Fake It 'Til You Make It: Dining Out
We all have a foodie friend or 10. Someone who is gonna know where to get the best taco in whatever part of town or state you are in at whatever time of day. Or who will know about the secret pizza place in the basement of an old rubber factory across town.
They love food and the dining experience but even more than eating food, they love talking about food. The foods they want to try, foods they have tried and the restaurateurs they love. They will never talk about foods they won’t try because one of the great things about the majority of foodies is that they will try anything. So if you want to run with a foodie, you need to brush up on the difference between sriracha and gochujang. And you better like truffles.
One of the easiest tricks in a conversation with a foodie is just to get extra descriptive when describing a meal. Try it out the next time someone asks you what you had for lunch.
But seriously, the world is becoming way more food conscious. I mean look at all the TV shows, books and blogs dedicated to it. And I find myself talking about it with everyone I meet from random people at bars to long lost relatives.
So let’s dig in.
Food…you eat it, sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it isn’t.
Okay, something more. Honestly, the deal with dining or talking with a foodie is that you should just be open. Open to new cuisines like Thai- Italian fusion or weird locations like a sushi joint in a nearly deserted strip mall (that is a real example and it was amazing). But we are talking about talking about fine dining.
As with fashion, food has trends too. Just look at the cronut or cupcake. And just like fashion it is a trickle down effect. An ingredient like bacon goes from just a breakfast meat to something like this.
Foodies, critics and other chefs see this and try their own inventions. And eventually you start to see bacon inventions at chains and fast food places.
Again like fashion, in food, every executive chef /restaurateur has their own personality, flavors they love using, plating styles and even décor. But unlike a designer that has a second fashion line based on their higher end brand, many of the successful chefs that have multiple places like to explore totally different cuisines and with it different styles of plating, décor etc..
But high gourmet food isn’t just found in restaurants with cloth napkins anymore. The food truck movement makes really great and original dishes available to everyone at crazy hours and in crazy places like parks, street corners and parking lots. It is a great way to explore cuisines at lower prices too.
The best restaurants not on wheels are rated in the most regarded and exclusive of the ratings system, Michelin (yes, like the tires). The French company publishes a yearly guide book to dining establishments across the world, awarding stars to various restaurants and hotels. Just to illuminate on how difficult getting even one Michelin star is, last year only 106 restaurants in the WORLD received the highest honor of 3 stars.
The other, more all-encompassing guide is Zagat. Zagat gives a separate rating based on food, decor and service, with 30 being the highest. The Zagat guide is published yearly as well and is available for cities around the world. But the difference is, you can find an Applebee’s in a Zagat’s and I’m pretty sure the authors of the Michelin guide don’t even know what an Applebee’s is. Incidentally, the average Zagat rating for the chain is 13 for décor, 13 for food and 15 for service.
In addition to their restaurants getting rated, the chefs themselves are given awards, the highest being a James Beard Award. James Beard was an American chef who is credited with bringing gourmet, particularly French, cuisine to the middle and upper middle classes of America, starting in the 1950’s. The James Beard Foundation Awards are The Oscars of food. These awards honor chefs, restaurateurs, food journalists, cookbook writers and wine professionals.
So let’s get right to who is making and writing about the food that is tomorrow’s big thing.
Before we delve into some of the “it” chefs of today, let me clarify. These are not TV personalities, not all of them. The chefs on TV mainly teach you how to cook. The chefs mentioned below are making the food and the food experience for you. And while some of them do appear on TV, it is more as a visual food experience than a teaching experience. I also threw in a few food critics who’s opinions are what really matters.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten: French chef. New York said that no single chef has influenced the way New Yorkers dine than Jean-Georges. Of his over 20 restaurants world wide, his most famous is the 3 Michelin star Jean-Georges. He is also the author of many cookbooks. His signature style is modern French, clearly.
Thomas Keller: chef, restaurateur and cookbook writer. He is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants, French Laundry in Napa Valley and NYC’s Per Se. His list of culinary awards include several James Beard Awards and the Julia Child “First Cookbook” Award for the “French Laundry Cookbook”. His signature style is refined Californian with his signature dish being Oysters and Pearls.
David Chang: Chef and restaurateur. Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group includes over 10 restaurants world wide, including Ko in New York City, which has 2 Michelin stars. His cuisine is New American with Asian fusion and his signature dish is the Momofuku pork buns.
Mario Batali: TV personality, chef, restaurateur. You know him, big guy, orange hair, shorts, orange Crocs. He and partner Joe Bastianich (another name to know) have about ten restaurants across the country. The one with the most accolades is Babbo in New York. Batali is best known for his Italian cuisine.
Anthony Bourdain: TV personality, author and chef. You know Anthony from his Travel Channel show “No Reservations” or ABC’s “The Taste”, the “Voice”-like cooking competition show. But he’s actually an influential chef and author as well. He’s really the personification of the foodie’s adventurous spirit.
