Time Out Singapore’s chef columnist, Bjorn Shen of Artichoke, wants us to enjoy, not analyse our food.
Photo: AI Photo
There was a time when people went to restaurants as a way to relax and have a good meal. The food, company and experience all mattered. Then came along the digital age: blogs, Yelp, Instagram and Facebook. Suddenly, a meal at a nice place was less about enjoying those things as it was a status symbol to invoke envy and project a sense of consumer savviness. For some, money spent eating at a restaurant would not be justified if one did not double up on the chance to Instagram it, compose a witty two-liner and count the ‘likes’ as they rolled in from friends and strangers alike.
We’ve reached the point at which the enjoyment of an experience is often jeopardised by over-thinking or over-documenting. Imagine someone watching their favourite band live in concert only to spend half the time trying to film it with their phone – that’s what I’m driving at.
Certain diners feel the need to dissect a dish and provide expert and/or sensational commentary for the benefit of their followers. Take, for example, the bloke who orders an Ibérico pork chop with a spiced beetroot relish and an anchovy crust. If he were to nitpick the components of the dish, his critique might be: ‘Relish too sweet. Pushed it aside. Pork too fatty. Meh. Saved the crust to the last. Bad idea. Is salt free these days? 3/5.’
Clearly, over-analysing a dish for the sake of trying to be smart can cause one to miss the forest for the trees. Chefs construct their dishes with contrasting components as they balance each other out. It’s mutually unbeneficial to analyse it down at the molecule level.
Next, we come to the type of foodie who dines out in large groups and orders one of everything. It pleases them to know they’re conquering the menu, and they’ll have more material to share online later. The problem starts when they realise that dishes are not portioned to divide sensibly among a group of people. Even from the faraway comfort of my kitchen, watching a table of 12 carve up five chicken wings is depressing.
And then there’s the food porn photographer, who insists on taking seven gigabytes worth of photos of every dish from six angles before anyone else can eat. This person attributes the value of a meal to the number of drool-worthy shots they can post to Facebook. Many foods, like risottos and salads, deteriorate every minute they sit around. So when we see your risotto die on the plate while you take your 14th photo, we know it’s gonna be gross when you finally hit it. Plus, it’s double trouble for us if you’re the dish-dissector type, too: ‘Risotto stodgy. Herb salad on top limp. Fail. 1/5.’
Finally, I least comprehend the kamikaze online critic prowling for sensational material. When this person’s scrambles are served softer than preferred, he keeps silent, allowing no one to improve the situation, and instead relishes the opportunity to Yelp about ‘attempted salmonella poisoning’.
We are hospitality people. We care that you enjoy yourselves when you’re with us. So if, after reading this, a part of you starts second-guessing whether your cyber-inclinations could be shortchanging you of your best possible meal, try something different the next time you eat out – analyse less, enjoy more.