“What a waste!” the clearly huffy and vile filled hiss of a young hipster next to me at a tiny strip mall Chinese restaurant. She was commenting on a fellow diner, one at the window seat alone in a tall cowboy hat, a full sleeved button down shirt, jeans and shiny boots tucked in under his solo table top as he sipped on his icy cold can of Dr, Pepper, with a straw, and gazed out upon the rows of cars snuggled into spots maybe a half a size too small.
It was a late Monday afternoon, I had been craving really good Chinese and after some online research/stalking we’d settled on this less than fancy but highly chatted about seven table top joint. The super friendly guy at the counter when we ordered and the even friendlier older lady with the stretchy waistband of her pants hiked up to just under her trussed up breasts, almost as if the thick band of lavender encased elastic was acting as double duty, holding up her britches and providing a shelf for the downward moving boobies, her cheerful singsong tone as she ladled out sloshy bowls of crisp veggies, crunchy curls of tight shrimp that rested beneath a blanket of toasted rice, the ones that sizzled and made my ready frame swoon as the aromatic clouds wafted across the table and crept inside me. Everything about this random spot struck me as a place that was about to not just fill my ready gut but it was seconds away from feeding me in a way that only submitting to your true desire can.
My attention quickly stolen as the almost clear broth screeched across my palate. Clean, sharp and each tiny component lending itself to the perfectness that was this soup. Perfect because it was, because of the sweet faced owners, because I wanted it so bad? Who the hell cares, it was perfection in a small ceramic piping hot bowl before me and my total pleasure was only marred by the grimace of, “Too hot, let it cool dumbass” as my chubby fist shoved the billowing with steam liquid in my face, that and the pinched sphincter hissing of the girl one table over. The one not eating and casting dirty stares and arrogant snorts of accusations in the direction of the lone cowboy three tiny tabletops over.
One bowl of soul drenching soup and a couple spicy, savory sauce soaked dumplings later and I was fortified enough to feign interest in the shifting and huffing that was going on beside me. Well, for at least as long as it took for my round faced stretchy-waisted lady to emerge from the glorious smelling cove of a kitchen with my plate of Kung Pao. Twisted my fingers around the top of my bottled water, pushed my spent bowl of perfectness away and glanced in the direction of the apparent scene of the crime, the cowboy.
He was quietly tugging on his clear straw, the deep pruney flavors of Dr. Pepper creeping up the tube and spilling across his palate in a way I am sure he craved and intended. I mean, why else order it and take on the arm wrestle that is trying to shove a straw back into the hole of an aluminum can full of volcanic bubbles? He barely looked at the rest of us, just sat there silently and sipped in between taking huge mounded spoonfuls of fried rice between his lips. Felt ma face furrow and take on that super annoying inquisitive look, the one that can, and often is, confused with my trademarked, “Whatthefuck?!” expression, not at the cowboy but at the chick that found his meal, "Oh so wrong".
“Sam, we’re paying the same money” a moment in my life I know for a fact I shan’t ever forget. Randy and I were in San Francisco for my very first Fancy Food Show, (trade event that requires eating and eating and snacking and eating) which had to be like 115 years ago. We had flown up for the two day event and at some point Randy had decided to take me out to a special dinner in the city..one he forgot to mention to me therefore leaving me with less than fancy options as far our clothing goes. I had just started in the business really, was just finding my way and legs/palate. Discovering how to process it all and secretly noting that for all my years of being alone, captivated and compelled by the things that I ached to smell and put in my mouth, that I might just be good at this food and wine thing, but I was not yet prepared or heartened enough to push through the insecurities of looking like, well like the poor girl I was. I fidgeted, huffed, shot Randy dirty glares as we partook of buckwheat blinis, billowy soft and studded with tiny eggs that exploded with brine and tempered their fishiness when they hit the fatty richness of sweet cream. Something cooked in its own fat washed down with an Haute Cotes de Nuits, my tight jaw only opening to take in morsel after luscious morsel as my eyes darted around the room to see who might be looking and talking about me and how I obviously didn’t belong. Somewhere around the sweet breads Randy reached his thick arm across the table, took my nervous and thumping paw in his and that was when he gave me one of his patented Kemner smiles and uttered the 5 words that would profoundly change my life.
