The days of good menu writing are behind us. Descriptive menus, that listed not just the provenance of ingredients, but every technique and micro-garnish, complete with foreign words copied from Google to get the accents right. Certified organic, rare breed, curvy female, Wessex Saddleback from a good Catholic Wiltshire family, who enjoyed long walks in the heath. Dating website descriptions that wanted you to get to know the produce like a woman made suddenly aware of her biological clock. Descriptions that did not have to fit into 160 characters on Twitter – deconstructed, cold and abstractedly unrecognizable. Peddled by chefs trying to get hits for their syndicated writing by engaging with their audience of fake followers.
I liked knowing exactly where the produce was coming from, how old it was and if it was interested in having children, ‘locally produced’ doesn’t cut it for me. I can get that in Thailand. I liked knowing if it came from within a five mile radius, so I could easily go visit the farm on the way home to thank the grower. I liked knowing if I was eating in shared terroir so I could discern differences in flavor between my organic heirloom rosso tondo a piccola punta bianca radishes and miners lettuce. Now all I get is radish, lettuce, smoked butter. Foods that were once so alluring no longer have the same exotic cache.
Back when wine programs were wine lists, you didn’t have to stalk waitstaff with questions about the menu. You knew what you were in for; there was no playing hard to get. I recall dining with a colleague recently where there was a Patagonian toothfish entrée, listed with no provenance or verbs. I had to ask the staff if the fish was Marine Stewardship Council certified, farmed, or caught in a wild and sustainable fishery? I had to ask about how the fish was caught, was it caught on a line or bottom trawled, and how much by-catch was discarded along the way? I had to ask how the fishermen were treated, were they given a fair price for the fish? All things you want to know before eating. All things that could have been in the description had the chef not been too busy on Twitter to write it.
What do you think of these verb and conjunction-free descriptions? Do you prefer War and Peace or the disjointed, breathy sections of 50 Shades of Grey?