Last night I had a nightmare brought on, I’m fairly certain, by reading too much Amanda Hesser earlier that day. I won’t go into the gory details, in case you’re reading this over your morning scone. But suffice it to say it involved a spindly, doe-eyed child in a classroom for which I was the substitute teacher whose persistent fainting — due it appeared to lack of nourishment — led me on a desperate search for her wealthy French (in the dream) parents, who sounded positively nonplussed upon my informing them that their daughter was dangerously ill. Relieved to have at least reached le pere et la mere by phone, I subsequently looked down to see, not an enervated but by all accounts, deceased girl draped across my lap. It wasn’t pretty, dear readers, not pretty at all. And her name? Amanda.
What does this nightmare have to do with the Couchsurfing Cook? Well, yesterday, in order to gird my loins for the daunting task of food blogging, I decided to spend a few too many hours reading other food blogs and watching food-related YouTube videos to, you know, check out the competition. And what I found pretty much freaked me the f-k out. You see the unpleasant truth is this: THE WORLD DOESN’T NEED ANOTHER FOOD BLOG. That’s right. THERE’S MORE THAN ENOUGH INFORMATION OUT THERE PEOPLE. If you meet someone at a dinner party who claims s/he doesn’t know how to cook, sorry, the chick/dude’s lying. S/he’s just not trying hard enough.
In fact, not only does the world not need another food blogger/critic/TV star but one could easily divide the current characters peopling the food blogger/critic/TV star universe into the all-too-horribly-familiar categories one would find at your typical large suburban high school in the U.S. of A., further proof of how depressing it is out there. To wit: Smart Kids a.k.a. Brown Nosers; Sluts; Mister/Miss Popularity; Class Clowns: Hip Kids; Rebels; Jocks; Model U.N.ers; and Nerds.
In the Smart Kid/Brown Noser Category we have Amanda Hesser and Jeffrey Steingarten. These two are far more intelligent than you or I and have no trouble rubbing our faces in it like so much herbs de Provence. Having done time at Harvard (Steingarten) or the obligatory cooking stint in Gay Paree (Hesser) they blithely discuss food they know you or I will never eat, often partaken in restaurants they know we can’t afford, and then flaunt (discreetly of course) their oh-so-fabulous lives. In truth, I admire their encyclopedic knowledge and am perhaps a tad jealous of their exemplary taste and perfectly pedigreed kitchens but, unfortunately, like most WASPs and WASP-wanna-bes I’ve known, they’re just not that much fun to be around, let alone have to sit through an entire meal with. Oh, and for God’s sake Amanda, get some meat on your bones!
Next we’ve got the Sluts. That’s right, I’m talking to you Nigella Lawson and Padma Lakshmi! Sure you’re sexy and sophisticated and act older than your peers, but why do I always feel dirty after I’ve eaten with you? I know you’ve been around the food block a few times and have the air of having licked and sucked it all. And, yes, I get it, food isn’t just an intellectual or nutritional exercise for you, it’s sensual and pleasurable too, I’m down with that. But is there a reason I have to feel guilty after every meal you prepare? Can’t we just eat and go to sleep? Does making one of your recipes always have to end up with someone smearing whip cream or olive oil over everything?
Mister and Miss Popularity. Well, Martha Stewart takes the crown for the women and Mario Batali’s wearing it for the guys. These two are loved, loved, loved by everyone, everyone, everyone. They want nothing more than to please, and please they do. And because they so want to please, they’re everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Not content to simply cook, they also sell bath towels, open restaurants, and create magazines — all before breakfast. They’re like that annoying girl in high school who, not satisfied enough being elected class president, insists on also starring on the girls’ soccer team, playing the lead in “Oklahoma,” and volunteering at the local soup kitchen in her free time. You want to kill her every time she enters the cafeteria. Same with Martha and Mario. Can you two chill every now and then instead of constantly making the rest of us feel inadequate in the kitchen? *Note: It was a toss-up between Mario and Mark Bittman. What is it with people whose name starts with “M”?
