I hate the word foodie.
I really do. I’m also not fond of gourmand, gourmet, gavonne, connoisseur, saveur, or person-in-the-know. Our friend Matthew once described the Chef and me as “…food geeks in love.” I’m okay with that. I’d rather be a geek (oh, I am) than someone who is finished, for the rest of my life.
You see, there’s something about the word foodie that sounds like it should be said with a nasal accent, an upper-crust sound, chin raised, eyes partially closed. It sounds, to me, like “Oh yes, I’m one of those people who knows exactly where to buy the best olive oil. All the rest are so declasse.”
The word foodie sounds like snobbery to me.
There’s another part of this. Here is the writer/former English teacher in me coming out foodie is a noun. It’s a static object. It’s a way of being, set in stone. That’s not me. I’m constantly, astonishingly learning. That means I make a lot of mistakes. That also means I’m not afraid to ask questions about the most basic parts of the food world, like how to chop an onion.
I prefer verbs when I’m describing myself. I like actions, evolutions, a constantly shifting set of images that seem to make up a person. Look again, and it’s a different one.
I’m not a foodie. I love food. I adore the people who make food. I live in tastes and memorable bites.
I’ve been thinking about this lately, since I read Adam Roberts’ sweet little book, The Amateur Gourmet. A quick read, a few guffaws, and the voice that everyone who reads his blog has come to know well the book yields these and more.
But it also surprised me. The way Adam surprised me.
You see, I read Adam’s blog, The Amateur Gourmet for years. And of course, I thought he was funny, because Adam is funny. Quantifiably funny. (He is a 10 on the funny-o-meter.) I thought he was a little sloppy, certainly prolific, and really, a not-so-good photographer of restaurant meals. (I think he has stopped using flash indoors now. Those photos look a lot better these days.) But before I met him to be totally honest I thought he was probably a bit of an arrogant prat. A foodie.
And then, I met Adam, at the Chef’s restaurant, in June. I loved him, instantly. He talked fast, with his hands, he leaned forward in his seat to drink in every word that Molly or Tea or David or I said, and he had a big grin on his face. But mostly, I was wonderfully pleased to see how young and excitable and eager to learn Adam really is.
Adam’s a mensch.
I read that Adam in every page of his book. The young man who is not afraid to say that he still has so much to learn.
There’s a phrase in Zen Buddhism that runs through my brain every day: beginner’s mind. Anyone can say, “I know.” And feel done. But it takes work to remind ourselves to remove the film of experience from our eyes and simply look at the world.
Do you remember the first time you bit down into a slice of sashimi?
Do you remember the first time you made a meal by yourself and felt satisfied with the sensory pleasures?
Do you remember the first time you discovered the sweet-salty taste of something you love now?
All of our most startling experiences, the ones that stay in our minds, arrived as surprises.
Walking around saying “I know” can stop us from experiencing.
Adam, in his book, does what so many people are afraid to do. He lets himself look foolish. He has lunch with Ruth Reichl, and he peppers her with so many elementary questions that make him look new at this that she ends up yelling at him. He talks to Amanda Hesser about how to shop at the farmers’ market. He makes a meal for his family, in spite of their protestations about the dinner. He eats Korean food for the first time.
In the first few chapters, Adam portrayed himself as such a beginner (both in the experiences and the writing) that I sort of cringed, a bit. But that was my own snobbery. I paid attention to that. By the end when he has more confidence and skill, but all the same wide-eyed enthusiasms the book had a wonderful depth. It’s as though the words were braising, slowly, over the entire read. By the time the book was done, those words were tender and nearly caramelized. Beautiful.
I swear, I teared up at the end.
I identified dearly with Adam’s descriptions of his food awakenings as a metaphor for his personal life awakenings. That’s the experience I have been astounded by, these past two years. You think you are just learning how to make tomato sauce, or roast a chicken, or smell the difference between tarragon and rosemary in the garden. But in reality, when you set out to learn how to cook, how to live a life of food, how to leave behind the processed foods of your youth and really taste your life? You come alive.
All those of you who are new to gluten-free? And deriding the fact you will have to cook everything from scratch? Count your blessings. This may be the biggest gift of all.
The other day, I turned to the Chef in the kitchen. Waving my soapy hands in the air (we were doing the dishes), I said, “I’m so excited! There’s so much left to learn about food!”
He laughed, and said, “Me too, sweet pea. I’ll never be done learning.”
That’s why I love him. He knows more about food than anyone I have ever met. And he is, naturally, always at beginner’s mind.
Adam’s book is well worth your read. (And it’s fairly short, giving you time to digest it before another book hits the stores in October.)
I’d rather be an amateur than a foodie, any day.
Red Pepper Sauce
At the beginning of his book, Adam walks a friend through making tomato sauce from scratch. (And on the phone, no less.) He uses Mario Batali’s recipe, which looks fantastic.
But should you wish for a change of pace, try this red pepper sauce the Chef made yesterday. On polenta, it’s dynamic. It will open your tastes and teach you, again.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, fine diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons rosemary and thyme, minced
1/2 medium carrot, sliced
5 red peppers, sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper (give or take)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and carrot and cook for one minute. Add the garlic. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onions have become translucent.
Add the sliced peppers. Cook for 5 minutes more, or until the peppers have become soft.
Cover with stock (vegetable or chicken) by one inch.
Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
Puree in the blender in batches. (Be careful not to over-fill the blender. This will be hot.) For each batch, add one tablespoon of the best olive oil you own.
Return the sauce to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Taste. Season until the taste jumps vibrantly in your mouth.
Serve over gluten-free pasta, polenta, or whatever suits your fancy.