I have refused and rebelled against the label for months, perhaps even years. I have denied the urge to use the word in conversation, and have shuttered in revulsion when someone ascribes it to my lifestyle or identity. Maybe it’s the Buzzfeed-worthy popularity of the concept. Or the cutesy suffix “-ie,” which makes the word more suitable for the name of a small dog than a word to describe a grown man. But earlier this morning, after an almost sleepless night of tossing and turning, I realized that there is no longer a way to avoid this harsh and brutal truth. I need to come out of the closet or, more aptly, the walk-in freezer, pantry, or smokehouse where I have spent the past several years of my life. The truth, which has been boiling out of the Le Creuset Dutch oven that my mother refused to buy me for my twenty-fourth birthday, must be revealed. It is time for me to confess that I am a foodie.
I think I realized it last night, when I watched an on-demand documentary about Alinea, a restaurant in Chicago that I probably won’t be able to afford for at least another five years. While I was watching the documentary, I legitimately considered the idea of getting the restaurant’s logo, a stylized paragraph marking that means something like “the start of a new idea,” tattooed onto my body. Would it look better on my bicep or my shoulder? I asked myself. This idea, in addition to obsessively considering the restaurant’s progressive fare, kept me awake and perseverating until the early hours of the morning. The plate with the tea kettle that looked like a campfire. The balloon of flavored sugar that floated over the restaurant’s guests. The dessert course that involved a splatter painting of sauces over a silicone table cloth.
Feeling frustrated and strangely strapped for time, I perused my checking account and credit limits, plotting and planning a trip to the Windy City. I wrote quotes from Grant Achatz, the restaurant’s creative master and co-owner, into my Moleskine notebook. I once again debated purchasing a personalized chef’s coat with the name “Aaron” embroided onto the chest. I looked at the clock and realized that I was wide awake at almost two o’clock in the morning. All because of a stupid food documentary.
And that’s not even the half of it. My confession will soon become even more embarrassing. Today, as my stomach grumbled and I stood in my kitchen considering lunch, the intrusive and ever-familiar thoughts of The French Laundry, Arpege, and Noma returned to my mind. My movements became purposeful. I crossed the kitchen of my Brighton apartment to the cabinet where we keep our plates, and I removed the only one in our diverse collection that (may) pass in a restaurant. I used my t-shirt to polish the plate, knowing that a critic could enter the establishment at any time, and I placed it on the small high-top kitchen table. I tucked a folded paper towel under the right side of the plate, and I delicately placed a fork and bright red Kuhn Rikon paring knife on top of my makeshift napkin. The table was set, the plate an empty canvas begging for art and creation.
I once again crossed the kitchen to the refrigerator, where I procured a plastic container of hummus, a Tupperware container full of honey mustard chicken I had baked the previous afternoon, and a small glass jar of sundried tomatoes. I placed them on the kitchen counter. Mise en place, I thought, a concept that I shamefully realize has no place outside of restaurants and in the common parlance. Using a spoon, I carefully placed a dollop of hummus slightly off-center on the plate. Then, using a pair of barbecue tongs, I lifted a small strip of chicken from the Tupperware container. I held it to my eye, inspected it. No amount of pressure from the front of the house could justify passing over a careful scrutiny of my ingredients. The patrons deserved more than that. I nodded in approval; the chicken ahd passed the test.
With the precision of a doctor about to give a young child stitches, I lowered the barbecue tongs over my plate. I carefully rested the chicken strip on the hummus, angled slightly upward on the plate. Then, using the same tongs (I have yet to purchase a pair of devoted cooking tweezers), I placed a small, five-calorie bit of sundried tomato on the highest point of the chicken strip. I tucked the tongs into my back pocket of my jeans and stepped back, arms raised in the air a la Chopped competitor. The plate, which I decided would be the seventh or eighth course of my twelve-course chef’s tasting menu, was complete. I looked around for one of those “ready up” bells found at cheap diners and hotel reception desks.
Not seeing one anywhere, I sat down to enjoy my creation. I took a second to inspect the plate. And when I cut into the strip of chicken, lifted the fork to my mouth, and carefully started to chew, I felt an indescribable fulfillment that radiated deeply within my soul.
And this experience, this intimate connection between food and feeling, is what brought me to write these words and make this connection. Being a foodie, as I have struggled to convince myself, may connote, but does not necessarily mean, that one tags social media posts with words like “eeeeats” or “yum” or “foodiesofIG.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that one must frown upon Burger King’s chicken fries (graciously introduced to me by my sister this summer) or insist that there are strong notes of oak in a three-dollar bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s. Instead, being a foodie is a simple acknowledgment that food is, quite simply, life. We eat to survive. We eat to connect with others and build life-enhancing relationships. We eat because, to all five of our sense, eating looks, tastes, smells, feels, and sometimes even sounds good. And the food that we put into our bodies, at least in an ideal universe, was once living itself.
With this distilled definition of foodie-ism in mind, I want to offer a reframe. A new perspective that looks beyond hashtags and pretensions and OpenTable reservations and overpriced tasting menus and engages with the basic pleasures of food. The truth that one of our most basic survival functions, something as essential as breathing and blood flow, can offer incredible, deep satisfaction. It’s a known cliché, especially among us foodies, that food not only nourishes our bodies, but resonates within our souls.
As foodies, we will rally around this truth, and with the weight of one thousand sizzling cast iron pans, or the sound of one thousand iPhone camera shutters, or the cracking open of one thousand cans of craft beer, we will march forward. And I will find my place within this parade of food lovers and enthusiasts. Yes, chef, I will hurriedly mutter as I step into the fray of foodies from around the world. With Yelp in the palm of my hand and barbecue tongs in the back pocket of my jeans, I will not look back.