Onto the Class Clown. Here we’ve got a three-way competition between Paula Dean, Rachael Ray, and Emeril Lagasse. These food stars are determined to be FUNNY! Heck Paula and Emeril even have the fat Southern thing going on. But sometimes you just want to yell at them, “What did you do with the money?” “What money?” “The money for comedy lessons?” It makes me wonder whether, under their buoyant exteriors, these kids aren’t just sating their insatiable need for attention with fistfuls of food. Watching them makes me wonder whether to eat, laugh, or cry. And, no, I’m not going to have a second helping just because you made it. I’ve read the research. If your friends are fat, you’re likely to be too.
Ah, the Hip Kids, clearly a growing category these days. I’m going to put Cathy Erdway down here along with Jamie Oliver. Erdway, who decided to lock herself in her Brooklyn apartment for a year and abstain from all restaurant food, has become the latest hip chick doyenne in the food blogging world, while Oliver’s wildly tousled hair and plaid shirts make him look as if he was dragged off the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn after an all-night bender to cook for his hung over mates. These food writers are the ones I’d most like to throw back a beer with, but I think I may not be cool enough for them. And anyway, they’re probably too busy with their book tours and radio programs to have time to hang in the kitchen with their “friends” anymore. Oh well, I was always too square for the Hip Kids and too hip for the Squares back in high school anyway.
My Rebel Yell goes out to Anthony Bourdain. You, my friend, are definitely too cool for school. Anthony of course will eat foods most of us wouldn’t dream of touching with a ten-foot pole, let alone stick in our mouths. Is he a risk-taker? Definitely. Reckless? Well, it depends on whether you don’t mind taking an anti-diarrheal with your pho. From a high school perspective, Anthony is the bad boy you can’t take home to your parents who nonetheless makes your thighs turn to jello whenever he pulls out his garlic press when the teacher’s not looking. If only he weren’t traveling the world so much, I know we’d be together…in the kitchen.
The Mr. Jock Award goes to Bobby Flay. Let’s face it, the man likes nothing better than a throwdown. He’ll even fight girls, no questions asked. No sissy chef he, Bobby treats cooking like an athletic competition, making it hardly surprising that his audience is made up of wildly impressed female fans along with adoring (albeit non-homoerotic) male ones. Bobby is here to reassure America that real men do cook, although not necessarily quiche. And they definitely don’t cry when they lose on Iron Chef…they just hurl their cutting boards across the room.
You have to admire and respect the kids who join Model U.N. Clearly these students care deeply about the world and want to make it a better place, yadda, yadda. Rick Bayless from Topolobampo is such a well-meaning chef. Determined not to kowtow to the hoi polloi who deem Mexican food about as worthy of their attention as the Mexican dishwashing staff hidden in the back room far from their immigrant-fearing eyes, Bayless doggedly and determinedly keeps begging America to TAKE MEXICAN FOOD SERIOUSLY. I appreciate his ardor and certainly the food that comes out of his Chicago kitchen is worthy of respect. But do I really need to eat goat cheese tortillas and black bean soup EVERY DAY? God, Rick, have a burger, will ya? Or are you one of those self-hating Americans who thinks our country isn’t THE GREATEST IN THE WORLD? I guess, if you like Mexico so much, maybe you should marry it? That’s what we’d say in high school anyway…
Last but not least, the Nerds. I love Adam Roberts. He may be laughable in his role as the Amateur Gourmet, but in Adam’s case, as in the case of every successful Nerd, he’s laughing all the way to the bank. Catapulted to fame after his Janet Jackson breast cupcake went viral, he has parlayed his unhappy law school imprisonment and subsequent discovery of the joys of cooking into a wildly successful brand a la Bill Gates. These Nerds are clearly onto something. Heck, Adam doesn’t even write his own recipes for the most part, he uses other people’s creative efforts then just documents himself making them. Wait a second, I think I see a connection here. Didn’t Bill Gates do the… Hmm… Damn those Nerds! I am totally stealing their lunches later.
In the end, where does this high school nostalgia leave me vis-a-vis this blog? And what’s a girl to do if, after starting a food blog she’s unfortunately discovered that there may be no need for one? Well, the answer’s obvious: this blog can’t be like the other kids. It has to be different. Luckily for me, I never fit in in high school.
Next Episode: The Ten Commandments of this Blog or Why I’m Going to Make Every Effort to Make This More Than Just Another Food Blog. Stay tuned!