Snobbery and stuffiness adds little to a meal

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
August 24, 2011 /

Click here to view original /

As predictable in the news cycle as the controversial Kanye West video/French film release/chain-store clothing offering is the oh-so-regular story of fast-food furore.

Inevitably it’ll be something greasy with a word like double or triple in the title. There’ll be a bun, cheese, probably bacon, and we’ll be warned that there’s seven days of fat, salt, and calories in every decadent mouthful. And it has to come from a burger chain. Of course, because apparently they’re the only places peddling stuff from the pointy end of the food pyramid.

In the newest take on the tried and true evils-of-the-fast-food-industry story is the shock, the horror, of “celebrity” chef Darren Simpson being paid to do something “gourmet” with chicken and bread.

“He’s a laughing stock,” claimed one chef. A “sell-out” claimed a foodie tweeter.

There are two really unpalatable things going on here. One, the perpetuation of the notion of chef as artiste, as an auteur, and two, that goods that are mass produced and accessible to the plebs are intrinsically bad.

I have nothing against celebrity chefs: in fact, watching Paula Deen deep fry a turkey is up there with my favourite television. But she’s just a chef. Our contemporary food porn fetish elevates the reputations and also sadly the egos of chefs and has allowed them to believe that they’re doing something more than just cooking.

To justify their frequently-inflated prices, to maintain their lengthy reservation lists, celebrity chefs have a vested interest in making us believe that dining somewhere hatted is a classier, more ethical, more nutritious, more fulfilling experience. Of course. Because they’re not really selling food. Like any luxury good, a story of lifestyle and status and exclusivity needs to be woven for people to buy into the hype.

Being able to walk in and simply get a table at Pizza Hut, to, God forbid, get change from a tenner from a meal at Red Rooster are, evidently, travesties of food justice. Apparently the truly good food experience involves pomp, involves ceremony and mandates heirloom tomatoes.

Anything else is just the foodstuff of bogans.

Along with our culture’s penchant for tall poppy slaying is an apparent yen for accusing people of selling out. Up there in heinousness with war crimes. Apparently it’s perfectly acceptable to make a fortune from peddling so-called high-end food to people who can afford it, but to dare attach your name to a – ahem – burger is selling out. Shame, shame, shame.

The same kinds of people who bemoan that all TV is rubbish and all pop music is noise pollution are the same pretentious gits claiming that all fast food is landfill. Such people are snobs, are classist and have a peculiar dictionary that defines valuable as expensive and obscure.

As a writer, for me, the pay-off is someone reading my end product. For a chef, presumably the objective should be when the other person swallows and smiles. End story.

Whether they produce thrice-baked soufflé in the Paris-end of town, or are designing menus for airlines, magazines or fast-food restaurants, the food is all equally worthy if people want to eat it.

Scarcity, spin and celebrity may fill tables, may make people feel justified parting with the big bucks, but snobbery and stuffiness adds little to a meal.

© Lauren Rosewarne