Monday, January 25, 2010

My Foodie Resume

In honor of this Thursday’s culinary experience in my home, partly to explain why I am humbled and honored to be a part of such an evening, I thought I would draw up the 5 W’s of my foodie resume…

Who: Me – “a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment, especially good food and drink.” – aka foodie

Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, foodies differ from gourmets in that gourmets are epicures of refined taste who may or may not be professionals in the food industry, whereas foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news. Gourmets simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. For this reason, foodies are sometimes viewed as obsessively interested in all things culinary. There is also a general feeling in the culinary industry that the term gourmet is outdated. – wiki

A perfect definition of my obsession with food, beer, wine, and anything else that can be served from my favorite room of my house - my kitchen.

What: Food – in every shape, form and fashion

As a child, I was never a picky eater, it simply was not allowed to be. I had an amazing in home chef (Mom) who baked, broiled, and bĂ©arnaised her way through the many food groups, exposing us to all sorts of yummy creations. We were taught as children to experiment in the kitchen and find new and exciting ways to present food on the plate. We were taught that you don’t have to like everything, but you should try it all at least once before sticking your nose up at it. From lobster in Cape Cod, to New England style Crab Bakes in Washington DC, to citrus broiled fish on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, we always used the best of what we could find. It didn’t have to cost a fortune, but it always tasted like one. Simple ingredients could make or break a dish. And seasoning was always important. I was also trained in the not so perfect art of cooking for an army. I still have issues with cooking appropriate quantities. I always over-do. I am working on it – but I am also pleased to know that no one ever goes hungry at my table.

Part of the early success with food experimentation was shopping local. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting your local farmers market, please make an effort to do so soon. As you meet the people that pick the stuff right out of the ground or raised the animals that have been expertly butchered and packaged fresh, you will begin to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Putting a face to what you buy is a great thing, and you can make great lifelong friends. Buying local is not only more nutritious and better tasting, but it's great for the local economy and the environment. Think about how much fuel it takes to get a flavorless pale tomato from across the country of from another continent. To make matters worse, in most cases, the items we are buying out of season from other places have been genetically altered to withstand travel and resist disease so they can increase production. *end eco-rant

That’s not saying you shouldn’t  buy maple syrup or kobe beef because you live in a state that doesn't produce those things, I'm just saying that, when creating menus, writing recipes or feeding the family, try to use things from where you know the story and from as close to home as possible. And Experiment! Use ingredients to their fullest! And try to expand your palate. Durian isn’t for everyone, but it was one of those most memorable moments in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I love the anticipation of getting to taste something I haven’t yet tasted before. Sadly, the list is dwindling, so I need to really get working on researching out new foods to explore.

Where: Travel – and lots of it

I am blessed to have a job/life that allows me to travel all over the globe. Exploring new regions of food is a lifelong hobby of mine and I make a point to search out the best of the best in every city I visit. I spend countless hours doing research on chefs, restaurants and local fare before jumping on an airplane. I make lists and map out areas of interest on my iPhone, and pack an extra bag to bring home goodies. (Yes, I grocery shop when travelling) I get commentary on my habits all the time, but as people get to know me, I notice they too want to join in and experience whatever it is I am currently lusting over in a new city (even when they are native to the area). I have simple rules like – no chains, the chef/owners have to be named somewhere I can identify them, and personal rules like obsessively taking pictures of what I eat and drink. I do this for a few reasons. One, I like to have a virtual scrapbook to reflect upon when I taste something that makes my eyes roll to the back of my head. Two, I like to share the pictures with friends and fellow foodies. and Three – I use these pictures as inspiration for my own kitchen creations. It’s food porn, and I am addicted.

I also keep a list of cities I need to visit based on food highlights. When vacation planning time comes around each year I try to fit in one or two when I can so I can keep working my dream list of things I must consume before I die. I try to include foodie friends in there when I can. Food is best when enjoyed with those you love.

