Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Wieners and Beer

Recently my world took a trip to hell in a handbasket that was carried by beer snobs. I realize that this might sound like a ridiculously hyperbolic thing to write, but as someone who has devoted the better part of his adult life to cooking and eating and teaching cooking and eating (yeah, I taught several classes on dining etiquette at The Culinary Institute of America) I am acutely aware that there are a lot of people who take food, wine and -this really blows my mind- beer way too seriously.

The most recent event that crystallized my thinking on this happened a few weeks ago at of all places an annual family members social at Vollmecke Family Orchards Community Sponsored Agriculture (VCSA) farm in Coatesville, Pa. The VCSA is run by farmer Karen Vollmecke (Chester county Farmer of the Year 2006) and her mother Jan, and is the place to go for superb organic produce and fruit and a ramble through some of the most beautiful farmland in the county.

I don't belong to the VCSA , but I've been going up there to trade some of the bread I make for the eggs that the Vollmeckes harvest from their magnificent free-range chickens. So it's a measure of the Vollmecke's magnanimity that they invited me and my family, and also indirectly explains why I chose to bring my tool kit and help out with the cooking.

A CSA works best if the people who contract to buy a portion of the crop also spend some time working on the farm. So since I don't buy any of the crop or spend any time weeding or pruning, I figured the least I could do was prep and cook a bit to show my appreciation.

It was while I was cooking that I met four people, the like of which I had previously only encountered at art galleries in Manhattan, at music stores haunted by greasy looking grease-balls in black t-shirts and thick black-rimmed glasses and at other venues where connoisseurs of one thing or the other gather to amuse themselves by tormenting others with their expertise.

Just a few short paces from where I was cooking were two kegs of beer. (It wasn't an accident that I chose to work the grill closest to the beer. Believe it!) I don't remember if it was the first time or the fifth time I decided that I was so hot that I needed a refill, but what I can never forget was the scene that greeted me by the keg of Alaskan ESB beer: a tall very-white bespectacled woman of a certain age (probably my age) with badly cut and frizzy white hair standing shoulder to shoulder with a tall very-white bespectacled man of a certain age with a very definite paunch. Both held empty cups in hands that looked like they hadn't held anything heavier that a toothbrush in a very long time. Now, I had made it to the keg just a moment before they did and since they both looked so miserable -and I had already had enough of this particular brew- I said "Please, you help yourselves, I'm going to have the Victory lager instead."

The woman fixed on my face with a pair of dead gray eyes, and in a tone of voice that was at once monotonous and as discordant as a trio of cats in heat said "Oh, are you sure, is there something wrong with it?"

"No, I said, it's just a bit bitter and I've had enough."

"Bitter?" the man said, his face as still as sheetrock.

"Bitter?" the woman chimed in "even for an ESB? I can't believe it."

The last comment was delivered in such a withering tone of condescension that I realized then and there that I had two choices to make: lift the keg off the ground, try to hit both of them in one shot and run like hell, or turn away, fill my cup with Victory lager and get back to work. I chose the latter -and was sorry I did.

As I was carefully filling my cup by letting the beer slide gently down the side to keep it from developing too much foam, some guy comes along and tells me I'm doing it all wrong and that I should watch him do it. So what does he do? The exact same thing, but much-much slower. The end result, of course, was no better than what I had done, but I was too polite to break his thick skull about it, and let him walk off secure in the knowledge that he was a siphon meister.

Now if you think for a moment that my suffering at the hands of beer snobs was over, you'd be wrong, very wrong. While Mr. Expert had been teaching me how to pour beer boredom had piqued my thirst and I had emptied my cup. And I damn well wasn't going to go back to the grill with an empty cup. As I was refilling and enjoying the recent departure of the three brew-scags a scraggly looking twenty-something guy steps up to the keg and says "Pilsner?"

"No," I said "lager"

"Oh" he says in a tone that made his disgust palpable. Then the wiener turns his back and walks away! There is only one word that is up to the task of describing a guy like this, "wiener" isn't good enough and I'm too polite to use it. (It's wanker.)


Jennie/Tikka said...

I've got no way to ease the pain for this one....'ceptin' maybe this story:

Back in Santa Barbara, at the place that made the Kobe beef sliders and duck fat fries - my buddy Michael ordered 2 of the nicely imitated house versions of Guinness. The first was a perfect pour accomplished by the bartender. The second was a SECOND perfect pour, accomplished by the Waitress - ON HER FIRST TRY AT IT (the bartender was busy).

