by KARA VANDERBIJL
Yesterday your palate was as sophisticated as a half-eaten Hot-N-Ready® pizza and a flat Red Bull. Yesterday your palate was wearing sweatpants and double-fisting Ben & Jerry’s and episodes of Breaking Bad. But today, you’re going out to eat. You may be meeting friends for lunch, taking someone to dinner, or grabbing brunch before a jaunt at a modern art gallery. Needless to say, your palate needs to update its resumé. Today we give you a few tips on how to become a foodie, fast.
Self-deprecation. Nothing is more pretentious than someone who claims to have always had stellar taste in food. Describe the joy with which you ate the McRib in your youth. Refer to your past self as an “Olive Garden-variety eater”. Then, wink at the waiter and order something involving paté.
Notice the location. Every self-respecting foodie knows that the atmosphere lends as much to the experience of the meal as the food itself. Say, “I really love this space.” Elements to be admired: exposed brick walls, naked light bulbs, ambivalent industrial fixtures. Elements to be derided: menus not printed in typewriter font, flowers that aren’t in mason jars, a lack of cork sculptures.
Think small. You may have grown up going to restaurants with confused medieval decor and Grecian-inspired menus that spanned twenty or more pages. You may have fallen prey to television advertisements promising juicy lobster, sizzling steaks, and reduced-price appetizers. It was entirely possible to receive not only a bowl of popcorn as a free starter but also a basket containing various kinds of carbohydrates. Your meal came on a plate as big as a pizza pan, and you did not share. Those days are over. You will learn to navigate plates smaller than those on which toddlers receive their evening portion. “Small plates” will offer you four bites of something doused in balsamic vinegar that costs $12. Never mind. It has a “surprising flavor.” This will be your mantra.
Drink slowly. And heavily. Grab a Bud Light at one of these places and you’ll be thrown out or looked on as an immaturely ironic hipster. No, it’s to the mixologist you must go, which he’ll call himself, even though he’s just a bartender dressed in an unironic beard and cryptic arm tattoos. Keep a straight face while he tells you that yes, the rosemary is organic, it’s grown right in the back alley.
Know your oil. E.V.O.O. isn’t a new FDA certification, it’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You will refrain from mentioning the adulteration of olive oil in Europe as you pepper it expertly and dip your perfectly toasted bread into it. You have two options with truffle oil: go along with the con of faux luxury, or educate your peers. Either way, you will often find yourself in front of a giant plate of fries doused in the stuff. It’s also in the pasta, the aioli and the salad dressing. Great news, everyone! Truffles are now so abundant that we’re just throwing them in the condiments.
Story time. There comes a time in every server’s life, especially if he or she started out by wearing orthopedic shoes and throwing $5 Applebees apps in front of drunk college students, when they can get revenge tenfold against the nibbling, “dressing on the side” masses. It’s called reading the menu. They’ll do this with an aching precision, asking after each section whether or not you have any questions, if you’re doing okay, if everything is still all right over here. They’ll leave a full bottle of water on the table for you to use at your leisure, and will still stop by every three minutes to refill glasses you’ve barely sipped out of, all in the name of protecting the nebulous 20% tip that will pay their rent. Do them (and yourself) a favor: listen to them. Indulge them. That we as a foodie culture have managed to lasso an entire population of the workforce with such fear of losing a few extra dollars on the bottom of a damp receipt at the end of a boozy night is a crime worthy of severe punishment. I vote that the offenders sit in a dark room and have their unfavorable Yelp reviews read into their ear at a deafening decibel.
Brunch is your safe word. Food-wise, brunch is nothing but the breakfast you had time to make because you didn’t press snooze three times before getting ready in five minutes and going to work. The power of brunch is in the idea that those who eat it belong to an exclusive club of people who wear J. Crew and get up late because they spent all night partying, drinking pricey cocktails and most likely eating fine foods that will show up in a different form on their brunch plate. When you text, “Brunch?” to your friends at an acceptable hour on Saturday morning you can all for one moment believe you belong to that club.
Fads. You’ll want to log into Pinterest at some point and check out what hybrid freak of nature desserts are stirring people into a frenzy these days. Don’t.
Purism. Long ago, a man was judged by the content of his character, then by the car in his garage, and now he’s judged by the contents of his plate (and if we’re being really honest, the contents of the contents of his plate.) You may have been wondering why your coworker is staring you down while you pop your sad pocket change into the vending machine at work. “Ugh,” she says, “don’t you know that granola bar is full of chemicals?” The correct answer to this and all other similar questions is, “Oh, I know. It’s my guilty pleasure.” Guilty pleasure will let you get away with bathing in a tub full of high fructose corn syrup with an aspartame syringe shoved up your arm. Guilty pleasure will save you from judgment when you’re caught by your roommate with your arm covered in Cheeto dust. Guilty pleasure will shield you with invisibility when you find yourself in the suburbs drinking a blue raspberry margarita at Chili’s. Use it wisely, though, because it’s only guilty if it’s rare.
Kara Vanderbijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about manual labor. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.