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The chef’s table
Located inside the kitchen, this concept has been introduced in several restaurants and throws foodies right in among the fire and knives.
Most foodies have never worked in a professional kitchen, so they are oblivious to the deep, psychotic hatred that cooks hold for anyone or anything that distracts them during service. The fact that they hate you and are armed with knives and boiling fat merely adds a seasoning of danger.
Having managed, by luck or influence, to get a booking at a top restaurant, most people would be happy to choose from the menu. A really high-grade foodie regards the menu as a list of raw materials and, in a jaw-dropping display of arrogance, will discuss with the waiter a completely new combination of the available ingredients.
Foodies love the arcane patois of the professional kitchen and, whenever possible, use it in general conversation. “Frying off”, sounds gratifyingly professional, which, of course, it is, in the right circumstances. “I’ll just pour two pints of industrial-grade grease into this metre-square brat pan, fry off 800 battery chicken breasts, slap them under the heat lamps and hope no one dies on my shift.” That’s professional.
Foodies believe that no one appreciates great food like they do, except maybe the person who cooked it. They believe they have a bond with the chef and that making a little fuss in the restaurant, showing the staff that they know what they’re about, will result in better service, better food and ultimately a visit by the man in white to meet the erudite fellow gastronaut on table eight.
A collection of oils arouses little comment these days, but extreme foodies also collect solid fats. Pork, duck, beef dripping, rendered pancetta trimmings, are all saved in little jars at the back of the fridge. Few civilians, with the exception of mass murderers, are entirely comfortable with this disturbingly forensic display.
Now that merely “professional” equipment is available to any oaf with a credit card, “specialist” or “bespoke” kit is a foodie essential. Take knives as an example. Somewhere in a back street in Tokyo there’s a brilliant, wizened sashimi chef who was first allowed to slice fish after 20 years of washing dishes for one of the great masters. This sensei has been cutting sashimi for longer than you’ve been alive. He doesn’t need a $1,647 hand-forged sashimi knife, individually weighted to fit his hand – though, apparently, a foodie who throws the occasional dinner party for friends in north London does.
The problem with the culinary renaissance is that it’s now too easy to get great food. What was cutting-edge ethnic cuisine five years ago is now available to anyone who can pierce the film and nuke it. For a foodie to maintain distance from the merely discerning, travel and research have become essential. We’re not talking about touring France for the three-star restaurants here – that’s for retired lawyers – we’re talking Vietnam for the frogs.
Tim Hayward is UK editor of the website eGullet.org