those who can get exceptional pleasure from a well made taco, truly excellent pizza, or maybe even a hot dog (or at least a bratwurst) and still not balk at spending several hundreds of dollars for a dinner at some temple of haute cuisine. The art is there. If it really puzzles you enough, read what others write about it and approach it slowly. If you don't see it, don't worry about it.

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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Yo Bux, what about the art in a Philadelphia cheese steak??

I like to think I'm one of those who will drive 94 miles each way for a Rutt's hot dog or a White Manna Burger but still appreciates what a skilled chef accomplishes in a fine dining restaurant.

My problem comes with "90 day wonder" chefs who create forced dishes just to be different - who don't have the savvy, craft or background to understand what works and what will never work no matter how pretty it is made to look, how tall it rises above the plate or how many descriptors follow it on the menu.

You don't see such culinary stretching in my world of hot dogs, fried clams and chicken fried steak.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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My problem is with the word “foodie.” I really don’t like it and make pains never to use it in anything I write. But I think the real distinction isn’t so much between high-end, white tablecloth, “fine dining” and cheaper but distinctive “chowhound” food as it is between passion and trend.

To me, foodie implies trendy. Foodies only go to the hot new places or those with celebrity chefs. Foodies say things like, “Pasta is so over.” Foodies care about food as part of their image, not as something good to eat.

I believe that if you are truly passionate about food, you can’t really be a foodie. If you have passion, you can appreciate both the Ů pad thai and the ษ entree. You don’t have to like everything or hew to some artificial standard of taste, but you’re curious about new food and generally willing to try anything (or almost anything) at least once.

I’m fortunate enough to be paid to write about food (not too well, but paid nevertheless), and my editor picks up the tab when I eat at expensive restaurants. I’ve had transcendant meals and really awful ones at places that charge a lot, and the same goes for the cheaper restaurants, too.

Jim

www.realgoodfood.com

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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My problem is with the word “foodie.” I really don’t like it and make pains never to use it in anything I write. But I think the real distinction isn’t so much between high-end, white tablecloth, “fine dining” and cheaper but distinctive “chowhound” food as it is between passion and trend.

eGulletarian. Not Chowhound. :)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I'm not a fan of the word 'foodie' either. It sounds too much like 'groupie' which also has a negative connotation.  If I had to define myself with a label, it might be a combination of  'epicure-gourmand.'

I also like the word 'chowhound' and thought of myself as one way before I ever knew about Jim Leff's website. I mean he doesn't 'own' the word anymore than Gourmet Magazine owns the word gourmet.

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"Chow" has a sort of reverse snobbism connotation to me. It's the word used to refer to military food, which many consider an oxymoron in the class with miitary intelligence. It's also used by a major animal feed purveyor with the resulting connotation of feed, as in animals feed, people eat, and (you name the word--I like connoiseur, but  epicure, gourmet and gourmand have served well at various times in various cultures) dine. Thus "chowhound" seems to imply one searching, perhaps desperately, not to dine, but to feed. I don't  mind stuffing a hot dog or slice of pizza in my mouth and am not above comparing various vendors of the same, but it's not the end of my search for food.

I do however agree with your opinion of "foodie." I think the suffix tends to designate a follower. "Hound" at least tends to imply a searcher. Far better in my opinion, even if I'm not in agreement with the goal. This however, is upset at Leff's site where there is an "alpha-dog" leader and where dissent is severely limited so that the houndies prolierate, but that's of more interest to socialogists than epicures or food connoiseurs.

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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Foodies only go to the hot new places or those with celebrity chefs.
That's probably an apt definition, although the word won't be limited in that way by many who use it as either a positive or negative description. Many will apply it to those who in any way are likely to visit even some hot new restaurants. Anyone who even keeps an ear to the ground about new restaurants or follows the careers of some chefs will inevitably be labeled a foodie by others. Undoubtably, I've been called a foodie. I suspect Fat Guy has as well. An interest in hot dogs, or even cheesesteak sandwiches will not save you. It's just another kind of foodie. It's easier to smile at the term than get into an argument about semantics.

