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05 September 2007

remaining an amateur

the amateur gourmet

I hate the word foodie.

I really do. I'm also not fond of gourmand, gourmet, gavonne, connoisseur, saveur, or person-in-the-know. Our friend Matthew once described the Chef and me as " geeks in love." I'm okay with that. I'd rather be a geek (oh, I am) than someone who is finished, for the rest of my life.

You see, there's something about the word foodie that sounds like it should be said with a nasal accent, an upper-crust sound, chin raised, eyes partially closed. It sounds, to me, like "Oh yes, I'm one of those people who knows exactly where to buy the best olive oil. All the rest are so declasse."

The word foodie sounds like snobbery to me.

There's another part of this. Here is the writer/former English teacher in me coming out —— foodie is a noun. It's a static object. It's a way of being, set in stone. That's not me. I'm constantly, astonishingly learning. That means I make a lot of mistakes. That also means I'm not afraid to ask questions about the most basic parts of the food world, like how to chop an onion.

I prefer verbs when I'm describing myself. I like actions, evolutions, a constantly shifting set of images that seem to make up a person. Look again, and it's a different one.

I'm not a foodie. I love food. I adore the people who make food. I live in tastes and memorable bites.

I've been thinking about this lately, since I read Adam Roberts' sweet little book, The Amateur Gourmet. A quick read, a few guffaws, and the voice that everyone who reads his blog has come to know well — the book yields these and more.

But it also surprised me. The way Adam surprised me.

You see, I read Adam's blog, The Amateur Gourmet for years. And of course, I thought he was funny, because Adam is funny. Quantifiably funny. (He is a 10 on the funny-o-meter.) I thought he was a little sloppy, certainly prolific, and really, a not-so-good photographer of restaurant meals. (I think he has stopped using flash indoors now. Those photos look a lot better these days.) But before I met him — to be totally honest — I thought he was probably a bit of an arrogant prat. A foodie.

And then, I met Adam, at the Chef's restaurant, in June. I loved him, instantly. He talked fast, with his hands, he leaned forward in his seat to drink in every word that Molly or Tea or David or I said, and he had a big grin on his face. But mostly, I was wonderfully pleased to see how young and excitable and eager to learn Adam really is.

Adam's a mensch.

I read that Adam in every page of his book. The young man who is not afraid to say that he still has so much to learn.

There's a phrase in Zen Buddhism that runs through my brain every day: beginner's mind. Anyone can say, "I know." And feel done. But it takes work to remind ourselves to remove the film of experience from our eyes and simply look at the world.

Do you remember the first time you bit down into a slice of sashimi?

Do you remember the first time you made a meal by yourself and felt satisfied with the sensory pleasures?

Do you remember the first time you discovered the sweet-salty taste of something you love now?

All of our most startling experiences, the ones that stay in our minds, arrived as surprises.

Walking around saying "I know" can stop us from experiencing.

Adam, in his book, does what so many people are afraid to do. He lets himself look foolish. He has lunch with Ruth Reichl, and he peppers her with so many elementary questions that make him look new at this that she ends up yelling at him. He talks to Amanda Hesser about how to shop at the farmers' market. He makes a meal for his family, in spite of their protestations about the dinner. He eats Korean food for the first time.

In the first few chapters, Adam portrayed himself as such a beginner (both in the experiences and the writing) that I sort of cringed, a bit. But that was my own snobbery. I paid attention to that. By the end — when he has more confidence and skill, but all the same wide-eyed enthusiasms — the book had a wonderful depth. It's as though the words were braising, slowly, over the entire read. By the time the book was done, those words were tender and nearly caramelized. Beautiful.

I swear, I teared up at the end.

I identified dearly with Adam's descriptions of his food awakenings as a metaphor for his personal life awakenings. That's the experience I have been astounded by, these past two years. You think you are just learning how to make tomato sauce, or roast a chicken, or smell the difference between tarragon and rosemary in the garden. But in reality, when you set out to learn how to cook, how to live a life of food, how to leave behind the processed foods of your youth and really taste your life? You come alive.

All those of you who are new to gluten-free? And deriding the fact you will have to cook everything from scratch? Count your blessings. This may be the biggest gift of all.

The other day, I turned to the Chef in the kitchen. Waving my soapy hands in the air (we were doing the dishes), I said, "I'm so excited! There's so much left to learn about food!"
He laughed, and said, "Me too, sweet pea. I'll never be done learning."

That's why I love him. He knows more about food than anyone I have ever met. And he is, naturally, always at beginner's mind.

Adam's book is well worth your read. (And it's fairly short, giving you time to digest it before another book hits the stores in October.)

I'd rather be an amateur than a foodie, any day.

red pepper sauce

Red Pepper Sauce

At the beginning of his book, Adam walks a friend through making tomato sauce from scratch. (And on the phone, no less.) He uses Mario Batali's recipe, which looks fantastic.

