Authenticity and boring panini
Welcome to the final post of Danny is a Motherfucker week. Today’s main target is this place called Fig and Olive. The only thing I have to say is that, sheeeeeeeiiit, $15 dollars!?! For a panini?! You must be crazy. What do I look like, the golden goose? My mind is on this because I watched No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain was talking to someone and said “Authenticity is overrated.” And a few weeks ago Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit said in his twitter, “No such thing as ‘authentic’ fried chicken, biscuits, pizza, mole, ramen, dumplings, cassoulet, meatballs, etc. & that’s a good thing.” I have to agree to some extent. Because the reason I didn’t enjoy the panini at Fig and Olive had nothing to do with the level of authenticity, it had to do with the fact that it sucked and it was small. Size matters people. If there was a hashtag for that in blogging, it would be, #WordsNormallyNotFromAnAsian.
Now of course the entire sandwich wasn’t just what you see in the picture. They cut that shit up. But really, it wasn’t filling and I wouldn’t go back. I think the restaurant is for people who don’t eat a lot… hell, it’s in the meat packing district. You know what that means even without me saying it.
But back to the idea of authenticity… the thing with that is that it’s so subjective, as Top Chef season 7 winner, Kevin would say. It’s not a fixed and quantifiable thing. Many folks in New York would say there is such a thing as authentic pizza. People in the south would say there is such a thing as authentic barbeque. And people in Southern Cal would say “dude, my fish taco is legit.” But the problem is, authenticity is a thing one measures individually. In memory, you try to compare what you are tasting to what it was like last time. And each time your memory recollects the experience, what your brain is actually doing is trying to remember the last time you tried to recollect your memory. I forgot where I read that, but basically that’s how your memory works. That’s why it’s completely useless when old guidance counselors for high schools are telling young adolescents what it’s like to prepare for college. It’s always more useful if you’re curious about what an experience is like, to ask someone who experienced it recently. So people like to ask them folks who’ve “been around the block” whether it tastes authentic. Who gives a fuck? It’s authentic to me and that’s all that matters.
But the important thing is for oneself to reference what one likes as something authentic. It might not matter for Andrew Knowlton or Anthony Bourdain because no one doubts too much what their palate is like and whether it’s dependable. Food lovers pretty much have shown that they trust them. But for the average joe, that’s what we do. This is how it works. It’s like I go and talk to some newbie to food. “Yo, try this oyster pancake. It’s how it’s like when I ate them as a kid in Taiwan?” “Wait, motherfucker. You don’t like the oyster pancake? WTF is wrong with you?! Yo mama so fat she has her own zip code! Now stop crapping on awesome authentic oyster pancake!” See what I did there? I set a reference point to what would make the dish good – being born in Taiwan. You can do this with anything. Memphis ribs. California fish tacos. Japanese ramen.
It might not make sense to Anthony or Andrew, but it makes sense for me. Saying that I like something authentic and saying that I know it’s authentic lends me a crutch for my words. Most of the time my words are meaningless. And by using that crutch, I utilize a tool that make me feel ok about my verbal diarrhea. So on the whole, authenticity matters not as much as whether one likes the food. And this counts also if one likes things like Shake Shack or Wendy’s (which I just ate yesterday).
So in closing, I want to say that everyone! Use the word authentic when you want to talk about something you love. Because it makes it too easy for famous food writers to dismiss us if we don’t. We don’t have any tools to dismiss them if we happen to disagree. But the only tool we got is to call something authentic. You might as well use it.
Posted by Danny on September 17, 2010 at 4:12 pm
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