Usually when I go out to eat with a group, I get kidded (a lot) for taking photographs of everything (from the restaurant decor to the food) and dissecting the menu searching for the perfect dish that might could make me fall in love at first bite.
Recently, thanks to the JPW Learning Center and it’s first Cookbook Gala, I got to hang out with a few professional foodies –the food editor of the Washington Post (Joe Yonan), an internationally known food blogger (the Homesick Texan a.k.a. Lisa Fain) and cookbook authors with at least one if not more cookbooks under their belt (the above two, plus Rebecca Rather, the Pastry Queen, and cookbook maven Terry Thompson-Anderson).
(At Armenta's: I'm in the purple-pink tunic, next is Joe, Terry, Lisa is at the head, then Mary Ann from JPW, Rebecca & Anne Marie, JPW staff.)
Yes, these people constantly talk and think about food, they go over menus like a detective searches for clues, and many of them do take pictures of everything. However, they bring so much more to the table. Being the intrepid reporter, I took notes and here are some tips to take your restaurant experience to new heights.
1. Choosing a restaurant – ask anyone and everyone for restaurant recommendations. Where ever the foodies went –airport, football game, restaurants, book signing—they talked to locals and asked for restaurant recommendations. Then they dug deeper and asked why the person liked that particular restaurant. While sometimes our eating plans constantly changed as new information came along, we did eat some very good meals.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Rebecca Rather, the Pastry Queen from Fredericksburg, TX, not only asked the server questions about the menu items, but also asked to sample a sauce before she ordered. I was stunned. What a simple solution to getting exactly what you want and avoiding disappointment in a restaurant. Duh.
3. Ordering at a restaurant – peruse the entire menu and order a selection of items so you can get a good feel for the restaurant. Several of the pros ordered more than one item. Yonan mentioned advice from another foodie: professionals “eat through the pain.” Now I’m not recommending that since it’s not the healthiest nor the most comfortable state to be in. However, if you’re eating with another person or more, consider ordering different things. And this brings me to my next point.
4. Share – eating with foodiesis like sitting down for a lively, raucous family meal. You’re not related by blood but by the love of food. Foodies, professionals or not, are generous with their food and drink. Almost every dish at the table was shared and discussed, enjoyed and eaten.
5. Foodies play with their food. They aren't afraid of mixing up flavors, and trying food experiments at the table.
6. Enjoy the food with all your senses. Professional foodies don’t rush through their meals if they can help it. Instead, they slow down and focus.
They notice details like color and shape, they inhale the aroma wafting off the plate, and they pay attention to whether a chip breaks with a crisp crackle or into limp, oily disintegration. They note the texture of the food –creamy and rich or rustic and chewy?
They taste the food, picking up all the different weaves of flavor –the salty and the sweet, the surprising kick of a spice or the fruity notes of apples and melons hidden in the depths.
So next time you go out to eat, slow down and enjoy your meal. Savor the experience. Do you have any restaurant tips to share?