Friday, September 3, 2010

The Taste of Beverly Hills and Why I'm Proud to be a Nerdy Food Blogger

I’ll never forget the first (and, incidentally, only) time an elementary school teacher told me to “pull my card” for talking during class. My face burned with shame as I shakily tottered over to the side board to remove the green piece of construction paper under my name. I spent the rest of the morning fighting back tears as I stared in horror at my yellow card.

“Does she hate me now?” I thought as I studied Mrs. Niday’s face for telltale signs that I was no longer her favorite pupil.

“Will she ever pick me to pass out homework again?” I worried as I tried to focus on adding one plus two during math.

“What if she tells my parents? Will she call my mom after school?” I fretted when the bell finally rang at the end of the day.

Even as a first grader, I was painfully sensitive to what others thought of me. The smallest criticism, the tiniest hint of a cross-eye, the slightest raised voice would set me off into a tearful neurotic tizzy. I desperately wanted to be liked – and, as much as it pains me to admit it, still feel that same desperation as an almost 27-year-old.

This week my neurotic tizzy came courtesy of Katharine Shilcutt’s piece, “Has the ‘Foodie’ Backlash Begun?” posted on the Houston Press Food Blog early last month. In the article, Shilcutt discusses the negative connotations that have become attached to the word “foodie.” She describes this loathsome “foodie” as follows:

A foodie is now someone who takes food to extremes: Tweeting every course of every meal, obsessively discussing Top Chef Masters and Hell's Kitchen episodes on Internet forums, forcing the entire group to wait as they take pictures of every dish that hits the table and rushing to upload them to Flickr or Twitpic, grilling wait staff to find out the exact provenance of every ingredient in a dish and revering chefs as if they were Lennon and McCartney.

While I like to think that I am more similar to the other food personality she describes – the “food nerd” (someone “who wants to investigate all aspects of food”) – I couldn’t help but find aspects of my own behavior in her definition of a “foodie.” I do obsessively discuss "Top Chef" – on my blog, on Twitter and in text messages to my older brother (who, for the record, is also very disappointed that Tiffany went home). I do take pictures of every dish at a restaurant – even when I’m on a date. And I do get absurdly giggly and googly-eyed around a chef I admire.

After reading the article on Wednesday morning, I felt sick. What was I doing wasting so much time obsessing over a quinoa recipe I’d discovered, an artisanal chocolate bar or a hot new restaurant? Why did I feel such a great need to do things like drive an hour out of my way for a pretzel roll or to make a road trip down to Orange County just for some thick-crust BBQ chicken pizza? And why couldn’t I go to a restaurant without my camera?

I obsessed over my obsession – quickly turning myself into Shilcutt’s public enemy number one. I even briefly considered retiring my camera and hanging up my food blogger hat to find other interests to become compulsive about.

Then, last night, at the inaugural event for this weekend’s Taste of Beverly Hills, as I self-consciously snapped a photo of the display from the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, I noticed a woman taking a piece of red velvet cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory’s booth. She took one bite of the cake then promptly deposited it into the garbage bin that was right next to the representatives from the restaurant.

“Did you see that?” I asked Lindsay Ross-Williams, a food writer at LAist, in horror.

“What?” She asked.

“That woman just threw out an entire slice of cake.”

Lindsay shook her head. “So wasteful.”

It wasn’t the only instance where I felt appalled at the disrespectful behavior of some of the guests at the festival. Middle-aged men shoved into me so they could be first in line to grab a steaming plate of al dente rigatoni pasta with sausage and truffles from Caffe Roma restaurant’s display. Women in tight dresses and chunky 4-inch heels indiscriminately grabbed plates without paying attention to the proud restaurant representatives who wanted to tell the event’s attendees about their dishes. When I stopped by the Bazaar’s table with some of my fellow “food nerds,” the pastry chef even told us about one woman who had shoveled the pristine saffron and Earl Grey chocolates, mini chocolate chip cookies and pate de fruit into her bag to get the most out of her $150 ticket.

Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so bad about cataloguing the evening with my camera nor being so bold as to (gasp!) ask the representative at the Bouchon table how the melon was compressed for their melon and feta salad.

I actually felt kind of good about it. It seemed like the right thing to do given all the hard work that went into the event and the preparation of the plates. The Bouchon rep was excited to talk about the process of compressing the melon and proudly held up the compression bags for me to see. He wasn’t alone. One man working the Blvd table couldn’t wait to tell me about their chef’s squid ink pasta with shrimp and aioli.

“Be sure to mix the aioli in!” He instructed to anyone who would pause long enough to listen.

While I recognize that I should probably leave my camera at home the next time I have a date, and should be more cognizant of my photographing behavior in restaurants, I left the Beverly Hilton last night feeling proud that I do care enough about food to respect both it and those who work so hard to prepare it. I may ask questions, I may use my Droid light to capture the perfect shot, and I may overanalyze every episode of “Top Chef,” but I would never throw an entire piece of cake away. Even if it is from the Cheesecake Factory.


Protocol Snow said...

I went through a very brief food blogger phase, inspired by KevinEats and an assortment of L.A. foodies. For sure, the very act of taking photos and thinking carefully about the food so that I could later write about it gave me a greater appreciation of the meals. It also broadened my horizons in multiple ways.

But after a few posts on my website, I realized how sorely deficient my food knowledge and vocabulary were. So I called it quits. The food blogging part, that is. I still maintain the newfound appreciation for food =)

Anyway, enough about me. This was a long-winded way to say, now I leave the food blogging to the pros like you! Keep it up.

stuffycheaks said...

don't feel bad about being a foodie, at least your obsession isn't as unhealthy as lets say.. gamblin or boozing :) besides, if you give up blogging, how will we ever get our witty recaps of top chef??

The Duo Dishes said...

It's so sad to see all the wasted food at some of these events. If being a foodie only meant clearing your plate, we'd fit into the group too. Don't feel ashamed of your food loving qualities! Live it, love it, eat it.

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

man i missed out! and you know had i gone i would have eaten that WHOLE slice of cake nothing thrown away :)! yay food nerds!

Diana said...

Protocol Snow - Funny, I actually realized that I didn't know much about food when I first started my blog either! I'm still learning new things every day, but my growth as a diner, cook, etc. has become part of my blogging identity. Thank you for following my journey!

Stephanie - Hah, nope, I'm definitely not a gambler! Unless you count eating questionable foods as gambling! ;)

Chrystal & Amir - Thank you! Good to see you briefly yesterday! It was quite the event!

Nastassia - I wish you had been there too! Would loved to have hung out with you this weekend.

Lady Anne said...

There are a lot of cheese store or
cheese shop to find some recipe