Why I hate green (and vegetarian and organic and other politics-driven) restaurants

Categories: Sheehan (RIP)

no more green.jpg
I am something of a killjoy when it comes to marketing fad masquerading as political movement. I am, by nature, highly suspicious of anyone who hangs their ideals out there in undisguised effort to make a buck. Sure, these might be deeply felt beliefs. They might have, at their core, some honest urge to try and make the world a better place. But the minute someone starts using their politics or their convictions to bring in the pesos, I start getting skeptical. And let's not kid ourselves: Right now, "green" is one of the biggest marketing hooks out there for getting unreconstructed hippies, liberal-minded soccer moms and coup-counting foodies to part with their gold cards in your restaurant.

Because of this, I don't like green restaurants. I don't like organic restaurants or vegetarian restaurants or militantly locavore restaurants. I like restaurants, not movements. Chefs, not slogans. And further, I really don't like being told what to do or what is good for me or what I ought to be eating in order to protect myself, the planet, or all the fish and chickens and unprocessed hamburgers (also called cows) that live upon it. Instead, I'd rather stick to my normal diet of full-cruelty foie gras, omelets made only of bald eagle eggs, American grass-fed beef steaks cut from cows which I insist be flown to finishing schools in France before being turned into hamburgers and petit filets and delivered to me via diesel-burning stretch Hummer, and my patented corn-syrup-and-harp-seal smoothies, while maintaining my tenuous grasp on fleeting youth by eating several pounds of imported Canadian otter marrow every day and snacking between meals on breads made only from GMO wheat produced by land-raping international agri-combines and candies imported from the secret rock-sugar mines on Mars at mind-blowing cost to the American taxpayer.

Okay, so that's a slight exaggeration. But my point is a simple one: Eat what thou wilt. Eat everything, from everywhere. Eat because you enjoy it -- because you like the delicious, garlicky, butter-juiced savor of perfect escargot (tough for a locavore in Idaho to get French snail, right?) or the earthy musk of real black Umbrian truffles (organic for sure, but local only in Italy) or the smooth, fatty luxury of seared foie gras (politically incorrect virtually everywhere, but so worth it). Eat because you like the vicarious adventure of eating Ethiopian kittfo or jellied duck's blood in Vietnamese soup no matter how the vegetarians might squeal; eat in celebration of being able to have such luxuries when so many others must go without and because going out to eat--even in this day when the art of home cookery has been thrown over almost entirely for the drive-thru, the take-away and the fast casual dining room -- ought to be an event. It ought to be something special. And to my mind, nothing mars the pleasure of the table worse than bringing to it a bunch of guilt and fear and politics. When I am going out to eat, I want the cook or the chef to bring me dinner, nothing more. I'll get educated elsewhere. I'll save the planet on my own time.

So eat what thou wilt. That's my new rallying cry. Eat what thou wilt and further, eat broadly. Eat from everywhere, all the time. You know what you'll become if you eat every meal from Mickey D's? A big fat bastard, that's what, with lard for blood and cholesterol like a good credit score. But then again, you'll end up the same way if you eat every meal from the best steakhouse in town because, at a certain point of excess, it doesn't matter if you're eating Charolais beef or prime-grade chuck. And eating every meal from a vegetarian restaurant? That'll just kill you. At least, it would kill me. And even though there are people out there who say it wouldn't--who claim that I can get all the vitamins and nutrients I need from a diet rich in broccolini and flax seed and fervent prayers to Gaia--I'm not about to take that kind of risk. Mostly because the people who would make that kind of argument to me will also start to drool and go all wall-eyed when, in the middle of their lecture, I pull out a big, fat bacon sandwich and start eating it right in front of them.

Eat what thou wilt. And, most importantly, trust your chef. A large part of a chef's job (and, I would argue, perhaps the largest part of the job as he matures and begins to step away from actually standing shifts on the line, into a more supervisory role) is to know what is good and how best to give what's good to his customers. Sounds simple, but it's not because while yes, any old schnook can tell a good banana from a bad banana and some schnooks might even know what best to do with a very good banana (make bananas Foster, natch), how many can also do the same for a plantain? A yucca? A whole side of beef and a skate wing? A good chef spends years developing his eye and his palate--first, learning from his masters and then, on his own, traveling and eating, sampling and judging, separating in his head the good from the bad. And all that knowledge - twenty, thirty, sometimes forty years worth -- is what informs all the work that you, the customer, does not see behind the scenes. The sourcing and the shopping, the fighting with purveyors, the menu design and plate design and training of a staff to do what's best with the best ingredients available.

And then, to have all that knowledge reduced down to a few buzzwords like "organic" or "natural" or "local" -- as if these designations are enough to negate all of that training, all of that taste, to equate some few words with decency and safety and excellence rather than having those judgements resting comfortably in the hands of a trained professional? That's an insult to good chefs. And it's also not true. There's a joke told about organic produce and organic restaurants among the guys who know better, something along the lines of how calling your restaurant "organic" just means you don't have to worry about the spots on the tomatoes and can charge extra for the dirt your lazy cooks forgot to wash off the arugula. These are the same guys who know (even if they won't generally admit it to civilians) that the best carrots are not always the ones grown by the nice hippy couple down the road; who know that there's no such thing as "local" seafood in a landlocked state and that sometimes the best tomatoes for that Caprese salad are not the organic ones being offered by the produce guy for twice the going price.

A good chef will know all of this. And a good chef will buy and prep and serve unconstrained by trends or politics or political correctness. A good chef will not have to call his restaurant green or organic or anything of the sort because he is concerned only with acquiring the best, regardless of source, and then serving the best, regardless of any marketing fad. More than that, great chefs were not put on this to educate you or make you healthy or, for the most part, even to bend to your particular will. They are put on this earth solely to cram you full of the best stuff in the world and then, with a devilish glee, cram you full of just a little bit more. They are there just to cook you the best dinner they can, by whatever means necessary.

No buzzwords required.


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