What makes a Foodie?
Do you remember your last really fantastic, exceptional, and amazing meal? Marge and Dean do, but that’s what you would expect from a couple of self-proclaimed foodies. Vacations and trips, for them, often involve seeking out new and different experiences at restaurants that they have seen featured on TV. This has led them through the doors of a number of establishments featured on The Food Network and also into dining experiences created by celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Julian Cerrano, a student of Jose Andres.
Now living in Ontario, this couple hails from England where they both had traditional, but different, upbringings, which included their family’s attitudes toward food. Marge came from a family with deep English roots, while Dean’s family had immigrated from Cyprus and brought many of their Turkish traditions with them. As home cooking is often a reflection of cultural backgrounds, these two families had adopted very different views on their preferred foods.
Dean recalls, “I came from mixed ethnicity. My dad was a Turkish Cypriot and he did a lot of the cooking. There was always a pot of something on the stove. Sometimes you couldn’t identify it. I was used to trying different foods. Then I met Marge, and she was really not used to that! Her family were English and they ate traditional English food. You know, it was the same dish on a Monday every week, ate at the same time, and they sat down as a family, together, and ate food.”
At this point, Marge jumps in and says with a laugh, “Yeah, my dad was so strict. He said, ‘We ain’t eatin’ no foreign muck!’”
“That was how it was described,” continues Dean, “As foreign muck or foreign food and that was all they ate. I introduced Marge to all the Turkish food my dad was cooking and she loved it.” Two foodies had been born and over time, their relationship has deepened with their attempts to experience food in as many varieties as possible.
At this point, it’s probably best to understand what being a foodie means to Marge and Dean because, for some, it has a kind of implied snobbery. As Marge tells it, “Well, we’re certainly not snobs! For me, what really turns my crank when I am going to sit down and eat a meal is a nice atmosphere. It’s the presentation of the food; it’s the unique blend of flavors and colours. You know, everything kind of coming together. Even with the wine pairing as well, understanding that some wines work to enhance the flavour of the food.
“When we go out to eat, it’s going to a restaurant where we really can’t make that food at home. Dean, because he is definitely the chef of the two of us, he will kind of examine the meal and say ‘If you did this, and did this, I could recreate that.'” For Marge, she wants to be able to say, “Crikey, how the hell did they do that? How did they put that together and make it taste like that?”
Dean readily echoes this sentiment. “We’re not snobs, there’s no doubt about that. We’ll eat Taco Bell and then we’ll go to a $500, $600 restaurant, and everything in between. I think what makes a foodie, for me, is the all-around experience and the planning that goes into it.”
This is an interesting point that Dean makes. The concept of being a “foodie” does conjure images of expensive restaurants and fine wines, and there certainly can be an element of that, if a person wishes. Alternatively, it can also be something that can be enjoyed on a budget and is within anyone’s reach, particularly if you like to travel.
Dean explains that, when traveling, “We don’t look at hotels; the first thing we start looking at is restaurants! We have some cooks that we follow on TV. Anthony Bourdain was someone we used to follow all the time. Washington DC was a really good example.
“We went there a few years back. The first thing we did was hook up the TV and watch the episode in Washington DC. And then we go, ‘Okay, we gotta visit those restaurants that he visited, you know?’ We booked and we planned that day’s events around the restaurants that we visited and the foods that we were gonna try. It’s the whole experience, really. And we did the same in New York.
A New York Experience
“We went to NY, and we went to Katz’s Deli – it’s the famous deli. It’s in the movie When Harry Met Sally. It’s a huge place; it could probably seat 400 people. They serve up smoked meat like pastrami on rye, stuff like that. It was fantastic. And then, later on that night, we went to Keens Chophouse, which is a famous place in New York, and then the following night we were up at London, which was a restaurant run by Gordon Ramsay. So, all ends of the spectrum.
