Back in the day, food was a pleasure or a hobby or something a decent man just burnt to a crisp on a grill. Now, tea-time has warmed into a desperate grab for status; or worse, an expensive substitute for sex.
At some point or another, it became inadequate to say, “I quite like eating and drinking.” Now, every second git feel prompted to dribble that he is “passionate about food”. At the Festival, you hear the word “passion” even more than “milk-fed lamb” or the burps of a greasy gourmet.
In this universe of parallel passion, the foie-gras stained cravat of Matt Preston becomes a fetish item and the kitchen a hotbed of lust. The Australian middle-class, it seems, has become “passionate” about dousing itself in duck fat.
This is an offensive waste of passion. A man may be acceptably passionate about sports or politics or even the early works of Stephen Sondheim. These are all healthy, civic-minded interests that have a focus north of the gut. However, a man must not be particularly passionate about the things that he shoves in his gob. Unless, of course, those things include my body parts.
But it is the glutton’s and not the seducer’s passion that fuels the Food and Wine Festival; and the ubiquitous media now known, troublingly and accurately, as Food Porn.
Money-shots of microgreen salad dressed only in sheep’s milk cheese go to trout orgies every night on the telly. “Sex on a spoon,” is what they say on My Kitchen Rules when a contestant has successfully dismembered and charred a four-week-old piglet.
In this mirin-glazed hell, we can only be grateful for Nigella Lawson and her massive, grain-fed cans. At least she’s selling actual sex along with her shortcrust pastry.
Actually, a few blokes have been trying this Nigella food prostitution on for size, too. For the past few years, chef Anthony Bourdain has been sexing it up and positioning himself in manly relation to food as Clarkson is to the combustion engine. He wears cowboy boots and maverick hair and he winks at the lens to persuade us that eating things from the patisserie is manly and sexy. It must be; he’s playing The Strokes as he crams dainty parcels in his pie-hole.
Over-eating is not the work of girlie-men in Bourdain’s world. In the wildest reversal of logic since Wittgenstein, a two-hundred-dollar lunch is not a thing for the idle, queenly rich but a super-manly feat of “passionate” conquest.
And don’t pretend you don’t know any blokes who have not fallen for this bullshit. We all know someone who’ll introduce us to a chef as though he is a Wallaby or described a dish at Quay as though it were a three-way.
Food is just like manly, brutal sex with tablecloths. This is what Bourdain tells us. In his newest book, marketed squarely to “bad boy” cooks and the dangerous women who love them, he describes the “just fucked” look of recently fed foodies. Christ. You’d never hear the wish declared to bang a jag on Top Gear.
But, you do see it, multiply, at the Food and Wine Festival. A blank suggestion of sex and manliness is served up more often than brioche. Everyone is “passionate” and eager to get it on at the newest and sexiest gastronomic gang bang. And this year, the biggest poke-party of them all took place in a pub. How manly.
It was in St Kilda, the former national home of prostitution, that two Englishmen charged $130 for what was, effectively, a night of fairly average children’s party food.
Bompas & Parr are a duo of expensively educated chaps who make jelly. Dressed in natty little butchers aprons, they make the most of their Rugby good looks but choose to dispose of their Eton schooling in a big, gelatinous lump.
In a brief address to a room of the gullible, Bompas & Parr explained they were not pastry chefs. No. That would be girly. They were in fact “jellymongers”. In the ironic East End garb of the poor who once sold eel to the destitute, they have turned poverty into chic and girliness into machismo.
So, Bompas & Parr, currently the world’s hottest culinary ticket, are terribly butch. And, also, very sexy because some of their jellies are shaped like ladies.
If you eat enough and, more importantly, if you pay enough, any volte-face is possible with the new “passion” of food. Gluttons are now foodies; chefs are celebrities and the consumption of very young animals is not agriculturally stupid but adventurous eating. Only a “passionate” foodie would order the suckling pig.
Everything, in foodie land, is upside down. By these means, jelly, a food for little girls, is refigured as a manly, sexy snack.
It was bad enough when women of my middle-age range began to believe that they were, in fact, not forty but six and started decorating cupcakes as though their menopause depended on it. But, when two plainly bonkable, able-bodied young men make it their professional business to sell kiddie-catering as Manly Sex, there is something very rotten in the culture.
We can’t be sure who turned the simple act of eating into sex, but my money’s on the box. Before MasterChef, it was just a tossy handful confusing the taste for foie gras with vagina. Now, the liver of a tortured goose has infected mass desire.
This initially appeared in FHM Magazine.