Good evening, friends and neighbors.
The other day, my mother called me a “curmudgeon-” and I think I’ve earned it.
A little backstory is in order here.
I was walking around downtown, looking for a quiet place to get a drink and do some writing. It was May 5th- Cinco De Mayo- and the margaritas and bad Spanish were running in the streets like rain. I resolved that this was definitely what I HADN’T signed up for today, and I was going to steer clear of ANY of the usual park areas or party bars. As I moved away from the riverside, I was struck by a sight that simply made me cringe. It was a group of young women- bleach blonde with the exact same hair and makeup, all wearing black halter tops reading “Final Fiesta” in gold. Obviously a bachelorette party- one of the women was wearing a tiny sombrero with a tuft of white veil stapled under it.
No, none of them were Mexican or Latinx.
Far be it from me to spoil someone else’s celebration, of course- I let them carry on their way without a word. God, the tackiness and tone-deafness made me wince though. I related the day to my family later on. My mother laughingly called me a “curmudgeon.”
I’ve done my share of goofy, indefensible stuff too. My friend Andrew and I kept a running tally of the weird, occasionally dangerous things I’ve done in a kitchen:
– nuclear-hot chocolate cookies
– “Caramel” cupcakes where the sugar was cooked to the point of black glass and shattered when dropped.
– Caramels cooked into lockjaw taffy that nearly choked Andrew when he tried to swallow.
– A “ganache” made with bakers chocolate so bitter in nearly made him cry.
All of it, I’d like to believe, spiraling toward a better center… or at least, a center where I learned to cut up butter smaller, calibrate my thermometers, and read the labels on hot sauces. Sorry, Andrew.
Possibly due to where I live though, or just my own changing tastes as a cook and diner, I find myself presented with concepts on menus that just make me go… “Ok, WHY?”
Make no mistake, I am NOT going to be another stodgy grump whinging about molecular cuisine or sous vide or whatever. Innovation and experimentation is excellent, vital, and desperately needed. Otherwise, food becomes stale and dull- and of all things in this world, food should NEVER be allowed to stay stagnant for long.
At the same time, though, I can’t accept random shots in the dark and “because no one else is doing it” being passed off as “experimentation.” If something is going to go on the plate, it needs to be there for a reason.
No, your chicken wings don’t need gold dust on them. It does not make you fancy or classy.
No, activated charcoal does NOT belong in food. I remember when EMTs were taught to give people that for alcohol poisoning. In case you missed it, we DON’T anymore.
For God’s sake, NO- you don’t need to dump sprinkles and glitter on a latte and call it “Unicorn,” and I don’t give a crap what ANYONE wants to say to the contrary, the flavor is “vanilla buttercream with sprinkles”- there is NO SUCH FLAVOR AS “BIRTHDAY CAKE.”
Cooks and bakers are artists, and we absolutely work in a creative medium- failing faster and spiraling toward a better center is part of the game. But… come on. If you want to impress me, show me skill. Show me immaculate ingredients. Show me something simple, executed so perfectly that my soul will ache. Show me a flavor profile balanced with such precision that I can read the story of how much you worked on this dish from one end of the plate to the other.
DON’T show me what just came in from the Provista catalog, or what all the kids on the internets are talking about these days.
If you’re going to push avocado toast on me, I care more about whether you made the bread or if the avocado was local than how rare and wondrous the salt is.