It was so perfect we all four of us just sat it in the middle of the table and looked at it, in admiration.

We gave her a round of applause and a 25% tip.

Tags said...

Well, now we know what killed Michael Jackson. May he have a well-deserved respite from these Bend Over Bitch-Slap Tan Tail Pale Ale swigging freaks.

realitybites said...

Bob, your story is told with wonderful bits of humor. Wankers are exactly what those pretentious twits are. Having good taste, knowledge, and expertise does not mean that one has the license to be a snob. Good etiquette includes having the insight to be respectful and gracious. All three of those clowns showed very bad manners. I think Bourdain could teach them a few things. He has found himself in numerous situations where he could have put on heirs. But no, he acted like a gentleman, a perfect guest. Those people were just plain rude... to you and to the hosts--even if they did not witness the events.

I'm curious about the etiquette course you taught. Where did you originally learn dining etiquette? At The CIA? I think a course that teaches table manners etc. should be a requirement in the public schools. Maybe it could include tipping etiquette as well. Too bad there isn't a course to teach snobs how to get off their high horses. Maybe the only way to knock them off is with that keg you were tempted to throw at them.

When I see snobs in action, I try to deconstruct their behavior and see it for what it is-- a primitive attempt to draw boundaries between themselves (in group) and those they see as different (out group). Basic tribalism. Next time you run into one, picture her or him donning a dorky headdress, and shirtless (especially the women, hehe), and only wearing a loincloth. This will give you all the satisfaction you need.

PS--Do male cats go into heat? :D

PPS--Are you in the process of writing a book, by any chance?

Bob del Grosso said...

I learned how to dine in public from my parents and later, from the much wealthier parents of a girlfriend. (long story there). Later, when I became a chef I had to learn it from the other side so that I knew how to serve properly.
For the course at CIA I had to drill into the books to learn the historical context of it all.
I agree with you in that snobbish behavior is a device that people use to separate themselves from others, it is anti-inclusive and can be very unpleasant to receive. However, people who use "snobbery" on a regular basis and so become defined by it as "snobs" are awfully good fun to poke with rhetorical sticks. The world would be a much more boring place without them -that's for sure!

Junkypos said...

WTF...are you serious!!

Nice story....wankers indeed.

et tu bob?

***shakes head***

Bob del Grosso said...

Alas, I am not above having a bit of fun at the expense of others and perhaps, my dignity. But truthfully, I've been thinking for a long time that I need to make a stronger statement here about something that has been bugging me about the world for as long as I can remember.

Too many people are just too serious and too sure that whatever it is they believe about how the universe functions is correct. It doesn't matter whether or not they have engaged on any sort of formal scientific enquiry or can actually do any of the things they claim expertise in -these types just make the crap up as they go along and hope that no one notices what phonies they are. And when one of these twerps comes across my radar screen and preens or condescends, well, they are fair game.Otherwise, I leave them alone.

I don't want to be in the business of running down people who are undereducated or self-deluded but not arrogant.

Actually, as a teacher I essentially took an oath to assist people like that. I suppose that I also have an obligation to the arrogant ones, but such are the limitations of my character that I choose to chastise and lampoon them.

blondee47 said...

that is really funny and i could actually envision you standing there, hat and all.

I am joining a CSA this march after reading so many blogs that support these groups, I even found my farm. But truly, I hope I don't have to turn the soil or weed wack...that will play havoc on my manicures...

John said...

Dear Bob:
I'm sorry, but the thought of Bourdain with heirs on is just... wrong.



Bob del Grosso said...

I suppose I should have written "males cats responding to females in heat" -my bad. And no, I'm not in the process of writing a book. At least I'm not aware that I am.

I'm older than Tony Bourdain and have been as I am for more years than he has been as he is. Even so I suppose I might pretend to be his intellectual heir, but I'm not up to it. While he and I may share similar points of view, he is a far better writer and way more humanistic than I will ever be.

Don Luis said...

I hadn't thought of it that way, but I have also been as I am longer than Bourdain has been as he is.

But a year or two older than Bourdain is not significant (<4%). Drugs and hard living aged him, and I've never done drugs or lived hard (that I remember).

On the beer side, I only drink Medalla out of the can, and I sip preciously. I've had some fine beer in my life, but poverty humbles a man.