I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
They are infuriating in the way they hold court about food. They wax rhapsodically about cardoons (a thistle-like vegetable), wagyu beef, and cox’s orange pippin apples—while that little voice in your head is screaming, “Shut up and give me some mac and cheese and a bottle of ketchup!”
The Way It Was
The exact opposite of food snobbery is chili suppers, pancake breakfasts, fish fries, and spaghetti dinners. This is followed by pie. Nobody asks what’s the filling? It’s pie. That’s all you need to know.
Then comes the coffee—it’s either black or white—and it’s poured out of a big old jug by someone called Mildred who does not hold with pumpkin-spiced lattes. But it’s a safe bet that Mildred can turn out a killer pot roast.
These foods are served up in church basements to raise money for the volunteer fire department, or the 4H, or the Kiwanis.
Such gatherings are marked by their lack of pretension and their community togetherness. They continue still in the backwaters, as they should, while in the urban canyons food snobbery has raised celebrity chefs to the status of gods.
And restaurant critics squabble with each other as they try to reach new heights of pomposity.
The latter dish looks like it could be a still life from "Alice in Wonderland"—quinoa risotto becomes a bed for mushrooms, foliage, flowers and chunks of parsley "moss," tender cubes with the texture of angel food cake stained green from the herbs.
— Michael Bauer, "San Francisco Chronicle"
Restaurants that specialize in conceit, self-importance, and haughtiness dot the landscape by the thousands. It’s probably very unfair to pick on just one example to stand in for all the others, so let’s get started.
Far from the community barbecues of the hinterland, we can plunge into a world where we might encounter neurogastronomy. This is said to be a marriage of science and the culinary arts to understand how flavours are generated in our brains. Mildred’s meatloaf should not present much of a challenge.
Günter Seeger is an exponent of neurogastronomy. His skills are on display at his New York restaurant that he modestly names after himself. There’s talk of “microseasonality.”
Neurogastronomy doesn’t come cheap. There was a prix fixe (or, as Mildred would put it, fixed price) taster menu of nine courses for $185; if you wanted wine pairings, that was another $150 per person. Diners had to pay in advance when they made a reservation. If they have to cancel within 72 hours, Günter got to keep $100.
There was no menu; you got what you were served and couldn’t find out what it was until after the meal.
I’ve rarely had sea bream as mysteriously milky as the crisp-skinned filet, bathed in sea-bean sauce and topped with pungent yuzu kosho (a citrus-chili paste)—a thrill worthy of Daniel Boulud or Éric Ripert.
— Steve Cuozzo, "New York Post"
However, even New Yorkers rebelled at dropping that much cash on a mystery meal. Günter Seeger has since lowered the cost to $95 for four courses, but still offers what is called the Chef’s Table of 11 courses at $195. And there’s even a menu for lesser diners that includes “Bluefin Tuna Carpaccio, Duck Ham, Sambal, Roasted Squab, Date Puree, [and] Red Turnip.”
And there’s a little note that “Our signature pivots on integrity, commitment, and attention to detail.”
But Günter’s pricing policies pale in comparison to Norma’s. It’s described as a “casual breakfast and lunch spot at Le Parker Meridien hotel” in New York. There you can have a frittata (what Mildred calls an omelette) with lobster and caviar for $1,000.
A Personal Journey Into Food Arrogance
The income of a writer does not accommodate the likes of Günter Seeger’s tariff. But after months of thrifty economies, enough can be scraped together for what we quaintly refer to as a “Posh Dinner.”
So, on a frigid night in Toronto, four of us gathered for a culinary adventure because the on-line reviews of the restaurant were excellent. There was a slightly unsettling admonition on the website that a $25 fee would be charged to no-shows, although this suggested an extremely popular eatery. In fact, until we were half-way through our meal, we were the only customers. Then two others appeared, although Mildred was not one of them.
They started us off with an amuse bouche, a thin but tasty gruel that appeared to have been dispensed with an eye-dropper. With bouches not quite amused, it was time for the appetizers. “Wow, look they have shaved lonza with maple cream.” Oh happy, happy, joy, joy.
There was an item called pork nduja that conjured up images of a pig with martial arts skills.
Other items included crumbled chicharron, beef bresaola, and plum mostarda; there seemed no end to the pretentious nomenclature. One dish came topped with deer lichen that turns out to be lichen that deer eat. Who knew?
One pictures weather-hardened outdoors people scraping the stuff off rocks in the Canadian shield and shipping it by dog sled to the gourmets in the south.
The meal with hideously expensive and unsatisfying. As we left the empty dining room behind us we were thinking, “Where shall we go for dinner?” It came as no surprise to learn the place closed down a month after we—um—“dined” there. Shortly thereafter, the deer lichen harvesting trade went into a sharp and terminal decline.
Then, even more perfectly with the Meursault, two huge scallops, as round and plump and fresh from the sea as a mermaid’s breast implants, just seared to golden on the top with a mild fish velouté, peas, fever and I think the shoots of peas, too. Perfectly finished, beautifully plated.
— Giles Coren, "The Times"
Are You a Food Snob?
Signs you might be a food snob. Using comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s routine “You might be a redneck if …” as a template, here are some indications that you might be a food snob.
You might be a food snob if:
- You prefer heirloom tomatoes to the red tennis balls sold in supermarkets.
- You know what a raspberry coulis is.
- You know how to correctly pronounce quinoa.
