Digesting a Food Critic


At this very moment someone, somewhere, is rhapsodizing in purple prose about food. It is a subject that copiously  stimulates the gastronome's  poetic juices.  In the food section of  any metropolitan daily  can be found this literary genre.

"The bright barramundi meuniere is dressed in the classic brown-butter-lemon-caper sauce usually associated with Dover sole." So reads the caption to a color photo in the Chicago Tribune's Dining Section last week. The caption succinctly  illustrates a few of the  trademark literary devices that gin up  the ornamental style of the typical food critic. Note the exotic allusions ("barramundi meuniere") that are rarely comprehensible. The agglutinative adjective ("brown-butter-lemon-caper sauce") whose cumulative effect almost causes a mental burp. The casual name-dropping ("associated with Dover sole").

In the same piece, you'll find 'clever crepes', 'a scattering of sauted snails','compartmentalized chowder', 'a petite filet au poivre[that]lurks beneath all that short-rib meat and house-made pappardelle noodles'. The deserts are 'fun', 'seasonal', fascinating', 'but never boring'.  And  should we assume tasty too?

Food descriptions like these tend to get a trifle anthropomorphic.  Like saying that you wouldn't mind having a beer with  a  foxy petite filet au poivre.   But  taste buds are notoriously subjective and organically they're  affected by an array of influences.  Your sense of smell, your genes, even the scars of your childhood. Therein lies the mysticism of food critiques--- which in turn may be the reason for their  pretentious, narcissistic,  exhibitionist, opaque ,mannered and self-parodying literary style.

Filed under: Food, literature


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