People are so bereft of ideas in so many of the dining sections of the papers around the country, you can pretty much feed them a barium meal, you post something on a blog and, you know, you watch it pop out — “lemon bundt cake is the next big thing!” — and it pops up in the food section of a paper within two weeks.
You called [GQ food critic] Alan Richman a “douchebag,” he called you a “living breathing low blow,” and now you’re writing his scenes on the HBO show Treme — what’s that going to look like?
Listen, he’s not a bad writer, to his credit, unlike some of his peers, he’s not a grifter, he’s not bent, he doesn’t solicit free food or services from the people he reviews, so he’s got that going for him. I was surprised that he agreed to appear as himself, and I have to say I’m impressed. I think it speaks well of him.
Does the traveling you do change your insight on local trends? All these little things where this is the year of whatever piece of meat
I don’t really concern myself with that anymore. Traveling and eating the way I do has changed my perspective a lot of ways, and I don’t sweat the small stuff on one hand. And on the other, I think it makes me less reliable in important ways. You know, I wrote about my experience with a meal I had at Per Se and another I had at Alinea in Chicago and how I was unable to enjoy myself.
It’s a terrible thing when you find yourself to be the sort of person who can complain, “I’ve had too many truffles.” I think your reliability as an honest broker of opinion erodes when you’ve eaten as many fine meals and as widely as I have. I experience a fine dining meal differently than just about the majority of people who would walk into a world class three-star Michelin restaurant like Per Se. Maybe food critics should have a shelf life.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an underground cartoonist; I wanted to write underground comics like R. Crumb when I was 11, 12.
Did you ever?
Yeah, I did do some drawing in the high school paper, stuff like that. I wasn’t very good but it was something that I hoped to do for a while, but like a lot of things, never really put in the work.
What do you think is one of the most important movements due for food culture in the US?
I think this asshole in the Atlantic who just wrote about the menace of foodie-ism... It’s actually a pretty well written article. Complaining about foodie-ism and fetishization of food, that’s all true, but I think it is a good thing for society that people actually care what chefs think now. The elevated status of chefs, even in its most awful and ridiculous manifestation, the fact that people walk into a restaurant and now actually have a higher estimation of the chef, that they actually care what he thinks, they don’t see him as a sort of a glorified butler or backstairs help, I think is good. The more we care about what we’re eating and the more central to our lives food as a meal becomes . . . I don’t equate that with gluttony. The Italians and the French and most Asian countries where the meal is a really big important time and experience, I don’t see any connection between bad health, I don’t see any downside to it. I see the raising prestige of food as moving us on a par with what the European countries have always understood, that eating well, even if you don’t have a lot of money, should be a birthright. And it should be an essential pleasure in a place where people even with different opinions can have a good time.