If dining in restaurants is interesting, then new restaurants are always going to be a source of fascination or at least curiosity. Clearly some new restaurants are so far outside my interest that I am not tempted, but when eveyone is talking about some new place, there is always that desire to enter the conversation with a first hand opinion and so we (choose your word) go and take a look. Serious connoiseurs of contemporary art have to see the art they may dismiss, and those who take restaurants seriously may feel the need to experience the new restaurant. One doesn't loose one's art credentials by looking. One shouldn't be dismissed for an interest in what's happening in the food world as well.

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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Quote: from Bux on 11:12 am on Oct. 4, 2001

It's easier to smile at the term than get into an argument about semantics.

i agree.  you can call me whatever you wish.

however, i sometimes will use the term "foodie" to describe my passion for food to others, because it seems to be a term that "regular folk" understand.  it gets the point across without the whole explanation.  it's definitely better than "Trekkie". ;)

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Quote: from Holly Moore on 11:57 am on Oct. 3, 2001

Yo Bux, what about the art in a Philadelphia cheese steak??

I like to think I'm one of those who will drive 94 miles each way for a Rutt's hot dog or a White Manna Burger but still appreciates what a skilled chef accomplishes in a fine dining restaurant.

My problem comes with "90 day wonder" chefs who create forced dishes just to be different - who don't have the savvy, craft or background to understand what works and what will never work no matter how pretty it is made to look, how tall it rises above the plate or how many descriptors follow it on the menu.

You don't see such culinary stretching in my world of hot dogs, fried clams and chicken fried steak.

All of that is worthy of some answer and all of it is germane to the general discussion, if reaching in different directions. I didn't find the art in cheesesteaks, although I think it takes some experience in any form to be a connoisseur. I suspect that after a half dozen different varieties I would be able to discuss the various relative merits. Unfortunately, I didn't find the first one interesting enough to have a desire to go further. As I mentioned in the Philadelphia board, I'd check out the sandwich Cubano around the corner, before looking for another cheesesteak. My companions, two of whom were food pros with lots of haute cuisine experience, were less interested in dismissing the cheesesteak than in reforming it by suggesting the whole thing be pressed and grilled like a Cuban sandwich or panino and marinating the "steaks." They agreed that the Cuban sandwich on Eighth Avenue off 19th Street was a much more satisfying sandwich combining cheese and meat, but it's worth noting that we recognized the institution of the cheesesteak and made a beeline for one, rather than dismissing it out of any prejudice. I'm not sure if any of this merits the pinning of any label outside of "genuinely curious."

I'd like to think most of us are able to appreciate a great range of tastes far beyond our personal preferences, although we're all apt to have blind spots and prejudices about how we spend our time and money. I believe there's no book or film not worth reading or seeing, but we won't read or see them all, so we make decisions about choice.

I've probably been as outspoken as any about 90 day wonderchefs. Not all French chefs are geniuses, and not all American chefs are short on technique, but most of the over reaching 90 day wonders are American trained.

That  there is no room for culinary stretching in the world of hot dogs, fried clams and chicken fried steak is surely no argument that it is a better world. Fried clams are not so different from any fried food and some of the best friend food I've had has been in haute cuisine restaurants. I can relate two stories of fried fish in white table cloth restaurants in France that stand out over many spectacular dishes. I'm happy to say that one complimentary plate served as an amuse bouche came from a Michelin two star restaurant shortly before it achieved its third star. I'd like to think that plate of finger food played a part.

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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... it seems to be a term that "regular folk" understand.  it gets the point across ...
I hate that more than anything else, having to use words as they're commonly understood instead of forcing people to accept my meaning. ;)

In a collage art history class, on the final exam I used "abstract" as I wanted, clearly and consistenly defining the word to support my meaning rather than the professor's. Guess who didn't do too well on that exam.

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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Bux wrote:  I didn't find the art in cheesesteaks, although I think it takes some experience in any form to be a connoisseur. I suspect that after a half dozen different varieties I would be able to discuss the various relative merits. Unfortunately, I didn't find the first one interesting enough to have a desire to go further

I suspect, and it is not your fault as this is a new cuisine for you, that perhaps you ordered your cheese steak with provolone, which is more a Roxboro than South Philly style cheese steak which is slathered with CheezeWiz.  I can not imagine anyone ordering a cheese steak crowned with CheezeWiz and not recognizing a culinary masterpiece when he chomps into it.

