Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ego-Food

I love local food, minimally or not processed.
One can easily spend a lot on food.  And I do. I will buy five quarts of sugar snap peas and serve them, prepared only by a bit of culling and washing, to my family and guests.

The type of food spending I try to avoid is for ego-food (a great term I heard a while back). Here, "clever" chefs do all sorts of machinations to food, including stack it, drizzle it, fuse it, or separate it to make it less recognizable, more expensive, and less good. As with modern art, it necessitates a response; and because we are polite, it comes out, often reluctantly, as positive. And this ego-food is often marketed falsely as dichotomous to the cheap, over industrialized, seasonless food that is ubiquitous today.

There are some amazing surprising combinations of flavors and textures.  But the freshest healthful foods, minimally prepared, are much more luxurious to me than any Rube Goldberg concoctions of an ambitious chef.

I have less and less tolerance for the ego-food productions of ambitious chefs, such as this dessert I was recently served.  I half-expected to see a press clipping or glossy headshot accompanying the dish. 

16 comments:

Chris from New Hampshire said...

I love the term. "Ego-food" is what low-class people think high-class food is!

Susan R said...

Oh boy, have you ever touched on one of my all time favorite topics here. Before I write a novel sized comment, let me say that I couldn't agree more.
I have an enormous problem with what America has done to food. In fairness, I will concede that we are not the only purveyors of overprocessed, freeze dried, deep fried food, but we are very guilty of it nonetheless.
I can't stand food that is so over worked, modified and distorted that I have to try hard to remember what it is I'm actually eating.
This is largely the reason I do not eat out very often. I have only a small handfull of places that I will eat at because I know exactly what it is I'm eating when it's placed in front of me.
My motto is...If you have to examine it, or taste it to figure out what it is, then you probably shouldn't eat it.
Sorry for the rant.

Samantha said...

Wow, that dessert . . . I have no words!

Rae said...

I couldn't agree more! Here in LA surrounded by restaurants with over-wrought menus my three ego-food dining out choices include a restaurant that serves nothing except Shabu Shabu (the only option on the menu is medium or large), a fish shack that serves fresh catches grilled with a bit of seasoning & lemon (no menu, just a chalkboard) & a corner cottage that serves the best breakfast burritos on earth.

Joyce N said...

Love you! Love you! Love you!

Nuff said!

Matt said...

I remember a meal near Dupont Circle in which every dish was either foamy, or dipped in liquid nitrogen, or prepared in a vacuum tube, or in some other way like a science experiment.

But, while I have no interest in cooking this way, I enjoy seeing what talented, creative people come up with.

Although, yes, it can be taken too far. Like the restaurant Moto in Chicago where, after you order, you eat the menu itself as the appetizer. Tasty, but odd.

WRJ said...

I can definitely live without seeing sauces artfully smeared, squirted, or dotted on a plate ever again. That and other "ego-food" machinations often seem like attempts to elevate otherwise average food. Call it Top Chef Fever--I think it's in part a response to the expectations of our nation's growing foodie movement.

Your post made me think specifically of a meal I had at Straight Wharf on Nantucket a couple of years ago. I ordered a "clam bake," for something like $60. I received a long, skinny, rectangular plate upon which rested teensy portions of lobster, clam, and corn in a single file line, bedazzled with a strange sauce. It tasted okay but was obviously a disappointment.

To me, the most luxurious meal is a warm baguette with a favorite Italian or French cheese, artless as it may be.

Simply Sam said...

That last picture may be the most humorous I have found in a while! However, it did succeed in giving me a craving for a banana split...we have a "restaurant" of sorts that "specializes" in them, and even frequently offers them for $.99 in the summertime. Local residents often eat outside and socialize. Doesn't do much for the ego, but sure great for community spirit! :) Thanks for another great post!

AshTreeCottage said...

I totally agree! Somewhere along the way it seems that chefs have forgotten the KISS principle. Great post.

Hugs,
Susan and Bentley

Tammy B said...

I love the term "ego food". There is nothing wrong with fresh vegetables cooked with a little bit of water and then seasoned with salt, pepper and butter...or raw plain vegetables. On my last trip to Portland, Maine, the concierge was assisting with a restaurant choice. One place seemed to interest me. The concierge reminded me that it was not "nouveau cuisine". I wanted to tell her that I was from Alabama and what about me would make her think that I was into "nouveau cuisine". The restaurant served fresh seafood and fresh sides. One of the reasons that I like to read your blog is the fresh food that is consumed in your part of the country. Because of the economy down here, if you are not a farmer or don't mind what is spent on food, you get your food from (heaven forbid, I mention this place) Walmart. Cheap and processed.

binker said...

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.....wise words from a late New Englander.

To me.... homemade ice cream, lobster and clams, the ocean from any/every vantage point possible, the ocean air, fresh fruits and veggies from local farm stands, sailboats, old-fashion gardens, blueberry pie/pancakes, canoeing on a lake, watching baseball, playing tennis, and homemade salt water taffy, are simply quintessential (summer in) New England.

@Tammy B ....your post made me kinda sad. You need to take a summer vacation to New England.

Shan said...

'Ego food' is an excellent name for it. "Look, how sophisticated I am, eating this, well, I'm not sure what it is, but there's not much of it and it's in a little stack, so it must be good". I am a big fan of the simple and identifiable, myself.

Worthington said...

ego food! great descriptor.

The Intrepid French Learner said...

I wanted to respond to this post because somehow I glossed over it before, but on this reading, I found your comment about the "artistic" dessert hilarious! I so agree.

The amount of completely forgettable restaurant meals I've had, even at "good" restaurants, is really amazing. Thankfully, at least in my New England neck of the woods, there does seem to be a trend towards using fresh ingredients with minimal "modification." It seems we've come full circle after years of complicated dishes. (Admittedly, in some regions, eating simple, fresh, in-season local food has always been popular, but that seems largely to have been limited to major agricultural areas like northern California.)

I think I might be hard-pressed to think of any vegetable which tastes better fresh and raw than do sugar snap peas. They have an amazing taste and texture even when eaten plain. (Are legumes considered vegetables?)

Rebecca said...

Ugh! Your strawb shortcake looks infinitely more delicious!

Patsy said...

Next time, call me! I'll bet I could choke down that dessert, I'm an equal opportunity dessert lovah!

I even like maraschino cherries.