Tasteless | Oh, phooey on phancy phood!
Food-lover Tyrone Beason asks, "What was I trying to prove, anyway?" It's as though the art of television cooking he was imitating had taken over his domestic life. But he's not the only one who's afflicted with food fetishism. Our interest in dazzlingly precious food has made us unbearably precious people.
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I BECAME an ex-foodie the last time I tried and failed to make truffled yam fries, the perfectly crispy, impeccably sweet-'n'-funky kind that restaurants always seem to make, but that I, even with my culinary prowess and collection of infused salts and musky oils, can never seem to pull off.
No matter how I tried to make them, the result was always a pile of flimsy, tepid strips that registered just slightly above the status of mush.
Those fails always left me feeling deflated. But after that last vain attempt, it dawned on me that too much of my self-image was wrapped up in my kitchen skills.
Friends had always teased me about my obsessive plating of home-cooked meals. My Frenched lamb chops came to the table standing at a rakish angle, the rib bones leaning like Towers of Pisa against a neat stack of fried polenta cakes, a fruity balsamic reduction shimmering at the base.
My fish were never served filleted, but rather whole with diagonal slits cut into the flesh, a bunch of herbs protruding artfully from the belly and a mountain of fragrant black rice underneath.
I hardly ever mixed a cocktail with fewer than three uncommon ingredients — a splash of rose water, say, or dash of some ginger liqueur.
And who but I would have realized, or should have cared, that my pancake batter contained a finely ground mixture of walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans?
My breakfasts and dinners weren't so much meals as feats of architecture, pieces of kabuki theater.
What was I trying to prove, anyway? It's as if the art of television cooking I was clearly trying to imitate had taken over my domestic life.
I'm not the only one who's afflicted with food fetishism. Our interest in dazzlingly precious food has made us unbearably precious people.
Somewhere along the way, America broke into two distinct societies: Those who supersized their fast-food orders, and those who supersized their culinary ambitions.
A scene on the devilishly on-point TV comedy "Portlandia" captures how far we in that latter group have gone:
Two lovebirds are seated at a fancy restaurant for a romantic dinner when the server arrives to take their orders. The woman diner wants to know more about the chicken entree.
"The chicken is a heritage breed, woodland raised chicken that's been fed a diet of sheep's milk, soy and hazelnuts," the server says.
The diners nod approvingly, but they need a little more information before ordering: "This is local?" the man asks the server.
The server says yes, but the man's not convinced: "I'm gonna ask you just one more time . . . It's local?"
Then the woman chimes in: "Is that USDA organic or Oregon organic or Portland organic?"
"It's just all-across-the-board organic," the server says.
"Hazelnuts? Those are local?" the man presses further.
The server starts to look flustered.
Then the woman launches in again with, "How big is the area where the chickens are able to roam free?"
The server steps away and returns with a folder containing the chicken's "papers" and a picture of it.
"So here is the chicken you'll be enjoying tonight — his name was Collin," she says.
Naturally, the diners want to know whether the chicken had an active social life and whether the farmers who raised him are credible organic producers, before excusing themselves to go visit the farm and investigate for themselves.
This clip would be even funnier if not for the fact that I have, on occasion, peppered servers with exactly the same kind of questions, concerned that my vegetables were raised too far away and that my meat might have led a hard-knock life.
It has not been enough for food to simply taste good to me. I've needed to feel good about my food, too.
In truth, my food choices, my studied curiosity and conscientiousness about food had always been intended to make me look as good as the dishes I cooked or ordered.
That's in the past now.
All of my attempts to elevate my food to something beyond sustenance or even fine dining have left a bad taste in my mouth.
If I hear one more restaurant server go on and on about the provenance of the ingredients on the establishment's menu, I will throw my microgreen salad across the room and shake a fist against food connoisseurship.
I need to cleanse my palate — preferably with good ol' Ritz crackers.
So down with braised kale and purple carrots, Kobe beef and pepper jelly.
Long live iceberg lettuce and russet potatoes, steaks without pedigree and French's mustard.
I will dine on Dick's fries without shame.
I will no longer arrange my home-cooked meals on elegant white, square plates.
It's really not necessary to have a little bit of viognier in my shiraz. I will shatter all of my stemless wineglasses.
From now on, a pinch of Morton's will do — no more pricey fleur de sel.
I will gladly snack on Georgia peaches grown in Chile.
I will let my sides and sauces slosh around on the plate and I will never again try to impress friends by pronouncing the word "bruschetta" with the proper "k" sound in the middle.
I will pour my fig balsamic vinegar down the drain.
And, finally, I will no longer wilt my collards to preserve their color, texture and nutrients. Instead, I will stew them all afternoon with a ham hock — the way the folks back home do.
Tyrone Beason is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer and a very good cook, indeed. Susan Jouflas is a Seattle Times assistant art director and likes to eat.