In my line of work, I am often in various cities multiple times throughout the year.
In these travels I have been fortunate to see many amazing places, some of which could be considered life-changing. As a chef my creative and adventurous side is always looking for what’s next, and I admire the trailblazers of new food trends.
However, every now and then I come across a place that seems to be in some sort of alternate universe where time has literally stood still for 20 or 30 years. In these locales innovations seemingly don’t exist. In the right context this could be considered to be the maintenance of tradition and would not be such a bad thing, but unfortunately this observation is not out of awe so much as disappointment.
These places are not beautiful in their “innocence”, but old, tired pockets that don’t seem to buy into the idea of forward momentum. And they are just as likely found in the urban sprawl as the rural countryside, which has led me to ponder what commonality holds these areas back?
One thing I have noticed in all of these places is that there is a huge sense of misplaced pride. They are almost proud of the fact that they have always eaten their burgers well-done and have never heard of that “fancy” kind of (insert food item here).
It’s like they have all been drinking from the same poisoned well so long that they no longer notice that IT’S POISONED!
It’s a society of adults who grew up eating and liking what their parents ate and liked and are grooming their children to do the same. And anyone who questions that mentality is instantly treated as almost a traitor (or at the very least a weirdo).
These places tout certain restaurants as institutions, but when you eat there you are so repulsed by the quality of the food that you realize you are surrounded by a whole community of brainwashed human beings. In these places, the innovators that do survive only do so by moving on and out, leaving the zombies to perpetuate more zombies.
Another similarity I have noticed is that most of these areas are not doing so hot in the area of economic growth … and that is putting it nicely. You would think that a generation of tough times would make people open to things that are new and different, but instead it seems to have paralyzed them. And since most people don’t have it, economic prowess is viewed almost as a sin, with the mindset that causes it to be resented as “uppity”.
When a new opportunity does comes to town, whether it be a restaurant or something else, if it does anything that contradicts the status quo it is immediately met with distrust and scrutiny. Leading most new concepts to fail and adding another empty space to the landscape. I often wonder how many great restaurateurs have given up too soon simply because the community they chose to help was too closed minded to give their concept a chance. And I am not talking about molecular gastronomy or bone marrow, just food that is prepared with integrity and possibly a few menu items that aren’t battered and fried.
And as I listen to the inhabitants of these areas relay the strife and pitfalls with an almost romantic fervor, I wonder if there is a part of them that wants everything to stay as crappy as it is just to have something to talk about. It kind of makes sense. If you take the initiative to improve your situation, then what do you have to bitch about? This could not only cost them their misplaced sense of “community” but also cause some people to switch up other aspects of their routine … which is completely unacceptable. Instead they support the same shitty restaurant their forefathers did. And if anyone tries to bring something new they shut it down with a complete lack of support and badmouth the person introducing it.
Obviously you can’t force a community to like something, but it’s frustrating because there is undoubtedly culinary talent in these regions … unfortunately the majority of consumers are simply too stuck in their ways to cultivate it.