- You make your own salad dressing and dips.
- You say something like “that avocado/mango sauce perfectly accented the dull stodginess of the mashed rutabaga.”
- You garnish your pan-seared Alaska sea scallops with garlic scapes.
- You are searching for a restaurant that serves dragon eggs poached in unicorn milk.
- You think that “farm fresh,” “country baked,” “hand crafted” and other such rubbish should be banned from menus.
- You lust after a La Cornue Grand Palais kitchen range with a lava rock grill ($47,300).
- You can say the word artisanal without it sounding like you are referring to something to do with bums.
- You think Mildred might be a little behind the times, gastronomically speaking.
Let’s check in with the Gourmet Food Generator, which creates random combinations of snobbish food items. Here are a few examples:
- Indulgent Tamarind and Bell Pepper Bread on a bed of Steaming Lemon Fritters.
- Imported Shellfish and Black Truffle hidden under Local Pine Nut Gremolata.
- Sun-Dried Peanut Tarts on a bed of Foamed Rutabaga and Grapefruit Soup.
- Extruded Truffle Oil Scones with a side of Preserved Cheese Stroganoff.
U.S. President Donald Trump says he eats fast food because “at least you know what they are putting in it (The Hill).” Say what?
Renowned butcher Pat LaFrieda once dared me to eat an eyeball that he himself popped out of the skull of a roasted pig. That eyeball tasted better than the Trump Grill’s (Grille’s) Gold Label Burger.
— Tina Nguyen, "Vanity Fair"
- “This NYC Restaurant Is Insufferably Pretentious.” Steve Cuozzo, New York Post, August 3, 2016.
- “Our 10 Most Pretentious Restaurants.” Lauren Shockey, Village Voice, January 7, 2011.
- Gourmet Food Generator
- “There Is Nothing More Tedious Than Reading a Restaurant Review in the United States.” Olivia Goldhill, Quartz, September 17, 2016.
© 2018 Rupert Taylor
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 23, 2018:
First, the description of the dinner you had when dining out was hilarious. I am not a food snob, and will never spend $200 for one meal. I can definitely put that money to something more satisfying. I guess I haven't paid too much attention to some of the news articles written about these high priced restaurants.
You can get a good surf and turf meal at a more reasonable price, and it is usually a meal that I like. You sure got my attention with this article.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on December 16, 2018:
Yes, the dragon egg thing was made up and so was the avocado/mango sauce. Might be worth a try though, but not the dragon egg.
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on December 16, 2018:
Alrighty, I made it back (for better, or worse lol).
Looking at the photographs of plated food in your article made me smile. I'd starve if that was dinner: a squirt of some creamy sauce with a tea spoon of actual consistent food. Haha!!
To be fair though, I think food can be one of two things: fuel, or art. About ten minutes ago I just ate an avocado standing by the kitchen sink. It gets messy and so I didn't bother going away from where I was peeling it and throwing away the skin. I ate it quickly and kept going with my day. That avocado was mainly fuel but then, there are times I sit in the kitchen, working with one dish for hours and hours. It's like painting, or sculpting: art (for me anyway).
“that avocado/mango sauce perfectly accented the dull stodginess of the mashed rutabaga.” - Haha!! That sounds like quite the stuck-up statement but hey, we all express ourselves in our own ways. As long as we're respectful to others and otherness, it's all good with me.
"You are searching for a restaurant that serves dragon eggs poached in unicorn milk." - That's gotta be made-up, right? Otherwise, don't eat the Dragon egg!! Let's wait 'till it cracks and then we can have Dragon babies! Haha!! I love Dragons beyond what words can express. That's another story though.
Thank You for your article. All the best!
Liz Westwood from UK on December 16, 2018:
This is a thought-provoking article. Does food-snob equate to foodie? I generally maintain that the most expensive meals are not necessarily the best. My husband still struggles what to order when going for coffee, as he gets baffled by the long list of options.
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on December 14, 2018:
“Shut up and give me some mac and cheese and a bottle of ketchup.” - There is never a voice in my head saying this but that's because I grew-up in Europe and I only discovered ketchup when I was about fourteen. I'm not into ketchup, or macaroni and cheese for that matter.
I love fish fries! Especially on native reserves where the fish is from the local rivers/lakes. I smile on my way to Zhiibaahaasing First Nationsjust thinking baout the fish fry lol : )
I love spaghetti too. I just made fettucelle with portobello mushrooms, sunrise tomatoes and added some italian parsleywith some parmesan cheese. Not fancy at all but very yummy.
"There was no menu; you got what you were served and couldn’t find out what it was until after the meal." - I've been to an Italian restaurant like that here in Toronto. The waiter just recited the menu. Haha!! The chef was straight out of Italy though. He didn;t speak any English but he was phenomenal in the kitchen. Good times, good food.
Okay. I suddenly gotta go. Will have to finish reading this when I get back. Cheers!
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on December 14, 2018:
True, and come to think of it, the most disappointing things I've ever bought were store brand quesos. I just don't understand why a proper queso sauce can't be bottled and sold.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on December 14, 2018:
Wesman that store-bought thing holds true for just about everything.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on December 14, 2018:
I realized recently that I am a food snob, but only in very specific ways. Having spent most of my life in Texas, I'm an absolute salsa snob. I've spent countless hours among immigrants from Mexico, and been to several different places in Mexico as well. Most name brand salsas in stores can't hold a candle to the salsas I've enjoyed.