A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. It turns normal, everyday eaters into fire-breathing monsters, ready at a moment’s notice to correct you on the tiniest details about what you’re eating and how. One in-depth Bon Appétit article or walking tour of Chinatown and all of a sudden they’re ready to pounce on your chopstick-handling technique or correct your pronunciation of pho.
Educating yourself about your food is always a good move—that’s kind of our thing—but the issue is that these know-it-alls can’t stop at their own game. They’ve got to make sure you know how much they know, and rub in whatever it is you don’t know. They’re a bore to be around.
Here’s the thing: As long as you’re basically polite and your actions don’t ruin anyone else’s meal, no one really cares what you look like while you eat. The only thing a chef wants to see in a patron is someone who is open-minded and enjoying himself, not how well he can handle a fish knife.
There’s no reason to suffer the wrath of these food-snob’s commandments any longer. Next time one of these culinary fascists tries to lecture you, we’ve got your comeback ready.
Always order steaks and burgers medium-rare.
Medium-rare, every card-carrying foodie will tell, is the ideal temperature for red meat—anything higher and you might as well chew on cardboard. Ever since Anthony Bourdain threw well-done-orderers on the coals in Kitchen Confidential, blasting them in the same breath as vegans and brunchers as a restaurant’s most pathetic patrons, “medium-rare” has been the food snob’s favorite meat incantation. And while it’s true that the more a steak or chop is cooked, the drier it gets inside (depending on the cut, a well-done steak can lose up to 18% of its moisture by weight), there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
The reality: Before you go calling temps, think about what you’ve got coming to you. Thin pieces of meat are completely impossible to cook to lower temps—ordering a smashed-patty burger medium-rare is as likely to get the same results as asking Kim K to wear Spanx—and hard-working muscles like short ribs and skirt steak are like Bazooka gum without a little more heat on them. That’s why chefs recommend cooking them to a slightly firmer, medium-ish temperature and slice them against the grain, to give your jaws a break. And for those people who just don’t like to see red inside their ribeye, chefs recommend requesting medium-well. You’ll get the same basic result, but your order will signal the kitchen that you’re not a total newb and they’ll treat your meat a lot nicer. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Proper martinis are made with gin, not vodka.
As with many classic cocktails, the origin story of the martini is a total mystery (heavy drinkers’ memories are notoriously unreliable, shock, gasp). Its earliest form, the Martinez, was invented in a town of the same name in California—or maybe it was by a guy whose last name was Martinez. Maybe it was a marketing creation from the makers of the Italian vermouth brand Martini (now Martini & Rossi, still your grandma’s standby). It was definitely invented in the 1860s…no, make that the 1900s…but then there’s that bartender who claimed it in 1911.
The reality: With a history that shady, the gin martini’s claim to superiority is hardly secure. The first vodka version of the cocktail was seen in the U.S. in the early 1930s, and then there’s the little matter of the James Bond connection: the king of the discerning drinkers preferred vodka in his “shaken, not stirred” (also totally acceptable, FYI) cocktails. And if the gin jerk still isn’t convinced, drop this knowledge: Every cocktail evolves and goes through periods of obscurity; after the golden age of the Mad Men ’60s, martinis faded into obscurity. It wasn’t until the ’90s, when the vodka boom hit, that martini bars started popping up like cupcake shops and the drink became part of the vocabulary again. (Okay, we had to suffer through appletinis first. Small price to pay). #YOUREWELCOME (Photo: Liquor.com)
Don’t douse your sushi in soy sauce.
One of the most important factors the food snob misses is context; that there are levels of quality and seriousness in restaurants that affect how you and the staff should behave. A corner slice joint is not the place to check the underside of your pizza for char; you save that business for the Martas of the world.
If you’re at a top-level omakase spot, the sushi chef will match sauces and garnishes to the flavors and textures of each piece of fish as it comes—some get a swipe of fresh wasabi, some a haystack of finely shaved yuzu peel, some a brush of soy sauce. As with most fine dining restaurants, messing with the chef’s flavor combinations is a slap in the palate. You’re not asking for ketchup at Per Se, right? (Please tell us you’re not.) But the last time we ordered from our local spot the take-out boxes didn’t come with their own personal chef and a paintbrush.
The reality: Dipping mid-range sushi in soy sauce or adding wasabi paste is about as inoffensive as putting ketchup on your hash browns at brunch. At this level, personal preference rules, and there’s no chef whose heart you’re going to break by tampering with his work. Most places have long ago accepted this practice and set out sauce decanters—even higher-end restaurants will put it out—because honestly, who wants to argue about it? Just the snobs. (Photo: toquemag.com)
Use chopsticks for all Asian food.
For a non-Asian food snob, there’s nothing more insulting than being handed a fork while everyone else in the place is eating with chopsticks. He’s spent hours alone in his bedroom poring over that little diagram on the wrapper getting the technique right just to make sure he doesn’t look like a rube ever again.
