I just saw in the Sunday supplement magazine of a large metropolitan newspaper that Alton Brown, a graduate of New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier and a star on the Food Channel, is fed up with foodies. I think I know what he meant by that. Like anything in life, if you get a steady diet of something you get tired of it, kind of like my mother making cream cheese and jelly sandwiches for my lunch for my entire eight years of elementary school. And it wasn’t even good jelly — just run-of-the-mill grape jelly. On Wonder Bread no less! I’m not entirely sure, however, what a foodie is. I mean, I enjoy food a lot and I like to eat food on a regular basis. Am I therefore a foodie? I also like wine. Does that make me a wino? Oh, wait, strike that comparison!
It seems to me that Brown and his TV chef star colleagues Mr. Lagasse, Mr. Batali, Ms. Cora, Mr. Flay and Mr. Bourdain have brought this problem on themselves. They created foodies. There was a time when I, like many other normal people, was happy to go to The Dugout in East Barre and dine on a grilled chuck steak that hung off the edges of the plate and was cooked by a guy who wore a white apron, a white tee-shirt and a white sailor’s cap, kind of like Mel Sharples, the diner owner/cook in the 1970s sitcom “Alice.” But no longer. At the urging and instruction of Mr. Brown and his colleagues I’ve been pulled over to the dark side of dining, where I’m not satisfied unless I spend a week’s salary for a plate on which a tiny piece of fish is artistically arranged with some vegetables on top of some sauce with an unpronounceable name.
This condition can be a problem. I just spent a week in Manhattan. But did I eat at food trucks? No! Because of Brown and his friends, my wife and I chose to eat at nice restaurants within walking distance of our hotel. According to all the foodie magazines that are published there, New York has a very large number of very good restaurants, and most of them, it seems, were within walking distance of our hotel. What the foodie magazines gloss over is that if you are staying for seven days in Manhattan and must dine out at these restaurants every night, you can easily deplete your 401K.
Realizing that the family inheritance was in danger, my wife and I even tried on two separate evenings to find less expensive restaurants. One night we went to what I thought was a pizza place. I was happy to order a pizza. My wife, however, spied something that turned out to be the most expensive dish on the menu. The result was a bill a little higher than the one we ran up at a more expensive establishment the night before. But as my wife pointed out to me, she’s worth it, and that is a position with which I cannot disagree.
It made me wonder though, how average New Yorkers can afford to live in the city. I surmised that since they can’t cook in their tiny apartments, they must be frequenting restaurants that are not as expensive as the ones within walking distance of our hotel. After reading restaurant reviews in a magazine dedicated to life in New York, I discovered that is indeed the case. The problem is that there are a lot of New Yorkers and to get into some of these joints can mean a wait of hours at the bar swilling cocktails and then being seated for dinner at about the same time that Dave Letterman would be doing his monologue back when he was still working.
The whole foodie movement may be in peril, however, because of one famous chef from Napa in California. He opened a restaurant in Manhattan where you can enjoy his nine-course tasting menu. You really have no other choice. The only thing on the menu is the chef’s nine course tasting menu, although you can opt for a smaller seven-course or five-course version if you’re not hungry. The tasting menu is “prix fixe” which in English means, “so expensive it takes your breath away.” And, if you decide you want certain dishes on the list, such as ones containing “osetra caviar” (read “fish eggs”), “foie gras” (read “liver”), or “shaved truffle” (read “fungus”), a “supplement” will be added to the bill that could easily feed two people at one of those nice places within walking distance of our hotel. And as far as I can tell, wine is not included in the “prix fixe.” Hold onto your hat when you look at the wine list. It offers wines by the glass that cost as much as a more-than-decent whole bottle of wine at some of those nice places within walking distance of the hotel.
Now I know this chef is a talented and innovative cook. I even have one of his cookbooks. I do not begrudge him his Michelin stars. But a meal for two at his restaurant could easily cost more than a set of four P245/50R-18 Michelin steel-belted, run-flat technology radial tires. And those tires are good for more than 40,000 miles, not just until breakfast.
With prices like that — just with sticker shock — he might kill off all the foodies of the world — one by one.