Why: My obsession with food.

Food is my hobby. It’s part of what makes me happy in life. Yes, there are other things, family, friends, and other hobbies, but it’s high on the list of my priorities.

I did attempt it as a career choice, but as I learned, making a job out of what you enjoy in your spare time is not always a good idea. I catered and wedding planned my way out of my love for a good 2-3 years. Luckily as I redesigned my life around computer programming I found my way back to the kitchen and to the table. With the lack of bridezillas and demanding deadlines I was able to enjoy food once again. Do I regret the attempt at becoming a professional chef? No, not at all. I also completely respect those who can work in that profession, I know I would never survive. But I am glad I made the attempt, learned all the skills that I did, and can sit back and enjoy it as a pastime. Plus, my career choice funds my hobby better than I could have ever imagined.

My friends and family also get the benefit of my slightly above amateur culinary attempts at creating the impossible. I love a good challenge, and often try to step up my game when able. I love to entertain as well, so the two seem to go well together. I enjoy nothing more than having friends over for a ten course tasting menu made from my farmer’s market finds. I call that all-day kind of kitchen work “therapy”.

My foodie obsessions also bleed over into other parts of my life. I often have daydreams of the semi nude Anthony Bourdain, and wonder if my attraction to him is solely based on food or his rough seasoned persona. I can easily spend 3 hours in the wine or cheese section of a store contemplating pairings and lose track of wherever it was I was supposed to be. I also have a bad habit of thinking I need every kitchen accessory and appliance known to man. The downstairs is packed with additional storage for all my gadgets and gizmos. And knives… don’t get me started on my knives. <3 Shun!

When: Always On.

I have my reasons for being “high maintenance” with food – primarily my allergy to MSG which renders me incapable of eating crappy fast food and the like – but I have learned over the years that making efforts to find something “good to eat” is well worth it.

At home, I make a point to try one new place a week for lunch. My coworkers call it “adventure lunching” Many of them have lived here their entire lives and have not experienced the vast arrays of food available to them in this city. Sometimes they love me for it, other times I think they secretly wish I was normal.
Along those same lines, I will mention the downside to all this. My friends all know that I am a foodie, and we choose our friends based on who we like, not how they cook. Yet somehow I seldom ever get invited to dinner parties that I am not hosting or catering myself. On the few rare occasions I do find myself invited for dinner, it’s often followed by a series of apologies from the host about the quality of the meal and how he or she is intimidated by cooking for me. I am often put in an uncomfortable situation of feeling like I need to respond in some reassuring manner. I don’t get it! I have NEVER publicly commented on a friend's cooking, other than to compliment it or ask for a recipe. I do not "rate," "review," or give feedback on a meal when I am a guest in someone's home. In other words, I don't feel that I have ever given anyone a reason to feel intimidated by having me to dinner. Besides, the whole point of gathering a dinner party is the company, not the meal. Even at a restaurant, I try to limit my criticisms and send my compliments to the chef when they are warranted for going above and beyond my expectations. Don’t get me wrong… I will send something back if it’s not what I ordered and what I am paying for, but I have never sent back a dish to a friend’s kitchen, and I never would. And there is no reason to worry about things coming out perfect. I make mistakes in my kitchen all the time. And sometimes, those mistakes become amazing new creations I never would have expected. I love to eat, it’s just that simple – I don’t expect a multi course gala event when eating at a friend’s house. And some of the best meals I have had were in the kitchens of my friends who simply threw together some leftovers.

So that’s the foodie me in a nutshell.  Come this Thursday, I will be in the height of bliss, in my own home with one of my favorite local chefs preparing an amazing meal for us and 8 of our closest foodie friends. I had a near wine-gasm placing the bottles of Stags Leap Cab and Champagne in the wine case this weekend. And that’s just the beginning. 10 bottles, 10 friends, 1 award winning chef = my kind of heaven.