Last week I
wrote about a pizza place in Avon and no one said a word. Over the holidays I
penned two articles expressing my displeasure about shopping at Discount Food
Outlet in Canton; and readers are still writing in droves to expressing their
displeasure about my perspective, even attacking me personally. More than one
comment suggested that I leave town since I didn’t like it. I was both
confronted and amused by such responses.
confrontation part is obvious, I hope—no one likes being openly despised, especially
by people they are unacquainted with. Unfortunately, humans seem all too
willing to express malice towards those people with opinions that do not match
their own (see our current political climate). In my mind, this is akin to
hating the guy next to you because you don’t like the color of his tie. Ties,
like opinions can, and do, get changed. The life that wears that tie or has
that opinion, however, is no less precious, and we are all hard-wired to
preserve it. Fortunately that is not all us humans are born with. Laughter,
they say, is the best medicine.
In another sense, I was very much amused by all the uproar realizing people’s anger was not
because of an unpopular stance on abortion or gay marriage, but a grocery store.
Now that is funny!!! I had no
idea that people were so attached to where they bought their food. Shame on me,
though, as food is always chock-full of intimate meaning for people. Lesson
In the wake of the fallout from the DFO articles, this week allow me to
offer a more personal piece that I hope will establish a context for what I
write, and why I write it; a kind of road map to my inner gastronome.
The first item on the colloquial menu is the term “connoisseur”; this is what I consider myself in the food arena. Think of it as the “who does this guy think he is?” part of my writing. The second proffering is the usefulness of critique and analysis. While criticism nearly always gets a bad rap, I think we need critics and critical understandings of any subject, food included. As subjectivity is common to all of us, being critical can actually help us appreciate even our least favorite ideas by allowing us to see there is always another side to any story. But first, the connoisseur…
The word ‘connoisseur’
is from Latin/old French meaning literally “one who knows”, while in English it
has been developed a bit more. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
1 : expert; especially : one who understands the
details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a
2 : one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties
Yours truly fits
I have worked
as a culinary professional my entire adult life (fifteen years, by my count)
with at least a few years in pastry arts, bread baking, as well as savory
cooking—the holy trinity of culinary arts. I have cooked professionally in my
hometown of Columbus, Ohio, as well as New York City (where I went to culinary
school) and San Francisco to name a few. I have also spent more than two years
as a Chef Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu
in Chicago and a year baking in Provence, France, and currently, I am a PhD
candidate at the University of Connecticut studying American food culture—one of
a handful of people who do this in the country.
I like to
think that the title of “connoisseur” has been earned; at the very least, I
write about cuisine in all its forms from a well-educated point of view.
my background, I hope our readers realize I’m not just throwing darts into the
pumpkin patch of epicurean opinion, I am actually quite well-informed about foodstuffs,
wine, cooking, eating, and gourmandizing in general—and learning more all the
time. Letting others know about my perspective on a topic is meant merely to
give an educated perspective about the myriad facets of gastronomy around
Connecticut, or wherever I may be.
minority of instances, I find the room for improvement around an issue (enter
Discount Food Outlet) outweighs whatever contribution is attempting to be made
and I choose critique rather than support. Here is where the marriage of
informed criticism and free speech form a panoply of opportunity for the reader.
Criticism, despite its primary negative connotation, additionally involves analysis and evaluation, as in literary pursuits. Weighing merits and demerits of any subject allows the subjectivity of both author and reader to be accounted for. There is a sense in which criticism is much more useful than positivism; easy to see if you know the endgame is a more comprehensive understanding of the subject at hand. This is especially important around arenas where the “truth” of something is a foregone conclusion.
Do you believe everything you read (like my articles)? How about ads for automobiles from car dealers? Ever jump into a swimming pool without checking the water first? Of course you don’t. We all use our faculties to assess and evaluate (i.e. criticize) the information presented to us. Should shopping for food somehow escape this kind of surveillance because the signs are pretty and the prices low? Think about it.
to a healthy dose of closed-door politics, marketing, price-gouging, and downright
dishonesty, the food world can be a tough one to navigate. That’s where I come
worked for private restaurants, catering companies, cooking schools and corporations
like Whole Foods Market have created in me a unique perspective on how and why
the foods these places sell to you are the way they are. Frankly, if any food purveyor told you the full
truth about how and why they do what they do, you would have a really hard time
eating anywhere. I should know as that is my penance for knowing what I know. There
is really no free lunch—but I recommend knowing a chef to come close.
So hey, enjoy
that cheap-o cheeseburger tonight, even though if you were to pay the real
price for the ground beef (i.e. the government did not meddle in it) it would cost
you about $50. Oh, and there is still
cow crap in it—why do you think McDonald’s has to cook them to well-done? For you supposedly
uppity Whole Foods-ies (like me), don’t worry about the pesticides that came on
that organic apple you just gave your kid; it only killed the lab mice in really high doses. I’m sure you’ll be
See? There is, inherently, bad news in some of the best things in life, and food is no exception. Tools like education and criticism can only function as rough guides to navigate an increasingly complicated global food network, and it isn’t getting any better. We all have to eat, and I’m here to help you find the best ways to do that right here in Connecticut; free of charge here on ctgreenscene.com. Hell, I don’t even charge them.
So, if you care, and/or have something to contribute to the conversation (whether we agree or not), keep reading—and thank you for your consideration. If you don’t like to hear educated opinions other than your own, or somehow believe that considering these things make you, too, a "zealot" or "a liberal" (a small sample of what I have been called), I hope you enjoy it while you can. We all have our last meal someday.