Let’s Poke Another Anthill, Shall We?


Oooh, an anthill! Let me get my stick!

Alrighty, then. All day, I've been trying to decide whether to write a happy little post about the delightful cherry cobbler we had for dessert last evening* or a poking the anthill post. Being me, I am going with Anthill. So let's get right down to it.

Yesterday, on the magical twitter, I was involved in three very interesting conversations.  One I think I inadvertently started, and the other two I just jumped into the middle of the way things often happen on twitter.  The only person common to all three discussions was me, so it falls to me to write about it.

Conversation Number One started when I tweeted this little gem: "Don't seek inspiration from a cook book. Be inspired by what's in your pantry and fridge, especially if you don't want to go to the store!" I use lots of exclamation points in my tweets.

At any rate, I really do feel that way.  Look at what's in your fridge, freezer or pantry that needs to be used up and then look in a cook book if you need some help with how to put different ingredients together.  I mean, especially at this time of year, we all have Holiday Stuff lying about that needs to be turned into something tasty, and if you go look in a cook book before you take inventory, you'll inevitably end up going to the store which results in two things: 1)You spend money that you didn't really need to spend, and 2)You run the risk that some overlooked foods might go to waste.

That was my point, anyway.  And then, a couple of other folks picked up on it, and a few of us ended up having a really good discussion.  It started with a Retweet of my initial tweet and ended up being a discussion about how learning techniques and methods enables us to more-or-less completely get away from having to rely on recipes.  We even decided that reading one of those ridiculously long-named menu items is often enough of a recipe, or at least a guideline so we can make a reasonable facsimile at home.

Conversation Number Two was about how many of us rarely go out to eat because it's way too expensive.  Even folks who live in "food cities" like Chicago and New York often only go out when they are out of town.  It boiled down to economics and the sheer joy of cooking for others at home rather than going out.

The third discussion began as a friendly debate over a thought provoking article in The Chicago Tribune:  Foodie Fatigue. If you have the time, hop on over and read it.  If you don't have the time, here are the CliffsNotes.

  1. Many foodies are turning into loud, pushy food snobs.
  2. Many foodies think that, just because they heard that x dish is made a certain way in y restaurant, nobody can make it any other way.
  3. Many foodies only want to talk about food.  In minute, mind-numbing detail.
  4. Many foodies are pretentious enough to think that they can teach a chef to do things the "right" way.

Now, before you go getting all Up In Arms and gathering up your pitchforks and torches (or while you're gathering them up), just hear me out.  I guess I'm a food blogger.  I mean, I do have a blog.  And it is about food.  And I did participate in Project Food Blog 2010.  So, yeah, I'm a food blogger.

But I don't really think of myself as one.  There are many amazing food blogs out there that show gorgeous, drool-worthy food photographs and with authors who wax poetic--and wax with style--about anything food-related.  I read many of those blogs. I interact with many of those bloggers on twitter, and I consider many of them friends-I-haven't-met-yet.  But I don't necessarily consider myself one of them.

First and foremost, I am a teacher.  I am not here to show you gorgeous pictures (although I am working at getting better at that).  I'm not here to get all literary, although I do like to spin a good Yarn, as it were.  Nope.  I'm here to teach.  I am here for all the people out there--maybe you--who want to understand how food works.  Who want to know why food works and really Grok the science behind baking and cooking.  I stopped buying into the whole Food Snob thing long ago, and I just want to help you learn to be a better cook and baker.

So, I take pictures to illustrate my points--or I find pictures that illustrate my points.  I try and break down dishes into their steps.  I answer your questions in as much detail as I possibly can so you'll understand why things work the way they do.  I want to demystify cooking for you.  And that's where I run into some problems with some food bloggers and why I am on The Chicago Tribune dude's side about Foodie Fatigue.

'Cause guess what fatigues me?  Someone waxing rhapsodic about duck confit (or some other fancy-schmancy sounding food Item). Don't get me wrong--it is Really Tasty Stuff, and I wouldn't turn down duck rillettes even if I were already full, or dead.  But come on.  It's spiced duck poached in duck fat.  It's not the Second Coming.

Guess what else makes me tired?  Conversations, nay heated arguments, about what is the right way to make boeuf Bourguignon (or some other fancy-schmancy sounding food Item).  As far as I'm concerned, there is no right ingredient list.  Boeuf Bourguignon exists because poor French folks needed a way to make tough meat tender.  And they needed to use up their peasanty (or even not-so-peasanty) wine.  And they had some vegetables lying around.  And probably some cured Pig of Some Sort.

There are Right and Correct ways of performing cooking techniques.  If you don't know how to braise, your Boeuf Bourguignon might as well star an old shoe.  If you don't know how to do the creaming method, your cake will probably be denser than you'd like.  If you're not sure how to manage the heat on your stove, you will end up burning--or undercooking--lots of things.  But as far as ingredients are concerned?  Ingredients, by and large--and more so in cooking than baking--are just lists of Stuff That is Convenient.  Shallots are used in French cooking because lots of them grow there.  Mexican folks don't so much use shallots.  Because they don't want to Go To France To Get Them.

