I'm not sure where to start with Anderson's piece as there's almost nothing in it that makes sense to me. I will agree with her that some foodies can match hipsters in being unbelievably annoying. That's about it, though. She seems incapable of grasping the fact that for most "foodies", the hobby is all about seeking out and experiencing interesting foods and flavors. To her, it's all about seeking out feelings of superiority over the proletariat.
From what she says, the book looks at the changes in high-end restaurants, from the French-oriented, technique-intensive places of the forties and fifties to the more "omnivorous" restaurants of today, which emphasize ingredients more and technique less. Apparently, this somehow represents a new level of faux-sophistication and exclusivity. She's not very good at explaining how this works, but she tries.
She starts with exhibition kitchens, basically claiming that they portray a sanitized process of food preparation that ignores the hard work and long hours put in by dishwashers and prep cooks.
Foodies hypothetically know better—they know restaurants are built on the backs of grunts—but they pay extra not to help improve kitchen labor conditions, but to induce chefs to play-act a fantasy of leisurely, creative cooking. So much for foodie solidarity with the people who produce their food.
I don't understand this. I'm not a big fan of exhibition kitchens, but I do enjoy watching skilled professionals at work. What's wrong with that? Are basketball fans being bourgeois because they like watching skilled professionals compete while not being "in solidarity" with the minimum wage workers who sweep the arena floor after the game?
She then goes on to criticize fusion cuisine as "cultural appropriation". So apparently, if I go get a kimchi quesadilla from our local Korean-Mexican place, I'm "hijacking cultural differences in order to soothe my own anxieties about social change". Really? And here I just thought I enjoyed the interesting combination of flavors embodied in that quesadilla.
Next, we're told that the recent emphasis on quality of ingredients and simple preps is evil because chefs are now valued for their access to these expensive and rare ingredients rather than their talent for modifying more prosaic ingredients.
What appears to be a celebration of the natural and the simple is in fact more constrictive and less attainable, because it depends not on talent but on means and access.
It's hard to believe that she's not intentionally ignoring the fact that much of what's being celebrated is the talent of the people producing these ingredients, which is why the menus in such places often tell you who raised the meat and produce. So on the one hand, we're supposed to be "in solidarity" with the dishwashers and busboys and on the other, we're to ignore the contributions that farmers and ranchers make to what goes on a menu. Sorry farmers, NO SOLIDARITY FOR YOU! (She also, of course, ignores the fact that many chefs do some very creative things with these ingredients.)
Then she hits the other extreme, embodied in molecular gastronomy, where technique is everything. From what she writes, she believes that the only reason it exists is to demean the masses by making fun of what they eat. She uses the example of a dessert made to look like a tiny McDonald's hamburger. The fact that most dishes made using these techniques have nothing to do with fast food is ignored. Instead, she makes the argument that it's all about making fun of poor people.
At best, modernist chefs’ fake fast food is a lazy, meaningless rehashing of pop art tropes; at worst, it’s an ugly manifestation of foodies’ deep-seated disdain for the poor.
The idea that this might be done in order to put a smile on a patron's face is completely ignored. This isn't entertainment, folks, it's class warfare. Remember that the next time someone serves you something that makes you laugh.
After reading this review, I went to Amazon and read their summary of the book. It doesn't sound much like what Anderson's written, so this may be a very unfair portrayal of it. I hope so. I'd like to think that Anderson's the one who's completely out to lunch here.