You may have worked this out already, but I like food. And I like talking about food, whether that means gushing over the latest chef, trend or dish, or looking at wider, more philosophic questions. It’s a topic that gets me excited, that makes me talk with real animation. I may be an amateur in this, but I am an enthusiastic one.
And like all amateurs, it is always a thrill to see the people at the top of the game do their thing.
AA Gill and Anthony Bourdain are two of the great raconteurs of the food world, giving their often unforgiving assessments of every aspect of it in a language that is fluid and natural. One a feared and divisive critic, the other a chef turned documenter of the underbelly of the industry turned celebrity eater, these two ‘gurgitators’ (AA Gill’s preferred term to replace the hopefully defunct “foodie”) held a packed auditorium of other people who like to eat and talk to rapt attention, despite the handicap of a lackluster and old-fashioned moderator in chef Tony Bilson.
The conversation ranged from the difference between eating and dining (if there is one), through irritating restaurant activities, the wonders or otherwise of Japan and India, the value of organic food, and finally an explanation of what makes them, and us, love this field.
I found myself agreeing with most of what was being said, nodding along as they opined up on stage. The way they spoke with reverence about Ferran Adria, and pointed out the ridiculous number of misconceptions about his food I was in furious agreement with.
So many people see the modernist cuisine of chef Adria, otherwise known as the horrible misnomer of “molecular gastronomy” (as Gill pointed out, all cooking is molecular), as merely crazy techniques for the sake of it. But Bourdain said it best when he pointed out that if it were just about technique, it wouldn’t be any good. It is much more than that. Sadly, I will never be able to experience the elBulli experience, but his ideas will move on.
Did I learn anything from these two veterans, though? Well, no. Not really.
What they did do was say things better than I can at the moment. In particular, they answered Rene Redzepi’s question from last week with a lot of what I was thinking but could not phrase. This section of the talk, in response to a question from Jill Dupleix, is well worth listening to again.
They also got me thinking about the way I eat, especially that I eat alone much too often. AA Gill pointed out that we are the only animals that can maintain eye contact while eating, and eat in a group without worrying that others are going to steal our food. This social aspect of eating is one of the things that make it so exciting, and yet it is an aspect that we forget too often these days.
Of course I prefer to eat with others. Many of the best conversations I have ever had have been over great food with family and friends. Even on this trip to Sydney, catching up with some of my family over cosy, simple, heartfelt food at a real neighbourhood restaurant in Roseville (Salt Pepper Nutmeg) made for as enjoyable a meal as at the more renowned restaurants I visited. This was what came from eating with people.
Sadly, I eat alone at home, with housemates who generally are not around at dinnertime. And I eat at restaurants alone, because I enjoy restaurants, and if I am going to eat alone anyway, I may as well eat out. But I am going to make a conscious change and work on eating with others more often.
So did Gill and Bourdain teach me anything? No. But they did remind me that food should be about more than food. And I thank them for that.
Listen to Radio National’s recording of Gill and Bourdain’s Sydney Writers Festival show, Food Fighters.
(I also must thank Melbourne Gastronome for providing me with the tickets. I am sorry you weren’t able to go yourself, but I definitely made good use of them.)