Sydney's love affair with 'hipster chefs' ... Pictured (L-R) Morgan McGlone (ex-Flinders Inn), Mitch Orr (of Duke Bistro) and Dan Hong (of Ms G's). Photo: Wilk
Not sure about you, but the last time I had kimchi was at a pub. With a roast dinner. Among a sea of luxuriously bearded men sipping boutique beer. It’s the second time in a month that I’ve found the spicy Korean pickle in my food unexpectedly – the first time was in a burger.
Seeing the look of surprise on my face, my friend checked the menu immediately.
“Yep, it’s everywhere,” she declared, pausing to survey fellow diners.
“Kimchi?” I asked.
It dawned on me that she was right – what used to be an old man’s bar is now filled with hipster foodies: ASOS-clad students sharing jugs of Sangria over sliders, after work locals tucking into ‘popcorn squid’ and lovers Instagramming their deconstructed desserts before meditating on the texture of the perfectly quenelled cream.
In fact, it’s hard to tell where the wait staff ends and the clientele begins. Both parties, I suspect, would boast an equally thorough knowledge of the menu.
As I made peace with the kimchi-roast before us, I couldn’t help but wonder – are foodies the new hipsters? In Sydney at least, it feels like everywhere you look, there are eager diners lining up to get into the latest hot spots while debating the merits of dude food and beer geekery.
Yet despite our growing obsession to scour the web for trendy eats, not everyone wants to be associated with the F word. Indeed, it seems like somewhere between the mainstreaming of Matt Preston and croque-en-bouche, the term ‘foodie’ has taken a decidedly pejorative turn.
David Chang, chef and owner of the Momofuku empire.
And this sentiment seems to echo in other food-obsessed cities. In a New York Magazine story published earlier this year, 27-year-old Diane Chang (who photographed every meal she ate for a month for the magazine) confesses her aversion to the term: ‘“I’m not a foodie, I just like what I like,” she says. “Yes, I know, it’s just like hipsters saying, ‘I’m not a hipster.’ ”
The problem, she adds, is that she doesn’t want to be lumped with the herd followers – culinary ‘tourists’ who fork out for cliché restaurants and leave their two-cents worth on review sites like Yelp. This new breed of young, discerning food-lovers tend to be exclusively drawn to dishes or restaurants that are ‘worthy’ – preferring things like single origin coffee, artisan produce, and generally anything that shouts indie culture and good taste. In this sense, each culinary conquest (think dessert with bacon bits and foie gras doughnuts) becomes “a badge of honor”, explains Chang – adding to their “Bragging rights.”
If all this sounds a lot like hipster psychology, it’s because – well, it is. In an article for New York Times, author and pop culture commenter Mark Greif explains how the ‘indier than thou’ ideology comes to play.
“Struggles over taste ... [is] a means for “strategy and competition,”writes Greif. And for hipsters (like hard core foodies) who “play at being the inventors or first adopters of novelties: pride comes from knowing, and deciding, what’s cool in advance of the rest of the world.”
Not surprisingly, this sense of indie elitism has sparked its fair share of outrage – resulting in no shortage of sarcastic blogs , hate poems and full length magazine features that condemn foodies, or more specifically, ‘foochebags’ – that is, culinarily-obsessed folks who happen to commit the triple crime of “attention-whoring, elitism, and superficiality”.
As much as I hate to admit it, a quick look at my own social feeds reveals that I have definitely been guilty of varying degrees foochebaggery. Camera at the table? Tick. Lining up at Ms Gs? Tick. A worrying obsession with all things David Chang? Tick.
“We have made a legitimate pop celebrity of food,” writes Chris Cechin in a recent issue of David Chang’s quarterly food journal, Lucky Peach. “There is no doubt that a lot of people are eating better for it … But one awkward consequence is that the evolution of chefs as we know them – from sweaty, rarely seen crafts people into televised cultural gentry.”
New York chef Eddie Huang, headlining Brooklyn's GoogaMooga festival.
Blame it on the revival of ‘elevated street food’, the cult eateries of ‘gangsta chefs’ or the many tempting gourmet festivals at home and abroad (think Brooklyn’s Great GoogaMooga festival where chefs, rather than musicians are headliners) -- it's clear that 'food as a cultural pursuit' has gleaned an unprecedented level of social influence. And as much as we might mock, love, or emulate the foodie’s hipster ways, it's also hard to ignore the trickle-down benefits from the movement.
“In the end, I made my own private peace with hipsters... God love them – they’re the driving force behind just about every restaurant we want to eat at these days,” writes veteran food celebrity Anthony Bourdain, “We may think we’ve seen enough ironically bearded cooks with pig tattoos on their forearms. But let’s face it ... I’d still rather eat at a loud restaurant where I can barely hear my companions over the music than eat in a room with a bunch of golfers.”
I can’t agree more.