I got the idea to write about snobbery because in the world of food there is an abundance of it. The world of food also makes us vulnerable. What we cook, what we eat, what we share with others is all intimate. Intimacy revolves around our desires and wants, and desires and wants originate from our opinions on what we believe fill our heart, mind and soul.
What we create and share in the world of food inevitably produces opinions and ideas. These thought bubbles that ensue are the natural result of an experience with the creation itself. Unfortunately, a thin line emerges here between opinion and snobbery, one which I want to explore in this post.
It all started with very close friends of mine introducing me to a natural wine bar down the street from my home. I am now a regular at the bar solely because of how I’m treated so kindly by the lovely cup-bearers and the ambitious owner. Unlike the owner, I’m not a big natural winefan(I don’t say drinker, because, if I did, I’d be lying to my throat), although my dear friends are. If you don’t know, natural wine, or natty wine, or natch, is touted as wine without added preservatives. I believe it’s that simple. If you’d like to argue with me on that, we can meet at the natural wine bar and pick his brain.
To this point, I invited one of the wine-pouring sales associates over to my home one late evening for a post-dinner digestiv. “One drink and a couple laughs”, I said, because we all had work early the next morning. She mentioned her friend would tag along who I later found out is the owner's girlfriend from out of state. So I knew I would be getting a first-hand account of what natch had to offer. Not only that, but one drink never means one drink so I was getting mentally prepared to have a longer-than-expected evening.
The conversation began with what we ate, but quickly progressed to natural wine, naturally. I asked questions about what is considered natural wine. I gave credit to the bar, of course, as I consider it the only natural wine bar in Houston fully committed to the natch. Meanwhile my friend and I joked around calling it “grape juice” and “efferecent”.
Being in the food business, I was asked about my thoughts on the culinary scene here in Houston. Although it doesn’t need it whatsoever, I championed Houston’s swag. It is one of the most amazing culinary scenes in the entire world for many reasons.
The conversation that proceeded became the nurtured seed for this article.
My guest made a comment about how many “happening” and “popping” restaurants here have similar styles. It entails creations of intricate dishes, that is small portions with large portion prices. Think of the feeling you get when staring at another $42 oxtail tapas worth two bites. It’s a typical restaurant menu design these days. Many downtown restaurants in Austin exhibit this style, too. “Tapas style plates that are overpriced” is the classic tagline associated with these menu styles. And as hip as us young folks are, most having resided in Austin (where cool was cool before cool was discovered) you can imagine our opinion on food, wine, fashion, or anything, were as spicy as the tacos.
My new friend proceeded to declare that this is why the Houston food scene isn’t as flourished as the media makes it out to be. That having a new restaurant pop up, boasting a unique menu with high priced small bites doesn’t add to Houston’s scoreboard of culinary prowess. I agreed, but not completely. It wasn’t what she said, rather how she said it that really got me thinking. As we continued the discussion, and laughed about her late-night proclamation, I started to realize that herbit on the Houston food scene could have come off completely snobby to most.
Now let me say quickly that I do not think my guests are true snobs. We care a great deal about the culinary arts. We love to engage in passionate and controversial debates so we can defend our opinions and taste. However, I just found the comment to be intriguing because it got me thinking about being proud of what we believe. Ultimately, we can always support our opinions as personal choices.
What did this conversation do for me? It made me ponder snobbery. As I ended the night with an expensive glass of wine, cups of hand crafted mezcal, and a hand-rolled cigar, I thought to myself: snobbery is completely shallow and lacks respect for the process of anything. I wish I had told her that then, that night; alas here’s a post about it.
Snobs only care about creative outcomes, rarely about creative process. And of course they are the ultimate arbiters of where process becomes outcome. They’re more concerned with status than appreciating the work it takes to follow through with an idea. There is no curiosity in snobbery, just opinions, comparisons, and conclusions of what one believes is better than something else. Snobbery lives at the end of journeys and creations. Like the fool at the finish line, who didn’t race, and shakes the winners hands and laughs at the ones who haven’t crossed into his elevated realm yet. All judgement, no substance. All salad dressing, no spice..
In my humble opinion, the secret to a great restaurant scene isn’t a formula of equal parts: new plus unique plus trendy plus justifiable high prices. And to my friend’s point, there is an abundance of that happening right now. Uniqueness isn’t born from imitating current designs and adding a slight twist. However, one cannot deny the status of an entire culinary scene if that popular formula is present and attracts patrons. You know why? Because the great culinary scenes DO have bit of what my friend was talking about in parts of their DNA. That’s the beauty of a wonderful culinary scene. My suggestion is to be humble because the culinary world has no bounds. If it did, our sense for adventure would be compromised.
Houston doesn’t cease to be an empire in the culinary world just because it has a handful of that one style of restaurants. It’s just not a fair assessment to judge a culinary scene based on the currently sprouting and media-loved restaurants. Another point: snobs rarely make full assessments, especially considering they only ever reference themselves.
Simply put, snobbery is solely an overly-proclaimed opinion at its core, and an opinion can not be right or wrong. It disregards others’ opinions, thus halting conversations before becoming intriguing discussions and back-and-forths. Let alone it disregards the hard work the Instagram chef has put into designing his menu and sharing what they believe is amazing.
Either way, the conversations that night were extraordinarily entertaining. We stayed up until 2 in the morning. And my guest did concede the following: “Houston is amazing because of the small restaurants, new, old, big, and small, not the new places that serve small plates at high prices.”
Although snobbery has been on my mind recently, I feel I’m around it often. Associating myself closely with people who express themselves creatively inevitably invites my opinions, good and bad. One must not forget that the beauty of expressing one’s self through creative vehicles is ultimately allowing the world we share to experience that of someone else’s. And I mean, isn’t that what we as humans want? To share and experience together or wholly.
When we experience what someone shared with us, we have to be careful with how we then describe that experience with others. We have to make sure we’re translating the experience in a fashion that credits the individual who first shared it with you. Without this, we stand on the edge of snobbery.
The beauty of designing or producing anything is about the creator sharing something. They’re translating thoughts and ideas for our perspective, allowing us to experience something new by someone other than us. It’s a window into the mind of someone else. As I always mention, it takes a great amount of vulnerability to share our creations with others. The outcome of this vulnerability can be rewarding.
The inevitable opinion bubbles that occur after sharing your work with others is tough. When we create and share, we do it for something that doesn’t fall in the category of neutral. Creators do things with purpose. They have intentions, and intentions parallel with results. Results are meaningful because we get to compare them with what we perceive as good or bad. Exciting or boring. Successful or disastrous. Tasty or nasty. Associating yourself closely with people who express themselves creativity will inevitably garner opinions. That is inevitable.
However, it’s how we garden those opinions that make room for constructive or positive feedback. Without poise, we can become cruel, mean, and useless when sharing our experience with others. Ultimately, we all want to share and connect with those around us. It’s in our biology to do so.
Of course, when discussing the culinary kind of snobbery, I like staying in my lane of expertise from time to time and being fully aware of my opinions. Being a complete snob doesn’t show your intellect or your perceivedgreat taste. All it does is limit discussion and halt it to a dead stop.
As you prepare to order some more grilling sauces and condiments, be mindful at your next grill out with your family and friends. A true master, a real expert, never shuts anything down. They try to cultivate knowledge through sharing experiences and having discussions. But if you have to be a snob about one thing, make it about our Chimichurri...because I love when you brag about AXEL Chimichurri.