Am I An Asshole?

Richard Blais is judging you. And by you, I mean me.

Richard Blais is judging you. And by you, I mean me.

By Ezra Klein

Readers know my intense man-crush on Richard Blais. Green perplexed tofu remains my favorite Top Chef dish ever. And not because the preparation was so impressive or the technique transfixing. Rather, Blais approached the problem like a puzzle. If tofu were perplexed, what would it think? It would think it was what it wasn’t: Meat. So he marinates it in beef fat and sears in grill marks. This was food that could pass the LSAT. This was food I could get drunk and argue politics with. This was food that could write a pretty good blog.

Blais’s tofu  did not become my friend or start a web site. It got eaten. But Blais himself now has a blog. And it’s a good one. He’s an elegant, honest writer. This post on the anxious days awaiting a restaurant’s first review is a delight, and surprisingly stylish. But I want to focus on this piece that describes what an asshole I am and Blais was. Blais recalls the long period when every dish he was served was an opportunity to drop some knowledge on his hapless companions. What’s that rosemary doing there? Are those chives or scallions? Is that potato even baked? This constant critical patter, Blais says, is a “world typically reserved for newspaper critics, those who want to be newspaper critics, food bloggers, and jerk chefs.”

I am a food blogger. And this is my world. The sauce is too thin. The soup needs Parmesan. A bit of heat would’ve created a nice undertone to this. I occasionally use the word “acid.” I’m an insufferable asshole. And you know what? I kind of like it that way.

In his book Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler Cowen advises museum-goers to imagine which piece of art they’d most like to steal. Focuses the mind, he says. Keeps you from falling into a rhythm of staring and walking and staring and walking that sidesteps the critical faculties necessary for appreciation. So too with meals. My amateur criticism might annoy tablemates and be, well, wrong, but it also keeps me engaged with the food. Thinking about the dishes inspires later cooking.Concentrating on what I’m tasting, what’s missing, what’s singing and what’s shouting ensures that I chew long enough to think, which is not always a given.  And plus, it’s fun.

Just not, I imagine, for the people around me.

10 responses to “Am I An Asshole?

  1. Midwest Product

    Dude’s hair makes him look like the sidekick in a Final Fantasy game.

  2. If I used the term “lol,” I would invoke it here. But I don’t, so I won’t.

  3. This whole topic of conversation makes me think of how I have reacted to writing over the years. The more I learn about good writing, the harder it is to read. I either read with a chip on my shoulder about how I could have done it better, or I read with jealousy-tinged eyes as I recognize that I couldn’t do it better. I am trying to work myself out of this. I try not to hang out with people who criticize people who read “Twilight,” and I try to enjoy the occasional literary equivalent of canned olives, ice berg lettuce, and undercooked bread. Blais, and you, remind me that when one is really good at something, one stops worrying about how good everyone else is at that same thing. I can’t say I’m there yet — with cooking or writing — but I understand the phenomenon of which you blog.

  4. Christopher M

    Yeah, kind of.

  5. spencerackerman

    You’re not an asshole.

  6. I am reminded of Spider Robinson’s distinction between a reviewer and a critic. Basically, a reviewer gives his readers/viewers the information they need to decide whether a book/film/restaurant/meal is worth separating with their hard earned cash. To put it another way, a reviewer tries to tell people if they will like something. A critic tells a person what they should like. While criticism is vital for developing a vocabulary for the analysis of a topic, too often in practice it devolves into a bad episode of Jay Sherman’s Coming Attractions.

  7. Yeah, I like talking and thinking about the food I’m eating… what’s interesting or different about it, what I’m not keen on, and what I would do differently if I was making it. I think one of the most fun dining experiences is going with somebody to a fancy restaurant with a multi course meal so that you can talk about what you think about each course.

    However, I think what he’s mainly talking about is keeping perspective. If you go to somebody’s birthday party at Friday’s, nobody is going to appreciate you ranting about how over browned the cheese on your French Onion soup and what a bastardization of a classic dish it is… the “cuisine” is not what you’re there for, and it’s better for everybody involved if you don’t lose sight of that.

  8. I don’t think criticism makes you an asshole, but there is some virtue in being able to escape the critical mode. Otherwise you end up admonishing your grandmother at the thanksgiving table because her stuffing needs more of an onion note, and that’s just a bad scene.

  9. john gilberty

    yes ,, your defintiely a pompous libtard, ass hole,, and don;t forget douchebag for good measure

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