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.