But should you wish for a change of pace, try this red pepper sauce the Chef made yesterday. On polenta, it's dynamic. It will open your tastes and teach you, again.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, fine diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons rosemary and thyme, minced
1/2 medium carrot, sliced
5 red peppers, sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper (give or take)

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and carrot and cook for one minute. Add the garlic. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onions have become translucent.

Add the sliced peppers. Cook for 5 minutes more, or until the peppers have become soft.

Cover with stock (vegetable or chicken) by one inch.

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

Puree in the blender in batches. (Be careful not to over-fill the blender. This will be hot.) For each batch, add one tablespoon of the best olive oil you own.

Return the sauce to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Taste. Season until the taste jumps vibrantly in your mouth.

Serve over gluten-free pasta, polenta, or whatever suits your fancy.

Feeds 4.


At 3:49 PM, Blogger Pam said...

Hi there,

My husband was diagnosed with celiac about 5 years ago. I have been able to duplicate all of his favorite foods except one - the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe has eluded me. I thought I had tried everything. Then I came across your recipe blog and I just finished making your ooey-gooey choc chip cookies. Oh. my. goodness. They are fabulous - so good in fact, I like them better then my old full of gluten choc chip cookies! They held together, they leave no bitter aftertaste and the dough even smells like real cookie dough.

Thank you soooo much for such a wonderful recipe! I will be doing a lot more baking with teff and millet flours. My husband will be thrilled to come home from work to a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies:)

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Ellen said...

Hi Shauna. I agree--I'm also really uncomfortable with the word foodie. Partly because it conjures up the image of somebody who expects to eat expensive meals all the time...and I'm very frugal. (I'm willing to spend money on good ingredients, but I rarely eat out, and to me frugality--not wasting things, for example--is an important part of being a good and creative cook...) Along with hospitality...and that's also something that I feel the word "foodie" doesn't mesh well with... The word foodie to me suggests somebody who would turn up their nose at food they are offered because it's not gourmet enough for them. Or something like that.
I guess, like you say, it all comes down to having a certain ring of snobbery to it.
I prefer--somebody who really likes food; somebody who likes to cook...
I like your review of Adam's book--will have to check it out. And I love what you say about the importance of having a beginner's mind, always. I think it's true in all sorts of situations, not just with food.

At 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna,
I have been planning a post with the same first sentence as yours! I hate the word foodie too, mostly because I associate it with a certain consumeristic attitude towards food, not to mention elitism. My sister and I now use the term "food person," but maybe we should just say "food amateurs." In its Latin root, an amateur is simply someone who loves, and perhaps you are right to suggest that an amateur can love food as a foodie never can.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I love the idea that we are always learning. Of course, as a teacher, I want to convey that, but I also want to live it aloud. You definitely do. Even through the words on your blog I can 'see' that you're more a verb than a noun. You ARE evolving...and I have so enjoyed reading about your journey. And I have been slowly trying out your recipes and loving them all. (fennel sausage and polenta is a front runner) I am a person who really does not enjoy cooking, but I'm learning.....

At 6:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This sauce sounds great; but you call for two different, separate measurements for olive oil and it's not evident why from the recipe. Can you clarify for me?


At 9:47 AM, Blogger Clare said...

Actually I have never thought of the word "foodie" as snooty, static or any of the other negative things you mention. I think it's actually a very goofy-sounding term, one that evokes laughter from many of my friends. "It sounds like goonie or looney," they'll say.

Gourmet or gourmand has more of a snooty essence, IMHO (not that I think Adam is a snob - he's far from it).

I guess perspective is everything!

At 10:47 AM, Blogger anne said...

I love this idea, such a great perspective on it. Thank you for opening my mind.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Kenna M. Kettrick said...

That sauce looks amazing...I will have to test it.

Also, I wanted to let you know that I am in DUBLIN! Studying abroad! And I have a blog to prove it:, if you care to keep up at all.

Not now, though, of course, you're going on honeymoon! Which is terribly exciting. I hope you have an amazing time (how could you not?) and with any luck I will get to see you when I come back to the states.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Ms. George said...

I like the tag 'food geek' since I proudly wear the English Teacher Geek moniker for my students, and I'm a bit of a food geek, myself.
Have a wonderful, relaxing, abundantly vibrant honeymoon trip...

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup, gotta agree that the word "foodie" is an uncomfortable label for me too. My sister and I are avid cooks and kitchen-hanger-outers in general, but we've never thought of ourselves in some elite club. We cook. We eat well. We enjoy!

At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The term 'foodie' makes my toes curl. The snobbish-ness it conveys, the stuffy, overbearing nature of it... Uuurgh.

If anything, I guess I'd call myself a 'keen cook' or just 'someone who enjoys pottering around in the kitchen and seeing what happens'. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't - and that's why it's fun. No imagined crown of culinary greatness here.'Foodie' attempts to create some kind of mystery where, really, there isn't one.

