A good number of my guests mistakenly assume that not knowing absolutely everything about food and wine makes them look like unsophisticated trash, so they get defensive and make ridiculous proclamations from their pride and vanity. This is what will make you intolerable, not your inexperience. Of course not that. A good number of us actually love hosting you through the gates - so quit shoving back, for chrissakes.
Examples of food fear:
I’m not a cab franc person/I don’t like cab franc
Sweeping proclamations are a dead giveaway. Any person who has spent the bulk of their adult lives serving, making, eating and drinking and studying food and wine knows that there are as many variations of each as there are people making them and the places in which they do it. I’ve had a cab franc from Italy that tasted like three kinds of pepper punching you in the face, and I’ve had cab franc from Napa that tasted like Dr. Pepper syrup with rubbing alcohol mixed in. But mostly, I’ve had red bell pepper nose-orgy, chocolate-covered raspberry velvety yum yum lamb tartar-loving beauties from the Loire Valley. Being that most people I serve are more familiar with the bastardized Franken-wine versions of varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, what I hear when they say I do or don’t like [X varietal] is: I don’t like the California versions of [X varietal]. Goody. Neither do I. Now shut up and drink this Cab Franc from Bourgueil that I am recommending. It will pop the top on that sad little box you have put yourself in, letting some much-needed air and sunlight back into your world.
You can go ahead and pour
I hear this one when I have just poured the tasting for the person who ordered the wine. About a third of the time, they flutter their hand at me like a foppish king and yawn go ahead and pour, I’m sure it’s fine.
I think, Awww. You don’t have the slightest idea what to do here, do you? and then I graciously (depending on the night) try to give you a clue on the sly. I might say something like “1 in 20 odds don’t scare you, Sir - you live life dangerously!” and as I pour the other guests at the table (some of whom know what was supposed to have happened) I might offer, “If you find a flaw in the wine, please let me know and I will happily replace it.”
At this point, not you, but someone else at the table might ask what kind of flaws. Look, I don’t expect you all to know this stuff – of course I don’t. Jesus, what kind of asshole do you think I am? But I do expect that when you are, say, flying along at 38,000 feet and the stewardess tells you to fasten your seat belt, you ought to because she knows something you don’t; that 1 in 20 bottles of wines (except for screw caps and synthetic corks, of course) suffer from TCA, the flaw responsible for making your wine smell like wet cardboard and taste flat or otherwise strange. I know you don’t know a good wine from a bad because I’ve drunk the last ounce of whatever is left in your bottle after you’ve left, and lemme tell you, guests have enjoyed oxidized, cooked and corked wines all night long without telling me something was off. Because they didn’t want to look dumb. And they will forever think they didn’t like it because of the varietal, which is like saying you don’t like driving Saabs because the one you rented in Maine last fall had a flat tire. They will be the people who often say I don’t like Cabernet Francs.
Sniffing the cork
Believe it or not, some people actually do this. They usually reside in a red state and our restaurant is the first outside of Applebee’s they visited in a long while. They are usually in town visiting a more “sophist-imicated” sibling or in-laws. They tend to despise the fact that they are there in the first place, and they are frightened of any waiter not wearing suspenders and buttons. They sniff the cork and then tell me I can pour. The other guests blush slightly. They will sometimes mouth sorry. Please don’t apologize. That’s just silly. You’re the one who has to spend Thanksgiving with him, not I.
The cork will not tell you much. If it has TCA, the wine in your glass will tell you. If the wine had any other flaw, you won’t know from the cork. Also, corks smell kind of … corky. So sniffing it really doesn’t give you the most accurate information. But most cork-sniffers watch Fox News, so they’re used to this.
Where to begin. The word ‘foodie’ has been created and commandeered by the same people who are convinced they could diagnose an obscure illness by watching “House.” It came into popularity because, comparatively, Americans have a lame sense of national identity, propped up by pop culture and platitudes about freedom. Ashamed and frightened by the Bush administration, we have disowned our culture, which is really just a bedsore of rampant, amoral capitalism. We have fast food joints, diet pills, television, Taylor Swift and are one of the worst polluters in the world. We bowed out of the Kyoto Accords and we torture suspected terrorists. Clinging to any subset of interests that separates us from the embarrassing oil-igarchy is only natural. It’s like walking six feet away from your parents when you’re a teenager. Food is now a more critical matter in determining one's taste than fashion even is. But this novel fervor has created a dreadfully overrated sense of importance. You may not have read Nabokov, but heaven help you if you don’t know what foie gras is.
So when they tell me we’re foodies, what they mean is we are somebody. The foodie merely wants to be recognized as someone who is intelligent, informed and aware. They want me to know they had nothing to do with where we are now – that they are genteel and refined and offended by our plastic and soulless culture. I try to be gentle with the foodie. They just want to be loved. But never forget that they are imposters. Real lovers of food don't have a cute name for themselves, and are identifiable by a number of signs, including:
• A passion for offal. If they say, “Oooh, lamb’s liver with rabbit kidney-onion salad!” my heart leaps a little.
• Asking their server, the liaison between kitchen and guest, what they recommend. This is the act of a real pro. They don’t even have to take the recommendation.
• Animated discussion over the table. Food of any kind fills the cells of the true food lover until they brim over with emotion and enthusiasm. A foodie, on the other hand, is usually awkward and self-conscious, glaring around them and even, oh god help us all!, taking notes on scraps of paper for their blogs. They look miserable, because they think this will get them taken seriously. We will ask how everything is and they will grimace slightly and say “it’s okay.” In their heads, the apt critic is a caricature of an Ambien-sotted George Plimpton. They mistakenly equate ennui with experience. Servers! When this happens, don’t probe, don’t ask if you can get anything else for them. They will only try to make you feel inferior or threaten your job. Just smile and say “and for dessert, I have something I think you, especially, will dig.” They will perk up immeasurably, even though you were imagining them eating a plate of garbage from the dishroom.
I sincerely hope this helps. Someone had to tell you.
Still to come: The Fifth Ring of Hell is Reserved for Yelpers