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This monthly advice column addresses contemporary behavior and was inspired by our upcoming book, What to Do When No One Has a Clue, which will be published in May 2010 by Random House.
No wonder we're all clueless. We live in a world where the old rules no longer apply and in the culinary arena alone, we're faced with everything from the baffling--can you take leftovers home from a four-star restaurant?--to the bewildering--do you want your gin and tonic served as a foam in an egg cup?--to the bizarre--the waitress at the Japanese restaurant announces that the special is "Boiled Rabbi."
A response much more helpful than "OMFG!" to these and other culinary conundrums will come from intrepid restaurateurs, savvy chefs, seasoned authors and editors, wise wine experts and passionate foodies. Frankly, if we can help just one diner figure out if cod sperm gelee is an endangered species, we will have done our job.
We watch them on TV, but now that they have invited us into their kitchens, can we consider ourselves family?
Have you been baffled, bewildered or utterly humiliated by a recent food/wine/entertainment experience? If so, email us here. We'll get just the right expert to answer it in an upcoming column.
We know what they like to eat, how they cook, how they feel about everything from cleavers to cleavage. We know the causes they espouse, how they handle pressure, how they treat their colleagues, what bugs them, and what inspires them. We've seen their talent, witnessed their tempers, admired their tattoos.
We watch them on TV; we cook from their cookbooks; we follow their blogs; we go to their restaurants. But now that they have invited us into their kitchens, can we consider ourselves family?
SITUATION: You're a former contestant on a major television cooking show. After weeks of watching you do everything from cater a tailgate picnic to deconstruct lasagne, foodie fans feel like they know you. Is it okay for them to tell you what they think of your cooking techniques? Critique your ceviche? Inquire whether the lovey dovey couple on the show were actually sleeping together?
"I love when people come up and tell me they rooted for me on television. Of course, then I think--wait, are you rooting for me in real life? Seriously, since I've been on Top Chef, I've had really positive experiences--people ask about the show. They want to know if Padma is as pretty in person (the answer is yes). And if Tom is mean (no). One small thing--I'm not crazy about being called 'hey, liquid nitrogen guy' or 'the banana scallop guy.' I don't like being associated with one technique or known for one dish. The funniest interaction was when a girl at the airport recognized me and got super excited. She asked to have her picture taken with me, called her mom, then gushed, 'I just loved you on American Idol.'"
-Richard Blais, Creative Director, Flip Burger Boutique, Atlanta and Birmingham; Top Chef contestant, Season Four.
SITUATION: You met the culinary super star once at a book signing. He inscribed his latest book to you. When you call for a reservation for dinner at one of his hot restaurants, can you say you're a friend of his?
From the diner: "No, you can't. No restaurant is worth going to if I have to lie to get into it. On the other hand, when a chef signs his book for me, I can ask him, 'Does this mean that when I call your restaurant for a reservation, I can say I'm a friend of the chef's?'"
-Patricia Volk, bestselling author of Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family.
From the general manager: "No, because a book signing is an event anyone can go to. But we do get people who say, 'I met Marc' (Chef Marc Meyers) when they make their reservation. I'll ask Marc if there is anything special he wants me to do for them and more often than not he'll say, 'I'm not sure who that is.' But we try to treat everyone well, no matter who they know--or pretend to know!"
-Justin Morel, General Manager, acclaimed New York restaurant Cookshop.
From the well-connected: "Father, I thank you that I have favor with this hostess, and she's going to seat me soon."
-Minister Joel Osteen, as quoted in Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright-Sided.
SITUATION: Yes, it is. It's Ina Garten eating at the table facing the water at the "in" restaurant in Hampton Bays. How rude would it be to walk by her table...very slowly...so you can see what she has ordered? And can your five tablemates do the same thing? Should you just say to the waiter, "I'll have what she's having?"
"First of all, it's not by accident that these people are on TV. They want to be noticed. They live to be noticed. Otherwise they'd be cooking at home alone. I would say, 'I'm a big fan. Can I take a picture?' And she'll say yes."
-Dorothy Kalins, founding editor, Saveur magazine.