“We’re paying the same money” not spoken boldly or with anger but sweetly sent across the table to a young woman raised, and at times, beaten into believing she was not worthy or would always be less than. Not sure why it took so fast, sunk in and settled like a tarp over all those years of feeling I didn’t deserve or wouldn’t understand what all those other people did, but Randy’s comment has been welded along my spine for the past 18 years and there is never a restaurant, and rarely a venue, that I walk into for the reason of eating and or tasting, that I don’t feel like I like belong. His gift to me one I get to unwrap over and over again….one that makes me stand taller than the hunched over hissers that lash their tongues and judgments at others.
“What a waste” the spit flecked comment once again flying out the Taylor Swiftian’s face. Ugly and accusatory as she seethed watching a quiet older man lift his wrist and scoop warm ,veggie studded bits of quick fried rice into this waiting, wanting, and coin-plunked-down deserving palate. I felt myself flinch as the words saturated with verdict spilled into the room. The heat from my Kung Pao nothing compared to the fire that was churning in my heart and belly, the rage that was threatening to fling off my own swollen lips. I took another toke of cold water, looked at my plate of beautifully dressed food, the abundant vegetables, the glaze that hung to them without drowning them much like a couture gown hugs and enhances curves….each tender cube of chicken painted with a deft brushing of sauce and wok’s breath, the deep and blistered red chili peppers there for me to punish myself if I craved…there to push aside if the need was just the kiss or flirt of fire. Yeah, the food before me was fucking brilliant, sophisticated and hauntingly perfect in execution as were the dishes before the people I was dining with, including the quiet cowboy that paid the same money, for the exact same amount of pleasure. His simple plate of fried rice, delivered to his mouth via hand over handle, big serving spoon and washed down with Dr. Pepper was giving him as much as whatever flash fried bit of octopus or squid the twit beside me had doused in Sriracha and spooned over her brown rice. The “Waste” in the room was stinking up the joint and it sure as shit wasn’t the old dude quietly enjoying his plate of fried rice.
I’ve more than once been accused of being dogmatic when it comes to wine and food pairings, this here is a thing that is starting to piss me off more than an Orange County twenty-something Gong Showing other people’s dinners and self-proclamations of “good taste” as they pick on and shit talk on others. I’m the first one to say, “Drink what you like” or, “Hey, I can’t in good faith say it is a pairing I think will be brilliant but if it gets you off, go for it!” I don’t give people shit for liking what they like and the absolute only time you will see my pin head spin and feel the vicious swipe of my big-handed-claw is when someone under the guise of being a wine professional offers bullshit wine pairings. You write an article on hot wings and which wines go swimmingly with them, or Girl Scout cookie and wine pairings, well yeah, Imma break your lying balls because you are making the rest of us look like we are full of shit along with you. Pander away if you like but I’m not going to just nod and roll my eyes. I will stomp about and make noise, call out your Sake and blue cheese pairing as the totally disgusting pairing that it is because I happen to be on the ground, with the actual consumer which means your disingenuous “Ideas’ about pairings are going to cause my business actual harm. Not having it, period.
Had a woman in the other day that insisted on a red wine for her chicken piccata, (for those of you that don’t know, this is a dish of chicken, white wine, lemon juice and capers…so yeah, a white wine dish if ever there was one) her first choice, Zinfandel because she had read in some publication that the big, bold flavors of Zin would hold up….try crush, they would crush the dish and just thinking about that pairing, much like the Sake and blue cheese bullshit, (thank you marketing fucktards) it makes me gag, a lot. Lemon juice, white wine and bitter capers with sweeter fruit, oak and probable tannin, pucker much?! Does nothing for either thing and as a wine lover/professional the very idea of a wine being rendered stoopid or gimpy by food, well this is the anti what we do. How does this help us?! Shouldn’t we be showing people how best to get the most from their wines rather than beating the shit out of both the wine and the food? Shouldn’t we be encouraging harmony and balance so people drink more wine rather than sip at it before, and then after the food? If I could find the monster that suggested Zinfandel with that dish I might just resist my inner pacifist and punch them square in their big liar face. ( I would. Totally would)
There is a very real difference between helping people find things they like and directing the market to do dumb shit and I’m sorry, if you are pairing ice cream treats, cookies, breakfast cereal and cupcakes with wine, as a wine “writer” you are a far bigger problem than the person that just wants to get their Stella Rosa, or Moscato on with steak. They are at the very least being honest, you on the other hand….