For some time now, I’ve been known as “The Frugal Foodie,” and I even had it embroidered on my Chefs de Cuisine of San Diego chef’s jacket. However, after serious consideration, I’ve changed my moniker from “The Frugal Foodie” to the “Gonzo Gourmands.” For several years, there has been a lot of discussion online and in print about the term “foodie” becoming a slur. (Actually, I’ve heard the same applied to the term “celebrity chef,” and I will go further into that on a different blog installment.) At first, I viewed this usage of “foodie” like Anthony Bourdain‘s ”Kitchen Confidential“ Les Halles crew calling the outer boroughs and NJ patrons the “bridge and tunnel crowd.” Not so much being disdainful, but rather a time-tested categorization for a certain type of patron with a predictable set of preferences.
I assumed that the majority of people casting these aspersions were wealthy culinary elitist snobs. And, I could easily understand why some people in the industry were inwardly bristling at self-proclaimed “foodies.” Unfortunately, some foodies think they know it all because they watch the Food Network, Bravo Channel’s Top Chef, and bought all “the best” home kitchen equipment touted by the Food Network or a sales associate at Macy’s. Heck, these people make me wince! But the vast majority of people in the industry are truly appreciative of the booming interest in great food, and chefs are happy that the spotlight is shining more on the “BOH” (back of house) more than the “FOH” (front of house) staff these days.
But still, I see the word “foodie” is quietly becoming a condescending slur for uninformed food faddists or celebrity chef chasers who rely on mass market branding and expensive prices as a measure of quality. And no, it’s not some snobbish pronouncement by the upper echelon of the wealthy culinary elite. If anything, it’s the exasperated sigh of sweaty, sleep-deprived chefs in the trenches without a TV show, book tour, or chain of restaurants. At the mere utterance of the word “foodie,” I’ve seen industry people make eye contact with each other and roll their eyes. But don’t get offended. What I had at first perceived as a sardonic smirk and dismissive air, should have been more accurately interpreted as a grimace of exasperated resignation.
Really great food is tirelessly being crafted by passionate, hard-working chefs in small neighborhood restaurants all over this country. And keep in mind that many of them do it out of love for their craft, and not for the money. U.S. Dept. of Labor statistics show that the median wage for a head cook or chef in May 2010 was less than $41,000 per year.* Let that be a warning to teens who think they are going into the culinary field for the big bucks.
Like in professional sports, reaching that top percentage of income earners takes a lot of extraordinary work and dedication. Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, and Tom Colicchio did not rise to culinary heights by going from culinary school to a TV show competition. Unless you are prepared for a long term commitment to long nights, weekends and holidays, then I wouldn’t sign up for one of those culinary programs to rack up a debt of up to $70,000. Especially when most entry-level chefs jobs will run $10 – $15 per hour!
So, to distance myself from the uninformed “foodie” herd, I have coined the term “Gonzo Gourmands.” I don’t mean “gourmand” in a gluttonous sense, but to mean someone who has a healthy interest in all food. And as much as for the alliteration, I added “gonzo” to mean an adventurous person, or someone who is not shy in their appreciation for all kinds of food. Gonzo Gourmands are not squeamish about their food being attached to bones or having a face. I don’t mean to say that we are proponents for the extreme exotic fare seen in the early episodes of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmern or even Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour,” the precursor to his ”No Reservations” and “The Layover.” However, Gonzo Gourmands are appreciative of the efforts made by Andrew Zimmern, and chefs like Fergus Henderson, Chris Cosentino, Mario Batali, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Donald Link. These chefs have been on the forefront by putting some “low on the hog” cuts and offal onto the menus of higher end, and hopefully, more mainstream restaurants.
Gonzo Gourmands are frugal, but not cheap. Meaning we are against being wasteful, and this is why we advocate nose-to-tail eating, and strive to find use or recycle all food. Also, Gonzo Gourmands are interested in the breed and quality of life of the animal before it came to the dinner table. Just as there is a difference in the composition of human tears of stress from normal every day lubricant or basal tears, Gonzo Gourmands believe animals raised in a natural, stress free environment (not confined in a small, uncomfortable cage 24/7) will taste better. I hope you can appreciate and embrace the Gonzo Gourmand philosophy and become one of us by “Like”-ing us on Facebook, Twitter and subscribing to my blog.
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gonzo-Gourmands-Social-Media/101724446541356