The reality: Just because it’s Asian doesn’t mean chopsticks are the move. Plenty of Asian traditions never incorporated chopsticks, and even those that did aren’t always sticklers the way food snobs are. You’ll rarely see a Chinese person use chopsticks to eat rice off a plate, for example—putting it on a plate instead of in a bowl is a Western move anyway, and chopsticks just aren’t designed to be effective with small grains on a flat surface.
Unsure which way to go? If you get handed a fork, look at what the people around you have at their tables. Only if you’re the only one with the offending implement you can raise the alarm.
And while we’re on the utensil tip, we’re going to once and for all veto picking up sushi with your hands (unless you’re at a very high-end place and the rice is packed super lightly). The jokers who perpetuate that “rule” to make white bros look stupid at the sushi bar have had their laughs; nobody should ever have to watch some clumsy mook manhandle his delicately packed rice again. Unless Jiro himself is breathing down your neck, just pick up the sticks.
Ordering Thai food “mild” or “medium” is inauthentic.
Most food snobs end up that way because they’re terrified of looking like they don’t belong. This is especially problematic when they’re dealing with a culture that isn’t their own—even though there’s no need to be anything other than interested and open-minded. They feel like they need to prove they’re no ordinary white guys, and that they know everything there is to know about the cuisine already.
The reality: The worst thing that’s happened to the food snob in a long time is the concept of “Thai spicy.” Yes, for a long time Thai restaurants have dumbed down the spice levels on some of their dishes to accommodate palates that weren’t used to that much burn. But one of the most important elements of Thai cuisine is balance, which means that for every face-obliterating jungle curry or sour, spicy laab, there’s a soothing, cooling dish to give your burned-out shell of a palate a break. Ask the kitchen to make your pad thai “very spicy” and you’ll get it that way, but only because they don’t want to argue with your dumb ass. The classic street food is meant to be salty, starchy, and savory—all flavors that fly out the window when buried under showers of dried chile or crushed fresh peppers. Not sure which dishes should be spicy and which should be a walk in the park? Ask for your order to be prepared as it would be for a Thai person. Here’s how. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Never add salt and/or pepper at the table.
In a perfect world, the chef has got you figured out. He’s in the kitchen tasting every dish as it’s prepared, checking to make sure it’s plated perfectly before it gets to you. In that perfect world, every chef has a palate just like yours, with the same tolerance levels for spice and fat, the same cravings for salt. Every dish he makes is exactly the way you’d want it, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The reality: Sorry. Most kitchens don’t have a psychic bond with each of their customers. And almost no two people can agree on what the “right” level of salt is for dish. It’s all a matter of perception; the person who’s eaten at Denny’s once a week for the past 14 years is going to have a different tolerance than someone who usually cooks at home. You can sit back and hope for the best, or you can just ask for some damned salt and pepper and adjust the food to your taste once it arrives. The only thing those gastro-bullies are right about? Taste it first. How else will you know if’s salty enough? (Photo: Steady Health)
Never put ice in your wine.
There’s nothing better than a cold glass of white wine in the summertime. What’s not great? A marginally chilled, room-temperature glass that winds up the same temperature as your sweaty hands in a matter of minutes after it gets to you. What would normally keep a beverage cold? Ice, of course—this isn’t rocket science. But drop a couple of cubes in your Sancerre and the wine snob will look at you like you just pushed a baby out into traffic.
The reality: Well, chances are the restaurant you’re at is serving wine at the wrong temperature to begin with. Most reds do best at a temperature closer to fridge levels (those drafty European cellars really screwed up the concept of ‘room temperature’), while whites do best somewhere between 45-60 degrees. That said, if you want your wine colder just because it’s too damn hot out, no one should fault you for it—sure, it makes the flavor profile slightly less complex, but not every glass of wine you drink needs to be studied intellectually. (Photo: Redbook)
Asking for substitutions is an insult to the chef.
This one’s tricky, but if you’re smart about it, there’s no reason you should ever be forced to order something you don’t actually like in a restaurant. Context is key; are you in a temple of molecular gastronomy, where that “mushroom” is more likely to be made out of hydrocolloids and seaweed than actual mushrooms? We’re gonna say you go ahead and take your chances. But if you’re in an upscale gastropub or nice Northern Italian joint and you love everything about the short rib except the asparagus it comes with, there’s no harm in asking if it can get skipped or exchanged for another vegetable.
The reality: Kitchens are used to making small changes like this for vegans and the dietarily restricted; don’t pretend you’ll die if a crumb of the offending food touches your plate, just be honest and friendly with your server about the issue. We’ll argue that it’s a lot more “insulting” to the chef to leave half your plate untouched because you can’t stand cauliflower than it is to make the request up front. Just don’t argue if they say they can’t do it. You don’t know how the kitchen works. Be polite, order something else, and keep an open mind. (Photo: Huffington Post)