foodie

Okay, let me try this again.

What you wouldn't know, had I not decided to so blatantly tell you, is that I spent well over an hour crafting some lengthy complaint about my relationship to the term, "foodie". Talking about foodies can be just as tiresome as foodies, and after several hundred words I abandoned the piece, recognizing it for what it was: whining. So here I am on a second try. And all I want to do here is explain my relationship to food. If that makes me a foodie (most of you will say it does), so be it.

I'm only one-fourth Sicilian (my last name is Warshaw, for crying out loud), but I grew up in a house dominated by the Italian influences of my heritage. This is because of the somewhat matriarchal structure of my mom's family. Her mother (100% Sicilian, second generation American) is the first born and continues to have a strong and endearing personality. My mother is also the first born and likewise has a strong and influential personality. My best childhood memories are of family gatherings with my mom's side of the family, centered around food. This side of my family is typically warm and eccentric, and we all love to eat nearly as much as we love hanging out in a huge gathering of each other. Thanksgiving might involve at least a dozen people, and we always had baked ziti or lasagna right next to the turkey.

My mom ended up with 4 boys. She was the only woman in a house full of testosterone while I was growing up, but she managed. Now even growing up in the 80's and 90's, most guys in my generation didn't really learn to cook (frankly, I don't think many folks learn to cook at home anymore regardless of gender, but that's based on my own anecdotal evidence). But with all the good food in my immediate and extended family, my brothers and I were interested. My mom, thank goodness, indulged us.

All of us boys enjoyed watching PBS cooking shows, whether it was The Frugal Gourmet, Yan Can Cook, or anything with Julia Child. Combined with watching our family prepare food, these shows made each of us more eager to learn, so it was only a matter of time before our mom caved in and started teaching and allowing us to cook. Whether it was simply how to make scrambled eggs, or mom's meatball recipe, we took every opportunity afforded us. I can't speak for my brothers on this, but my creative proclivities and methodical mind instilled a desire to prepare ever more complex foods, culminating with a dessert I made for a high school French class: profiteroles. Here I was, a nerdy teenager, making my own pâte à choux from scratch along with a custard filling and chocolate sauce to drizzle on top. I'm not saying it was worthy of anything more than a high school French class, but it wasn't your typical student dish, either.

In college I couldn't afford much beyond dorm room staples, but I had to mess around with even the cheap ramen or frozen pizzas I could obtain. I was always looking for ways to tweak or enhance the flavors (to wildly varying results); anything to make inexpensive and boring food more interesting to eat. When I graduated and started earning a real salary, everything changed. The ability to buy more and better ingredients (and a few helpful tools) meant more experimentation and more complicated dishes. I discovered Alton Brown's glorious Good Eats which crossed my love of food with technique and science, and there was no turning back.

A steady paycheck also means I can actually dine out more often (too often, truth be told). I won't rehash descriptions of all the places I've tried around town over the years, but it's safe to say that I have a preference for restaurants that care about their ingredients, their technique, and their presentation. This covers a wide gamut of eateries from humble pizzerias to fine dining establishments.

So here's the situation for me now...

I do actually care about things like free-range or pastured livestock, organic produce, and truly natural ingredients. These things factor in, to an increasing extent, to what I purchase and where I dine. But I'm not going to turn my nose up at a hamburger made from Wal-mart chuck served to me at a friend's party.

I do get excited by "artisinal" products, be they sausage, cheese, wine, or liquor. But that's only because I love craftsmanship, and I want to pay the craftsmen for their work. That doesn't mean I won't just buy a block of cheddar that says Cabot on the label, or a package of Martin's potato rolls.

I do like dining in restaurants with clever menus, ingredients, and presentations. Good cooks are craftsmen, too, and I similarly want to reward their work. But the food still has to taste good. Just because you used beef marrow doesn't mean it's delicious.

I do like so-called "craft bartending". The right bartender can make your drinking experience as good as the best eating experiences. But I still like my gin and tonic, or my Old Fashioned. All the fancy mixology in the world can't make up for ruining the classics.

I do like writing about food. And I like writing about it on my stupid blog. Since I'm not a professional it's the easiest way for me to share my opinions about restaurants and food products. I have no illusions about having an "audience" or "brand", and you don't have to read my website if you don't want to.

I do like taking photographs of food. And this one is sometimes a sore spot for me. I'm already a serious photography enthusiast - if you go to the landing page of my website, in fact, it's a portfolio of my photography. Most of it isn't food, though photographing food pairs two of my favorite things together, and I've been lucky enough to be paid for some of it. The profusion of Instagram/Twitter/Facebook food shots makes food blogging and photography particularly insufferable, but I won't be that guy letting my dessert melt because I have to take 50 pictures to get it right. I won't be posting garish pics that I took with a smartphone and an LED flash. But because I'm already that guy lugging around a huge DSLR (or sometimes a 6-pound medium format film camera...), I'll totally be guilty of whipping out obnoxious camera gear at the dinner table. Sorry about that.

What I won't do is be that guy who sneers at your restaurant suggestions. I won't interrupt your conversation to correct you on your wine description. I won't be jumping from restaurant to restaurant in search of the next big thing. And I won't stop loving, writing about, photographing, and eating food.