Wylie Dufresne: American chef. Dufresne is an apprentice of Jean-Georges. He is one of the biggest and most popular proponents of molecular gastronomy, the movement to incorporate science into the preparation and presentation of food. You can sample some of his inventions at his New York restaurants, wd-50 and Alder. While he hates the term “signature dish” a few dishes he’s known for are fried mayonnaise, slow-poached eggs and meat glue pasta.
Grant Achatz: American chef. Achatz is another innovator in the world of molecular gastronomy. He’s really known for his deconstructions of classic flavors. His Chicago restaurant Alinea has 3 Michelin stars.
Will Goldfarb: Pastry chef. Come on, you need to know at least one amazing pastry chef. Goldfarb like Dufresne and Achatz is one of the first innovators of molecular gastronomy, bringing it into desserts! In 2006 he opened Room 4 Dessert in NYC which served edible dessert cocktails. Being quite the scientist he invented what he calls WillPowder, a powder that brings out different flavors and textures.
Danny Meyer: New York City restaurateur. This St. Louis native and recipient of several James Beard awards is responsible for one of my favorite things about New York, Shake Shack. But besides that, he has places all over NYC, many Michelin rated and all super delicious including The Modern, Union Square Café and the NYC staple, Gramercy Tavern.
Pete Wells: Food critic. Wells is the food critic for the “New York Times”, he has the power to make or break a chef and/or restaurant. He succeeded Sam Sifton as NY Times critic after serving the same role at “Food & Wine”. His most famous review is the utter takedown of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant.
Mark Bittman: Food journalist, columnist for “The New York Times. His cookbooks have won him several awards, but it is really his column, “The Miniamalist” that makes him a name to know in the food world.
Not all the words in the culinary world are about food….just most of them.
Omakase: The literal translation of this from Japanese is “I trust the chef”. You order the omakase in most good sushi places and you will get whatever the chef wants to give you. It is sort of the essence of the attitude of a foodie. And if you like sushi, this is a great culinary adventure.
Gastropub: A bar that serves gourmet twists on bar food instead of the traditional bar fare. The Spotted Pig in NYC is probably one of the more famous gastropubs.
Locavore: Someone who eats or grocery shops only local products for their freshness and support of the community. These folks are big on farm to table dining.
Sweetbreads: This is not a dessert, I repeat, NOT a dessert. This extremely misleading name refers to various glands of calves or lambs, although pork and beef sweetbreads can also be found on menus.
Foie gras: The fattened liver of a duck or goose. In France, foie gras is the term for a liver that is fattened by force feeding the water fowl, but outside of France, many have started to do it naturally, without force. Whether you agree with it or not, it is on many menus and it is useful to know what it is.
Rezzie:Foodie slang for reservation. I mention this because it is always good to know what the actually food nerds would say. Apps for appetizers is another good foodie slang to toss around when ordering.
Truffles:This is a highly prized type of fungus or mushroom. Once called the “diamonds of the kitchen”, truffles are used in almost all types of cuisine now. They’re actually extracted from the ground in France and Italy, where they are commonly found, by trained pigs. No lie. A truffle can cost up to $1,200 a pound but most kitchens use truffle oil. If something has actually truffle in it, you can expect the price to be steeper. Pretty much every foodie I know will automatically order something that has truffles.
Tartare: Finely chopped meat or fish that is served raw. The most traditional is a steak tartare, but many restaurants now serve fish with tuna or salmon being most commonly used.
Kimchi: A Korean food staple. Kimchi is kind of like a coleslaw that is fermented. They use vegetables like napa cabbage, radishes, and cucumbers and mix them with spices. When made traditionally, it is put in jars and allowed to ferment underground for months. It definitely has a very distinct odor, I mean imagine, fermented, spicy cabbage.
Chapulin: Mexican crickets. Yes, they are bugs. But they are gourmet bugs. I know it sounds silly and like I’m making it up, but chapulins are the up and coming foodie adventure food. In fact, the L.A. food scene is starting to catch on.
It is hard to come up with phrases that would be easy to memorize and recite in a foodie conversation because as I said before, a lot of food conversations are descriptive and opinion based. So feel free to sort of fill in the blanks with the above words or people depending on where you live and what restaurant you are in.
“It’s easier to get a rezzie at Babbo now, I mean its not 1998.”
“All these apps look so good. We should definitely try that tartare (foie gras, whatever sounds the most adventurous and unique).”
“How do you think Wylie Dufresne would deconstruct this hotdog (PB&J or whatever mundane food you have for lunch on a Tuesday)”
“I think I’d call Thomas Keller a total locavore. But aren’t most chefs in some way?”
“Wait, that is made with truffles? I’m in!”
FOR MORE INFO
You think you are ready to become a foodie? Here are some films, books and sites to check out to get you started on your path to food nerd-dom. I added in a few Twitter accounts to follow as well.
Documentaries: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, “A Matter of Taste”, “I Like Killing Flies”, and “Pressure Cooker”
Books: “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, “Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl, “Blood Bones & Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton and “Notes From A Kitchen” by Jeff Scott
Twitter: You can find most of food blogs and chefs mentioned but also worth mentioning is @NYFoodieFinder, @RuthReichl, @LaistFood, and just for the bacony-thrill of it @baconsalt