Monday, December 14, 2015

The Chowhound Revival

In 2005, I made an appearance at Manhattan's Coliseum Books (now defunct) to publicize the "Chowhound's Guide" series published by Penguin. See a report of this rather jolly event, including photos, at Slice. As you can see in the photos, I did the event in a dog mask, for food critic anonymity purposes.

Anyway, I just found the script I'd written for myself, including canned "ad-libs", because I was worried I'd be nervous and need the extra help. I staged it like a religious revival (at that time, Chowhound had a much more fervid tone to it). Enjoy this rather odd artifact. (I recited the prayer at the end in a long crescendo, reaching a full-throated defiant wail - no kidding, I was pretty much screaming - with "kooky obsessive")


Yes, brother and sister chowhounds, for a great many eaters - and who among us is not an eater? - things are...rough. Rough indeed.

As we sit here together, many of us delighting in the after tingle of a morsel of delicious this or that, the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of people are at this very moment heading to dinners where they will willingly....gladly.....blindly....ignorantly....insanely... ingest.....CRAP!!!

Let's all bow heads for a prayer for those less fortunate souls.
Oh, chow father, who art in the Big Kitchen, please help our confused, unthinking bretheren to realize that they don't have to follow the crowd that follows the marketing. Please help them awaken to the fact that they have been hypnotized by the forces of greed and cynicism into being led like sheep to compromised ingestion. They knoweth not what they eat.

The forces of evil have deluded these wretched souls into consuming in slavish lockstep in the pursuit not of happiness or self-interest but of order and predictability. Oh, chow father, let the prevalant, the pandemic, the highly touted hold less sway over these souls. Let them see the light, let them partakath of the Difara's pizza slice. Let them partaketh of the Arepa Lady's stunningly holy corncakes. Let them awaken to the ambrosial joys all around them, that they might live better and support those who cooketh from heart and soul. Amen.
You, sir. What did YOU eat for lunch today?

You, madam. are you settling for Snapple? Why the undelicious drink?

Brother and sister hounds, like many of you, I have been ridiculed for demanding that the food I eat be delicious. But many have lost track of the notion that food even CAN be delicious. For many, deliciousness has been purged from the equation, and as a result, the geniuses, kooks, and hold-outs who cook delicious, loving, inspiring food have but a precarious foothold in a market increasingly dominated by those who convey no message at all - much less a deep and loving message - via their cooking.

In the interest of mass market efficiency and lowest common denominator consistency, food is increasingly manufactured rather than cooked, by minimum wage cogs rather than by devoted artisans, and the only flair, the only intelligence, the only human empathy in the entire process is in the geniuses who create the marketing campaigns. Those are the artisans, the magicians of today. There is a fixed quantity of human genius in the world, and today's are not writing literature or leading governments or building theories of relativity. No. They're working to hypnotize and persuade the rest of us to consume things we don't want, don't need, don't like, can't use, and won't help. People eat soulless crap, and have lost all sight of deliciousness.

I see a day, not too far in the future, when our dining choices will be as radically pruned down as our choices of hardware stores or book stores. Fast food has already crushed the diners, automats, and food carts. And recently, we've seen an incursion of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Panera and their ilk, which are putting incredible pressure on midpriced restaurants around the country. Countless "best of" reader polls around the country award these abominations top honors in their niches. Marketing trumps quality.

Now we're on the verge of seeing the same in expensive restaurants. The notion of "star chefs" is branding, no more and no less. People like Wolfgang Puck and Jean Georges have reduced themselves to upscale Ronald McDonalds, engaged in a land grab as they spin off multiple branches where they'll never actually cook. You're not buying their talent, you're buying their branding.

I'm not saying every Chinese take-out, every taco joint, every French bistro, every sushi parlor will be crushed by an upscale, downscale, or midscale chain operation. A few independent bookstores and hardware stores survive these days, and there'll be still more cracks and crevices in the dining market. But consider this: right now, at very best, restaurants are shaky propositions. Their foothold is precarious, and even great places are more likely to fail than succeed. And that's without immense pressure from huge massive marketing and its proven ability to hypnotize consumers into gladly ingesting garbage.

So what happens when companies like Barnes and Noble or Home Depot enter this market and apply economic and marketing pressure to an already insanely difficult industry? The only hope is if enough of us care. As people are lulled into soulless places which craftily push their buttons without offering actual quality, people will lose even more of their abilitiy to even distinguish quality.

If you think that's impossible, consider orange juice. In just a few decades, we've gone from drinking fresh squeezed, which is delicious, to drinking frozen concentrate, which is not, to drinking TANG, which isn't even food. If you offered someone in 1911 a glass of Minute Maid frozen concentrate, they'd spit it out in revulsion.

Our human adaptability makes us vulnerable to those who work to wean us off of deliciousness and onto crap. Like live lobsters heating slooooowly in a pot, we don't realize how bad it's gotten until we're cooked. Becuse of marketing, Adam Smith's invisible hand reaches for lousy home fries!

Chowhound is an antidote. A red pill, designed to wake up consumers from their marketing hypnosis and make them aware that treasure is all around them, ripe and low on the trees, if they'll simply ignore the marketing messages and make smart decisions for themselves.

Please turn to page 338 in The Book.
"It's extremely important that we never settle for anything undelicious when there are so many geniuses, hold-outs, and proud craftsmen investing hearts and souls into cooking edible treasure which can sate our deepest hankerings. Just venture a bit further and care a bit more, and all occasions can be special...and the good guys will win."
This incredible chowy period we're all enjoying, this bonafide rennaisance of chow with a multitude of geniuses, holdouts and madmen producing food of heightened deliciousness virtually everywhere you look, will not last forever unless we make it last forever. Every bite we take makes a significant difference. Where you choose to eat your muffin - and where you choose NOT to eat your muffin - makes a political statement and affects the quality of all muffinhood. We must vote with our forks and support the good guys who make the good stuff!

Are you with me?

Then everyone, please rise....and hold your forking hand in the air for the chowhound pledge. Please repeat after me in a good, clear, loud, strong voice!

I pledge
never to settle
for anything less than fully delicious
ever again
so help me
[insert deity of your choice]
and the next time I'm hungry
looking around for something to eat
I will NOT cave
and just eat in some stupid place
just because it's easy or convenient
even if the person with me
gets really mad
and calls me a kooky obsessive
For refusing to settle for crap!!!
I didn't write this book. I'm just the spokesperson, Vanna White in a dog mask. So it's a bit silly for me to autograph anyone's book, but I'll autograph yours if you'll autograph mine. Okay, let's get to it!

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