Which begs the question: What’s it like to dine somewhere really different and experience something designed by one of these world-famous chefs? That answer comes in two parts because there is a wide variety of experiences out there to be had. The famous Gordon Ramsay is where Dean and Marge decided to start.
About seven years ago, they went to The Gordon Ramsay at The London, which has since closed. This was their first experience with high-end, fine dining, and neither of them knew what to expect. There were a lot of staff, more than it seemed were needed, and the seating arrangement found them sitting next to each other facing the large dining room. This is done with a purpose: the restaurant itself becomes your entertainment while you eat. The amount of staff and the buzz of activity provide just enough interesting visuals to keep you entertained, while still allowing you to focus on the food itself. It truly is a dinner and a show.
Dean recalls, “We’d already looked at the menu and knew some of the items we were getting. The food would come out, and it was just one guy. It was carried on a silver tray, and another guy would take it off the tray and put it on your table. After every course, they would wipe the table down.
“Not only that, [but] they actually came and they explained each dish!” exclaimed Marge. “Then when the sommelier would come over with the wine, he would explain why that wine went with that food and what flavors we could anticipate being brought out in either the food or the wine.
“It was a la carte, but it was a pre-picked a la carte. It wasn’t like soup, salad, main meal, dessert. You had, like, an amuse-bouche, which is like something that tantalizes the taste buds to start with. Then you would have an appetizer, maybe a lemon sorbet to cleanse your palate, then you would have another dish. You’ve got a dish presented so beautifully well, but it’s not piled high because it’s enough to eat. The sauce would be rich, or the meat, the way that it’s cooked. Everything had a reason for being eaten. It wasn’t there just to fill you up.”
Dean has a particular memory from that evening. “The reason I remember the main course is it was a little unusual. I read thrillers, and I love Clive Cussler. His main character is Dirk Pitt and Pitt is a big foodie and meets up with a couple people he is always getting research from and they have these tremendous meals. There was this one novel I was reading and they had sweet bread. I didn’t know what sweetbread was. I remember googling and checking it out.
It’s an internal organ, from the thymus gland or something. It wouldn’t appeal to everybody, but I am a Brit, I do eat kidneys and liver and heart, you know. I’m like, ‘Hhmm, I’m gonna try that.’ And when we went to The London they had it on the menu. So that was just one more thing for me to eat, and it was amazing.
This is the sort of place that the patron should be open to trying new things and having it prepared the way the chef suggests. It is not a place to ask for your steak to be cooked well done or to ask for substitutions. Dean explains that, “For the most part, they normally say, ‘We cook that to medium-rare, is that okay?’”
Or, as Marge mentions, “They would say, “Chef recommends that it’s cooked [a certain way].”
Dean continues, “I think, to me, it’s a respect thing as well. This might just be us, but if a chef has made the time to put that meal together, and then they come out and the suggestion is that you should have it medium, or the suggestion is that you should have sprinkled parmesan cheese on top, then I’m going to go with what they suggest. If I’m going to change that or say ‘I’m going to replace that with something else,” to me that’s insulting the person who created that dish, to be honest with you. That’s how I feel, anyway.”
Marge laughingly points out, “I mean, we’re not talking an Applebee’s or something like that. If you are going there, and you are going to spend a decent amount of money, you would want it to be how it’s ‘supposed’ to be. If you’re, ‘Well I want this, but I don’t want this, and change that,’ maybe you shouldn’t eat there, then!’”
For an experience with a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, you should expect it to be French, and you should expect it to be pricey. Marge says, “It was the most expensive meal we have ever had.” However, it’s not just the food and drink. The experience of the restaurant is also the night’s entertainment and will last between three and four hours.
Dean has this perspective on it: “If you go to Toronto, and you decide you want to watch a Raptors game, you’re going to spend a good amount of money to get tickets to get in there. You’re going to need to eat while you’re there anyway. When you encompass all of that, and you are there for four hours, that’s great. But that’s not us. You know, we would prefer to take that time and that money and have a whole experience in a restaurant and eat something we’ve never eaten before or try something really different.”