Chinese Americans who ended up in New York came up with what is now referred to as "New York Style" Chinese food because they weren't in China anymore and didn't have access to all of their native ingredients.  So what did they do?  They took their tried-and-true techniques and used them on accessible ingredients.  Does that make New York Style Chinese food any less Chinese than mainland-Chinese food?  Not in technique or method; only in ingredient lists.

I dare you to search for some recipe--any recipe--and only come back with one hit in all of the Hinternets.  It's not gonna happen, because people adapt methods and techniques to what is local, seasonal and right there in front of them.  So, for some food blogger-type person to have the Audacity to tell a line cook, a server or a chef that thus and such dish isn't right because it's not like way they saw it in a magazine, food section or on--shudder--Food Network?!  Well, it's just Pompous, Rude and Ignorant.

And here's another thing.

What's that, Jen?

I'm glad you asked.  Food knowledge should be shared freely.  Folks shouldn't hold on to secrets, and they certainly shouldn't make other people feel stupid because they don't know something food-related.  And to be all Uppity and Cooler-Than-Me (or whomever) because you know a Thing?  Well, it's just mean.  And snobby.

I understand that, as humans, we all want to feel like we belong to a certain group.  We all like to feel accepted and a part of the In Crowd, but in the case of the group People Who Cook Well, shouldn't we want everyone to join?  If we helped everyone walk away from their canned biscuits and their CoolWhip and their condensed soups--and helped them nicely--than we'd all live in a happier, healthier world.  And wouldn't that be nice?

So, there you have it.  I took twitter's temperature in my neck of the woods and came back with this:  Many folks would rather cook for friends than go out to eat.  Yay.  If we know how to cook, we can avoid wasting food, and if we learn cooking techniques and methods, we won't need to rely on cook books.  Yay, again (although I think they're fun to read).  And finally, the dude from The Chicago Tribune tires of foodies taking pictures like some crazed culinary paparazzi sneaking up on unsuspecting souffles.  Honestly, I guess I'm not as distressed about that, though, as I am about the whole I'm Better Than You Cuz I Know Food Stuff.  Bottom line, let's be respectful of each other and give each other a hand up so we can all be In The Club.

Here are the folks I had the distinct pleasure of talking with on twitter.  Some are professional chefs, others are professionals in other fields, and each had insightful things to say on the subjects we discussed:

@foodnouveau @foodshethought @TheUnknownChef @StrawberryToast @VinoLuci @glamah @CookUnderwriter @LauraAndolini @jaxies

If you're thinking about joining twitter, or wondering who to follow, these guys are a great start!

*The happy cherry cobbler post, complete with my attempt at drool-worthy photography, will be up tomorrow.


  1. says

    Unfortunately I’ve encountered a few foodie snobs who didn’t take too kindly to newbies. They were/are well established in their circle of friends so they don’t feel the need to include new outsiders. Frankly, I think that’s a damn shame. We’re all in this together, right?

    We all started somehow and for those of us still new to blogging and/or cooking we need a hand up, not an upturned nose. I’m looking to make friends and network accordingly, not be shut out. If someone doesn’t like me, fine. But at least make the attempt to get to know me before passing judgment.

    Thanks for a great post! Love your blog!

  2. says

    Well said. I’m experiencing a little foodie fatigue these days. But more about blogging , what it takes to succeed with a good blog( although I question some) ,than actual food.I look around and see a lot of hype about Nada, and on the other extreme just too much elitism with proper methods, authenticity, sustainability ,etc. I’m a realist and know while I’m blessed, not everyone can or is able to afford to male food lifestyle choices. So yes you may see me attempt some grand process, but deep down I’m a simple girl that enjoys food and learning from others
    It can all get so cliquey and competitive and you just have to remember why you do it. It should be for the sheer joy and love you derive from it. Not to be the next food superstar.
    Thanks for the reminder and the post.

  3. says

    Jenni my friend – thank you for being the teacher (and the anthill poker) that you are! I had read the Chicago Tribune article and nodded my head a lot while reading it. I’m probably suffering a bit from foodie fatigue – nay, food blogging fatigue – these days and it’s good to get a bit of perspective on the whole thing.

    • says

      Oh, DS–I don’t know what I’d do without you! I think, judging from the comments and some twitter conversations, that lots of people are feeling it. I propose a #foodiefatigue hashtag, signaling that we’re talking about low-brow food! 😉

  4. says

    I agree on all accounts and have tried to write my blog as an ordinary experimenter. You know I have not followed any recipe. I do admire people who can take an old dish like the beef one you mention and make it for me, matter of fact one friend is this weekend. I have not ever encountered any blogs who write pretentious things, but have had foodie fatigue lately. I started mine to chronicle my passion, and only that. Many get caught up in the Corporate Shilling, and honestly there is no money, not enough anyway. I say there are no rules to follow, do what you enjoy, and who cares what others say. Spudsy and you are prime examples of doing it good because you are passionate…the teacher just comes out in you naturally.

    I am having fun cooking and learning from everyone as I go…no other reason to do it for me…

    Thanks Onlinepastrychef for this post!


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