That Time Michael Ruhlman Was an Appalling Food Snob

Readers, once again, thanks for indulging me as I take a break from writing to work on other projects. This post got a lot of attention when it first ran, as it describes an act of disturbing and un-self aware snobbery from a much-admired figure in the world of food.

Several years ago there was a dispute between Michael Ruhlman (author of Ratio and the bestselling French Laundry Cookbook) and NPR food writer Kelly Alexander. It all started when Alexander penned an article earnestly celebrating the miso salmon entree at The Cheesecake Factory.

Ruhlman made fun of her.

Alexander then offered a bet: if Ruhlman actually went to The Cheesecake Factory, he'd like the food there too. Irony of ironies, she won. Ruhlman liked the food!

What's interesting about this story isn't that The Cheesecake Factory's food is good (of course it's good, its engineered that way). Rather, what's interesting is the behavior of Ruhlman and his friends while eating there. In particular their appalling condescension:

1) One of Ruhlman's dinner guests asks, "Do you think the Roadside Sliders are made of possum?"

2) Another dinner guest wolfs down a plate of pasta carbonara, but excuses himself by saying, "it's a guilty pleasure, liking bad pasta."

3) And when asked if he'd like chicken on his pasta carbonara, Ruhlman responds, "why would I want chicken on it?" (the waitress gave a flawless response to a question that I can only describe as existentially condescending).

Presumably, all of this banter is tres funny to Ruhlman and his pals. It must be a blast to join a group of foodies on a journey to the culinary hinterlands where you can sit around a dinner table, condescend to your waitress and make hilariously witty comments mocking the food! It's as if they fail to realize that the people and the environment around them are real, rather than some movie about the Midwest that they happen to be watching.

I like Ruhlman. I really like his thinking about food. But if this is how he typically behaves when he steps outside of his food bubble, the vast majority of Americans will never accept his ideas. And that's the real shame.

Finally, if I had a nickel for every food critic who gets "sad" when he can't find haute cuisine at a national restaurant chain... well, I'd have a lot of nickels. Is it really so difficult to grasp the idea that normal people occasionally enjoy casual meals at casual restaurants?

Look, the food at the vast majority of American restaurants is casual, often mass-produced and typically contains staggering amounts of calories. It's often delicious. Understand this for what it is, and don't expect to find things where they shouldn't be.

It goes without saying that you don't have to eat this food, or even like it. And you are more than welcome to campaign against it (heck, campaigning against overpriced, hyperpalatable, over-salted food is one of my favorite pastimes here at Casual Kitchen). You are welcome to like what you like, dislike what you dislike, and explain (on your own food blog, even!) exactly why.

But when you deliberately set foot inside a national restaurant chain, try to recognize that the food should be judged in the context of its genre. Stop recoiling in mock horreur when your pasta carbonara comes with peas or existentially optional grilled chicken. Don't be quite so oblivious to the fact that the rest of the world may not follow your obscure rules of food decorum. And at least try to be nice.

And that joke about possum? Come on.

What's your opinion?

Read Next: Food Absolutism
And: On the True Value of a Forgotten Restaurant Meal

You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

No comments: