Whose Food is it Anyway?

2006.Aug.07 Monday · 4 comments

in Popular Posts, Restaurants

“Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.”

– Madonna Ciccone

Buenos Aires – I’m being defiant. It’s a small stand for my rights, of some sort or another. It also makes absolutely no difference, but it’ll give me something to comment on.

One of our favorite neighborhood lunch hangouts is no more. Canela has gone the way of many a restaurant and folded about two months ago into the ether. Much secretive work went on behind the curtains that surrounded the space afterwards, and at first glance, with good results. The new Gôut, Juncal 2124, looks like a trendy, hip, SoHo kind of place. Lots of frosted glass, chrome, bold design, the word gôut, or taste, translated into multiple languages and scribbled across the walls. The waitresses clad in black. SoHo, circa the late 80s or early 90s. But then, take a second glance. They brought a touch too much of SoHo – those black clad waitresses don’t smile, the menu prices are stupid for soups, salads, and sandwiches. And wait, those two guys behind the counter, unshaven, hungover, and in t-shirts. They just don’t fit in. Turns out, too, that they’re the owners or managers – maybe they ran out of money fixing the place up and couldn’t afford clothing to match. Or a shave.

We order a lamb sandwich and a chicken stir-fry. They arrive after a bit of a wait. I happily snap my usual pictures and one of the unshaven mavens nearly jumps the counter. “You can’t take pictures of our food!”

“Why not?”

“You might try to copy it! It’s our artwork! We own the way it looks!”

All in heavily French(?) accented Spanish, and this continued for a few moments more. You gotta be kidding me. Now, this is only the second time in my life I’ve been told I can’t photograph someone’s food. The first was during my hamburger roundup last week, at Kansas, and if you read back there, you’ll know what I thought about that. Here’s the thing, and I know there are chefs out there who won’t agree with me – the topic’s been of some discussion on places like eGullet at various times. There are chefs out there who truly do produce works of art on a plate. I understand their reluctance to have someone snap a picture, perhaps post it somewhere, and have someone else duplicate their presentation. I really do. But, too bad. Even without a photograph, if I was a chef intent on copying, I could do it. I could do it by memory, I could make a sketch. It’s not that big of a deal. Try duplicating flavors of a truly talented chef – that’s the hard one.

And you know what? I’m paying for the food. You can tell me I can’t snap photos of the dining room, of the staff, of other patrons. But the food is mine. You lost your rights to control what happens to it when you sold it to me. What if I mash it up and then take a photo of it? Is it still prohibited because I’m taking a picture of “your” food? But it isn’t anymore, neither in spirit, nor in the letter of the law.

By the way – the sandwich, tasty but skimpy on the filling, all bread without a lot of anything else going on; the stir-fry, completely unseasoned, and with virtually no chicken in the mix, the rice nearly inedible. Needless to say, on attitude alone, we won’t be going back. Oh yeah, I’d already taken the photos, so too late…

Gout - lamb sandwichGout - chicken stir fry

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Saratica August 8, 2006 at 09:45

Oh – you made us laugh out loud!!! “Own the way the food looks?” We are still giggling. Excuse me: my 14 year old says I am giggling, the rest of them are chuckling. And here’s my favorite Madonna quote: “I always thought I should be treated like a star.” When we come to BA, we won’t be lunching at Gout. They’ll probably be out of business by then anyway…. See you!

dan August 8, 2006 at 11:28

Well, there is that artistic little target looking flourish of balsamic vinegar and some sort of orange colored oil on the corner of the plate… Yes, I don’t expect they’ll be in business long – I have yet to see many people in the place. Though, one never knows. I’ve been around the restaurant business long enough to know that there are restaurants out there known for being abusive to their customers that have survived longterm…

dan December 13, 2006 at 10:07

Way after the fact, but I just happened across this posting from Seth Godin, marketing whiz, or guru, or something along those lines.

I have a post on my regular website that I lifted from one of his books I liked it so much (see the May 8, 2005 post).

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