Later:  

That  there is no room for culinary stretching in the world of hot dogs, fried clams and chicken fried steak is surely no argument that it is a better world.

I do not suggest that my world is better. More bucolic perhaps; simpler of course; probably less frightening; but not necessarily better.  

I often yearn for the classical cuisines of Escoffier and of the Russian Imperial Court.  But what noted chef of today, on this side of the Atlantic at least, would offer such old hat, cliche fare without nouvelling it up to make it "his" dish.

(Edited by Holly Moore at 7:04 pm on Oct. 4, 2001)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Come on Holly, Bux, Tommy, Ruby, Jason, Jim, Mamster, Neild... Those are only words!  Let's eat for heaven's sake, and I'll drive 95 miles each way for good food.  Whether I am a connoisseur (someone who appreciates), an epicure (someone who only thinks about pleasure), a gourmet (someone who can appreciate refined dining and eating), a gastronome (someone who likes good food),  or a gourmand (someone who eats for pleasure), it still boils down to good food, according to my taste and experience.  It looks to all of us like we can be all of those when we sink our teeth and tastebuds into a hot dog, a pizza, a cassoulet or tournedos rossini (those I can spell, unlike the names of the Malaysian and Chinese dishes I love).

My present fantasy is to concoct a meal, all of us would share and discuss ad nauseum.  Just talking about it is not bad either.

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  • 4 weeks later...
Quote: from Jim Dixon on 5:44 pm on Oct. 3, 2001

My problem is with the word “foodie.” I really don’t like it and make pains never to use it in anything I write. But I think the real distinction isn’t so much between high-end, white tablecloth, “fine dining” and cheaper but distinctive “chowhound” food as it is between passion and trend.

To me, foodie implies trendy. Foodies only go to the hot new places or those with celebrity chefs. Foodies say things like, “Pasta is so over.” Foodies care about food as part of their image, not as something good to eat.

Well, I'll say that since we haven't upgraded to the new software yet, I have been anxiously watching the little number and description under my name on my posts, and posting as much as I could just to get rid of the despised "foodie" by my name. (Clever strategy, Jason, to get us to post; you should call us "pig" after 100 posts; then we'd really post like crazy to try to get to the next level.) "Gourmet" isn't much better, but it's better than "foodie".

Oh yeah: and, like, pasta is so over.

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Thanks for the great idea, franklanguage! I have a long way to go with posting, though...

Actually, as a foreigner I had no presumptions about the word 'foodie' and the discussion in this thread is my only clue to its semantic meaning (above the basic ingredients from which the word is constructed). When I saw the word for the first time (beside my first post) it made me think of some kind of a fast snack. Now that I am more educated about the connotations, I can start posting to get rid of it as well!

But, please, if my opinion counts at all, I don't want to get rid of such descriptors. They make the forum that much more colourful!

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Words often find themselves in bad connotations: words are alive with meaning and implications.  Since we are all "foodies" until we graduate to a hundred posts, let's go on eating and thereafter posting.

The context here is so positive and more than occasionally humorous, I bear my foodie title with pride and honor.

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Well if nothing else I have now learnt why I have that annoying "foodie" tag under my handle.  You will see below my signature that I use "feeder"; I found that in A.J. Liebling's sublime food writings - he thought it sounded less finicky than "gourmet".

On the original question, I must say I am committed to the two extremes of dining out.  I agree with much of what Bux says about fine dining.  It isn't just the food (although that must be good) - it's the ritual, grace and elegance of a well-run, attractive restaurant that appeals; and you simply can't get that on the cheap in cities like New York, London and Paris.  I am also very interested in restaurant history, and I like to feel part of a long-standing but evolving tradition.

In between-times, I love to eat honest, well-flavored food at the other end of the price range.  Hunan chicken in the Malaya restaurant in an alley off the Bowery;  fried pig offal from a truck under an elevated railway in the Bronx; tacos on 14th Street.