Each of these famous restaurants, whether they are run by a celebrity chef or not, is going to have its own style, and they can be quite distinct from one another. Dean compares their experience with Ramsay’s restaurant with that of Jaleo in Washington DC. Ramsay’s “was very upscale and it was a very rich, very unbelievable meal. I had my sweetbread served with ‘prosciutto emulsion’ It was like they got this prosciutto, and they emulsified it, and then turned it into a froth. It just exploded in my mouth. How the hell did they do that?
Over to Jaleo
“Whereas we go to Jaleo,” Dean says, “and they have little plates [tapas style]. Their top menu was twenty-seven courses.” He recalls saying, “I’m doing it! Yep, we’re doing 27!” while Marge says, “We’re doing twenty.” And I’m like, “Nope! Nope! It’s 27. We’ve come all this way, we’re doing 27!
“I know that sounds like a lot of food, but one item might literally be a spoonful of something. So we got 27 different dishes which were brought out and presented just beautifully, described to us and explained to us.”
Marge laughs, “I tapped out at 15!”
“Yeah, she tapped out at 15 or 20 but I carried on!” said Dean. “And then, of course, we are those annoying people who take pictures of their food! So in this situation, we were sitting in a corner all night long taking pictures of our food because we had 27 different things to take pictures of!”
Marge is quick to explain, “There was a huge difference there, too. There was no way on God’s green earth that we would have pulled a camera out at Ramsay’s because you know it’s inappropriate. Whereas at Jaleo we had our own little cubical. It was just Dean and I and not in a big room. With the wait staff coming in to us, it was almost like you had a private dining experience. We literally took pictures of every course.”
Over 27 courses, you’d best be ready to try some different flavors and textures. The Head Chef at Jaleo, Jose Andres, is known for serving food that has been “molecularly deconstructed” or maybe frozen in nitrogen. Some of the dishes are closer to “normal,” but with special ingredients. Marge describes one of her favorites: “They have Iberico Ham, which is one of the most expensive hams in the world. He presents that three different ways with 12, 18, and 24 month aged Iberico ham. Oh, wow, you put that in your mouth and it melts. It was delicate and so delicious. It was just three slices of ham. “
Of course, there are other, not so common dishes, too. Marge says with a laugh, “At Jaleo, we had the gonads of a sea urchin, which is called uni, which is…unusual…That was weird!”
Their Foodie Future Looks Bright
Like fans who desire to see certain bands, or want to see baseball played in as many stadiums as they can visit, Dean and Marge have a bit of a bucket list going. Vacations and short trips will always give them options from places they have seen on TV, but there are a couple of places they would really like to go someday.
For Marge it’s caviar. “I’d also like to go to a caviar house and do different qualities of caviar.” She explains, “There’s really a large difference between the types of caviar you can get, which I didn’t realize. The first couple of years I’m not finding it. It was bloody awful. And then we went to the food and wine show up in Toronto and they had a Russian purveyor of caviar. I thought, ‘Crikey! If he’s a purveyor, it must be good.’ I don’t even know what a purveyor is, but it sounds good. We had an opportunity to sample it on a cracker and it was like, “Okay, so that’s what caviar is supposed to taste like!’”
Dean wants to travel, saying, “We love oysters and there was this place we found out it is in New Zealand. I don’t think we’re going to get to New Zealand in the next little while, you know, it would be a retirement thing. They have tables in the ocean and they were farming oysters and they would go out and grab a bucket of oysters and just pour them on the table right there in the ocean. You would literally be there at this table in the ocean drinking wine and shucking oysters! It was like, ‘Yep, we gotta do that!’”
Working selected restaurants, chefs, and foods into their travel plans is just what Marge and Dean do now. It’s something they feel blessed that they can afford to do at this stage in their lives. Dean’s summary of Jaleo captures all you need to know about what makes these two foodies happy. “We had some unbelievable food, we had an unbelievable experience. We came out of there and we were stuffed!”