I was born and raised in a typical working class suburb in western Pennsylvania. With an ethnic background from the Slavic areas my family meals were basic “meat and potatoes”. Very little real taste and everything cooked extremely well “just to be safe”. That meant overcooked meat, soggy vegetables, and no spices except for salt and pepper.
As I grew up I never really had an adventuresome spirit in trying new foods (or new drinks either). But that’s the way people are in some places. In my college years my girl friend (now my wife) dragged me to lots of parties attended mostly by her friends and fellow workers. I never really fit in, or actually tried to, since I saw little to be gained. One of her bosses was heavy into high end alcohol and gourmet foods, especially French. I could not understand his obsession with what he considered the best food in the world. What could be so great? And why would anyone pay such a premium for French cuisine? I seem to remember trying French food at a locally renowned place, but I was unimpressed. Good but not worth going crazy over. Over the next few years my opinion never wavered.
My wife and I both graduated college in the late ’60s. As good graduates do we began careers and focused on having fun, earning money, and spending money. My range of foods expanded only slightly, but I was always willing to try anything within reason. My wife’s range grew faster and wider than mine, and she would literally try anything resembling food…even dried ants, bugs, poison fish, etc. I still had no appreciation for gourmet cuisine and no understanding of it. After all, I never traveled outside the US, so my exposure was filtered. When the ’90s arrived I had the opportunity to go to Europe…once for business and once for fun. I got hooked on the adventure.
Even though I started to appreciate foreign cultures I still didn’t quite get the foodie thing. My travels in Europe were pretty typical “American tourist” type trips…see the sights, take lots of pictures, and eat what I felt was appropriate. Besides who in their right mind would spend $200 for dinner and take 3 hours to consume it? Then a strange situation changed all that thinking. And it was in France. And I got hooked.
During a fun few days of winery tours in France’s Burgundy region we arrived late in the evening in the town of Cluny. It was October, rainy, and quite cold. Being a carefree type traveler I never make hotel reservations in advance. I rely on my instincts to find a good place, and this has served me well. As I drove into town I spied a cute little place that seemed appropriate. I parked in front and ran in through pouring rain. Surely they had rooms available, and in fact they did. But the only option presented was called something like “gourmand extravaganza”. And the price seemed ridiculous for such a small rather plain hotel…cute but nothing special. I trudged back to the car and explained the deal to my wife. Neither of us felt good about taking the offer, but it was wet, cold, and we were tired. So we checked in. Handing the key over to us, the desk guy asked what time we wanted dinner. We opted for the first opening time of 9pm…boy they eat late in France.
As we settle in and unpack, my wife sees a small flier in the room. It says “welcome to the Hotel De Bourgogne and the Gourmand Soiree”. And the experience is included in the unreasonably high room price. So, we wonder what to expect. As 9pm approaches we put on our best duds as any good French couple would do. Off we go to hopefully a nice dinner. Our expectations are for nothing special. What we got was our very first real French dining experience lasting, you guessed it, 3 hours. A multitude of exquisitely presented courses with everything from pre-appetizers, to appetizers, to pre-main course, to main course, etc. And all followed up with French cheeses and chocolates. We had to chuckle when the main course arrived, and was presented by two servers that simultaneously removed lovely silver covers to reveal meticulously prepared portions. Tada.
As we later discovered, the rooms here are pretty cheap. But the reason people stay here is for the food. And we agreed. Problem is, now we’re hooked and nothing will do unless it’s Gourmet! Have I now become a Food Snob? As future trips to France will prove, yes, I have indeed become a food snob.