What I DO NOT like are the vast numbers of middle-priced, middle-of-the-road, unadventurous establishments, where (talking about Manhattan now) the check is still fairly steep, but the food is predictable, dull, not much better than I could do at home, and the wine choice is basically red or white.  This may hurt some feelings, but there seem to be thousands of Italian restaurants in Manhattan that fit that description.     In short, I often have a good time paying either 贄 or ŭ for dinner; if I pay ุ I've usually been bored to tears.

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I really like Jason's "eGulletarian" -- the pun is very apposite, but the problem is we could only use the title here :-(

For me the whole issue is encapsulated in the question "Do you live to eat, or eat to live?". Those of us who live to eat have an active, passionate interest in food. We may only like haute cuisine, or we may like a huge variety of food. All that makes us "foodies" (or any other name we choose) is that as we eat each mouthful we can gain enjoyment from the process. We NOTICE and EVALUATE a meal while we eat it. The "eat to live" people don't even notice what they're eating, they just know when they're hungry.

We also eat as a form of entertainment, as a direct alternative to the theater or a party. The "eat to live" group want to eat as quickly and conveniently as possible so they can go do something else.

So the type of food, the style of cooking, the ethnicity, the 'poshness', the inventiveness, all of these things are incidental. A true foodie will try anything (at least once) and is just as capable of enjoying a world-class hot dog for a buck as a 'fine dining' experience at Maxim's for 跌.

I'm just an amateur. I just love eating good food, whether at home or at a restaurant. My only real hate is the chef who cannot leave food to taste as it is, but believes he can achieve fame only by drowning it in a sauce which no-one else has ever tried. For example, I often order lamb because I like the taste of lamb. The last thing I want is a fennel, cranberry, truffle, balsamic vinegar and peppermint sauce which might be interesting as a soup, but which prevents me tasting the lamb I ordered !

I guess, then, that I'm a minimalist foodie. And why not?

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I know I'm late in this discussion, but I personally dislike the word "foodie" and tend to distinguish between "foodie" and "food lover".

I tend to draw the distinction between people who follow food because they love it and people who follow food because it's the fashionable thing to do (kinda like the distinction between wine lovers and wine snobs?).  I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who love to follow food trends, chefs, restaurants, etc. but are in it primarily for the chic-ness and the scene, with the actual food being secondary.  They name-drop the restaurants they've been to, maybe they even read all the food magazines (but chances are they don't cook out of them, or even cook at all?).

Just some random thoughts...

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Quote: from ChocoKitty on 12:05 pm on Oct. 30, 2001

I know I'm late in this discussion, but I personally dislike the word "foodie" and tend to distinguish between "foodie" and "food lover".

it sounds like you think that "foodie" has quite a negative connotation.  that's a shame, as i think generally it's more of a cutesy word than anything else.  we don't need any more negative words.  

there goes that english language again...leaving everything open to interpretation!

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there goes that english language again...leaving everything open to interpretation!

Hey!  Don't let this stop you from feeling gay!

Oops!  Guess that one's been appropriated too...

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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  • 1 year later...

I lost friends over the comment that food wasn't an art.I dissagred. i guess that I should just place it as that. I was so horrified at the response that it changed my life! They just wanted to eat crap- and then invite me to dinner-but do nothing. Each person would be still working on whatever "project" they would continue to work on while I was present. I was barely ackknowledged as a human body. What I got from the conversation- if you pay for it food is not great. If you can harvest (endangered) then, you rule.

Food is the greatest art. I am ready to argue now. I am so tired of expensive fast food places. (Cooking at home is much cheaper). -Karen

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I work in an amazing grocery store ( check out centralmarket.com). I wear an apron that says "foodie" on it. A coworker and I invented the foodie position 6 years ago. Our job is to educate our customers on the products they buy. I can help you choose: a marinade for sea bass, an olive oil to drizzle over your bean soup, a wheat-free tamari, a salad dressing for spinach salad, a vegetarian option for a dinner party, a glaze for pork tenderloin....I can find you a recipe for potato soup, tell you how to use mole, cuitlacoche, rosti, and garlic juice...I can help you organize a dinner party for 12 ....find "foreign" foods for your 12 year old's social studies project...

To us, foodie denotes "food expert". I'm not embarrassed to wear the apron.

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