Congratulations again to you and the Chef. Enjoy the honeymoon in Italy - it's such a beautiful place.

At 4:17 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Loved this review...very enjoyable. The thing I liked most was the way you took me back years ago to when I first sampled grana padano I can't get enough of the stuff...fortunately I live in Switzerland, a.k.a. land of the cows, so's I can get me some cheese.


At 5:37 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi very longtime lurker (since you began pretty much) - I can't wait to get my hands on Adam's book - it sounds fantastic. Btw, I love the recipes you offer here - while I include gluten in my diet, it's always great to have options to do without it (it makes me sleepy!).

At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The plate of red sauce with the contrasting green rosemary reminds me of a meal I made last week. I made a roasted tomato sauce (based on a recipe from Cooking Light) and poured it into plates, stacked a couple freshly made corn fritters in the center, rested a piece of grilled salmon on top, and garnished it with rosemary sprigs. It was a lovely late-summer meal. Everything except the corn fritters is gluten-free, and considering how little flour is in them I'm sure you could come up with a GF version.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

I thought "foodie" was a term for people who watch the food network all day long. It doesn't connote snobbism to me at all. It sounds silly, like how some people call a chandelier a "chandy".

It's a trend---to make nouns into diminutives. Kind of cloying if you ask me.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Sea said...

I have to admit, I don't really see anything negative about the term "foodie". Actually, because it has been coined more recently than, say, Gourmet or Gourmand, I feel that it represents a younger ethos towards food than the (stuffier) gourmet. To me a foodie is someone who has a 'try anything once' philosophy towards food and isn't afraid to try new things and be adventurous, and has nothing to do with having a fat wallet and snooty nose. In fact, to my mind, a foodie, in contrast to the gourmet, relishes a cheap street stall dish and rarely, if ever, sits down to the seven course meal with wine pairings etc. that represents the more traditional gourmet's ideal meal. I think the term foodie may be used in the media, say by shows like "diary of a foodie," to promote certain elite agendas, but I am not inclined to let media representation dictate the meaning of my terms. So darned it, I'm proud to be a foodie- and to me, the term is equivalent to food geek or food freak- I love food in all its yummy permutations, and possibly to excess, but in a cheerful, bright, and exploratory way. ;)
that crazy book of yum girl

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Tea said...

I agree with Clare. I think of foodie to mean food geek or dork--not snooty at all. It's such a cute little word, it barely has enough letters to be snobby (gourmet, however, or gourmand) are all snob to me.

But I do sometimes say food person as well. Perhaps we should come up with a new word for it.

At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the first time I tried sashimi when I was ten in 1978 or 1979 (!):

My brother and I each had a mysterious pink "something" on our plates. Mom wouldn't tell us what is was until after we took "just one bite" (we were a "one bite required" family).

I don't remember the taste as much as I remember the temperature and the texture. It was, really, like nothing I had ever had before... didn't taste like fruit, wasn't chicken or beef...wasn't hard or tough but wasn't soft either.

"What is it?" we asked and she said, "Raw tuna" and must have explained sushi and sashimi, though I don't remember that. I had more than two bites, as the older sister I had a reputation to uphold and a younger brother's rejection to reject.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Carrie said...

Thanks Shauna for the delicious red pepper sauce! I can't wait to try this! I loved the review on Adam's book! I still need to buy the book (along with yours!!) I hope you have had a wonderful trip to Italy! I've missed reading your posts and your wonderful writing!

ps... i always thought the word foodie was just a silly word and I actually kind of like it! So please don't mind it on my blog... i promise I'm not a snob!! :-)

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Shauna-
Actually, I prefer "Food Slut." I realized at some point in my life that I would do shameless things like flattering chefs and favorite restaurant owners to gain preferential treatment and treats. It works at Farmer's Markets, too.

Anything for amazing food.

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Foodie is a term I like and to me it has none of the negative connotations that others have expressed. for me it means someone who loves food, to cook it, to buy it, to grow it, to sniff it and to talk about it. Perhaps it because I live in the lowly Mid West or Great Lakes region and we don't have the East or West coast high priced big name restaurants, but do have lots of folks who experiment with cooking, gardening and entertaining to save money. It is a tag I proudly wear.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Lyrically speaking said...

This looks soooooooooo good

At 7:54 PM, Blogger paint o'rama said...

Hi Shauna,

Just have to tell you how happy i am to have found you. I love reading your blog. You write beautifully, reading your stories brings light into my days...and I am learning how to live without wheat. I will be looking for that chocolate chip recipie in your blog - I have had a hankering for chocoloate chips for months. Your photographs, of the food you eat, and your photos of your trip, and your husband and yourself are gorgeous. The love you have found and now enjoy every day - gives me hope in finding love myself. wishing you much success with your book. thank you for sharing so much. you are helping so many people.


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