Phrases, Words, and Things Food Writers and Foodies Should Stop Using

Michael Nagrant / 01.18.08

Today, Leah Zeldes has a sort of an amusing article in the Daily Herald about BBQ in a hotel. Though the content is fine, I’m more interested in how she and the editor use the headline, as well of the first two paragraphs, to dub the place “sci-fi” because of it’s sleek modernist decor. I’ve never been to this place, but looking at the pictures accompanying the article, I wonder just when it is that Studio 54 inspired decor became “sci-fi”. The place looks more like a suite in Vegas than an outtake from Bladerunner. It just feels like the writer and the editor used the words “sci-fi” to prey on what they perceive as fears of backwoods suburbanites (i.e. science food and non-mcmansion drywall based decor) in order to sell papers. Furthermore, later in the article, Zeldes writes:

“In creating the menu, it’s clear that he triumphed over the room’s designer or, along with restaurants like Moto, Avenues and Alinea, O’H would be serving edible paper sushi, lamb sprinkled with crushed Altoids and foie gras crusted with Pop Rocks from smoking glass test tubes.”

Interestingly, Alinea serves none of those things, the first dish is from Moto, the second two are from Avenues, but again, it’s a lazy trite attempt to group all three of these restaurants in as a similar breed of crazy wacky “science food” nerds. To be brief, Moto is a certainly the farthest out, but it’s more performance art than science food. Avenues is actually very thoughtful restrained cuisine with a touch of reasonable creative whimsy, and Alinea is a flavor first proposition that melds the best of very traditional French Techniques and only really uses modern food techniques to achieve better texture or flavor than they can with traditional means. Also, if another writer refers to these chefs as “Willy Wonka”, he or she should just quit their job.

Science food aside, I’ve also been watching quite a bit of the local review show Check Please and I don’t think I’ve seen an episode, where one of the reviewers didn’t say, “phenomenal” or “to die for”. If I believe the show, then by my calculation I should be willing to off myself for 70% of all Chicago restaurants.

As a food writer myself, I’m not immune to adjective over-use, and so in the spirit of this piece, I pledge to stay away from “tang”, “toothsome” and “unctuous”. Actually I’ve never used that last one, but Steve Dolinsky whipped that whopper out on his otherwise fine Iron Chef judging appearance a few weeks ago.