Deference

[We will now tackle several issues I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.]

Deference fascinates me when it comes to food (as well as movies, TV, theater, literature, and trasngendered escorts). We live in the age of the blurb. “Better than Tofu!” “Wicked wasabi!” “Don’t miss the Vietnamese-Mexican dipping sauce!”

People succumb to these stamps of approval like willing zombies, ignoring the sources (WORTV, Joel Siegel) hypnotized by the promise of “brilliance!” “dazzle!” and “a life shattering experience that will make you abandon your family and move to Canada!”

Walking around New York, you will see taped to windows and doors and doormats little snippets of articles about the place you are passing by. The coffee shop I frequent has clip-outs from New York magazine calling it one of the “best coffee shops in the city.” A hair salon nearby has “best men’s haircut” glued to the window, and the Smoothie shop next door has “best Smoothie to consume after the best men’s haircut” on its overhang.

Why are Americans so impressionable? Does something framed by quotes taped to a shop window signify its trustworthiness?

Of course not. You’ll notice, of course, that the more dignified institutions require no blurbs outside their doors. Alain Ducasse does not advertise its “killer foie gras.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art doesn’t hawk its “totally rad armor collection!” The Amateur Gourmet doesn’t have blurbs in its upper right corner.

So should we ignore blurbs altogether? Should we stop being so deferent?

Well, no. See I think deference is vital. What matters is who you are deferent to and how deferent you remain.

We aren’t born knowing the proper way to swirl a wine glass or the nuances of a finely roasted endive. Almost everything I write about on here was learned in the past few years. I was deferent to the Food Network (Sarah Moulton, Mario Batali), Calvin Trillin, Julia Child, Gourmet Magazine, Saveur, Bon Apetit, the food blogs (Food Section, Sautee Wednesday, Chocolate & Zucchini) and (of course) the Barefoot Contessa. Am I still deferent to all these things? Well now that I know more, I’m less likely to automatically agree with something—but I still accept their input with more than a grain of salt. I’ve chosen my Yodas, so to speak. That’s when deference is ok.

One great example of deference in action is my recent experiences with my new favorite blog: The Rest Is Noise by New Yorker music critic, Alex Ross. I know nothing of classical music. It’s a blank spot on my cranium. And if I weren’t deferent to Ross’s advice, I would never have purchased Beethoven’s Symphony #3 “Eroica” or attempted Puccini’s Tosca, both of which I have on my desk now. Slowly I’m beginning to comprehend their brilliance and their import and why these things matter. The Leonard Bernstein lecture at the end of the Eroica disc taught me, in 10 minutes, more about classical music than I’ve learned in a lifetime.

It’s all about opening doors in your brain, in your mouth, in your soul. (God, that was cheesy.) But seriously. I’m beginning to see why being “open minded” doesn’t just mean to be tolerant; it means to be open to everything—to let everything pass through you (literally and figuratively) and to embrace everything that sticks. We choose these guides–these critics, these writers who filter for us–and they act as passports to completely different worlds. There’s so much hostility when it comes to critics. People HATE Roger Ebert—-probably because he dissed their favorite movie somewhere in the past. But that’s missing the point. Roger Ebert has a passion for movies and he’s going to go out there and see every one and then tell you which ones are worth seeing. In other words, instead of dismissing him because of what he hates, why not embrace him for what he offers? If you went to see all of Ebert’s 4-starred movies from the past year, I guarantee you that you’d fall in love with at least one of them.

Is a NYT 4-star restaurant the highest achievement in dining possible? Hell no. I’d much rather eat at Babbo than Per Se. It’s just a starting point. They’re saying: here filter this through first, see what you like, then work your way down.

I know this is a rambling post, but I think it’s important. I’m trying to work out the knotty relationship between our innermost self and the self the world creates for us. Don’t be a parrot, I’m not saying that. Just let your parrot inform your pirate.

Wow, that actually made a lot of sense.

1 comment

  1. It’s interesting that you notice your coffee shop and smoothie place have these blurbs to validate their products, yet classier, more upscale establishments do not feel the need to do this. Perhaps it would be insightful to explore the motivation to validate one’s work by showcasing public recognition right at one’s door, lest people neglect to notice.

    So, exploring this topic, why do you feel it necessary to post any sort of media recognition at your door (so to speak)? It is understandable to make a self-congradulatory post out of pride. But to make a permalink at the top of your blog seems like simple validation, screaming “despite what you might think about the posts herein, some people with opinions more qualified than the average public, like me and find me entertaining, so you should, as well.” What was the motivation there?

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