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Friday, April 15, 2011

Food Writers Gone Wild! Or Purple, Pustulant Prose

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 8:18 AM

The literary food writer, circa 1973.
  • The literary food writer, circa 1973.

Yesterday, I came across two essays about the self-indulgent language that I and my species ― I'm talking food writers here ― are as drawn to as we are to lardo and feculent-smelling French cheese. Overwriting is hardly a new flaw among our kind. Have you read restaurant reviews from the 1970s? There were an awful lot of bad M.F.K. Fisher imitators who thought that describing bordelaise sauce in 19th-century prose proved their sophistication. Too

many essays read as if they were written with giant peacock-feather quills

dipped in glittery mauve ink.


Contemporary food writing has its own excesses. On Slate, Noreen Malone appears to be the only food writer in

America thrilled to see the end of legendary Spanish restaurant El

Bulli, for years the most sought-after reservation on the planet. Not

because she's bitter she never got to go, but because its closing

signals the extinction of the "I Ate at El Bulli" Piece, or IAAEBP. Larding her essay with a couple dozen links, she cuts through the

self-congratulation and artsy-ness to show just how cliched and

competitive the IAAEBP has become: Look at me going to El Bulli for a staff meal! Look at me eating a meal Ferran Adria cooked for me! Malone's article almost makes me wish I'd eaten

there and never told a soul. (Actually, I just wish I could have eaten

there.)


click to enlarge The literary food writer, circa 2011.
  • The literary food writer, circa 2011.

Responding to the outrage over A.A. Gill's searing Vanity Fair review of L'Ami Louis in Paris, Good's food editor, Nicola Twilley, clucks her tongue and gives Americans a lesson in just how visceral British restaurant critics can be.

Coming

from the alt-weekly school of restaurant criticism, which is

ever-so-slightly more prim then mainstream British newspapers, I say, if a room does smell like "fetid bladder damp" (thanks, Mr. Gill), why

censor the vivid image? But "chicken in barf sauce with mouse-tasting potato

croquettes" (courtesy of Giles Coren) is neither descriptive nor

instructive. It's swinging your dick around in the hope centrifugal

force will give it a couple millimeters more length.

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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