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Worst ideas of 2012: Gourmet junk food

Marina O'Loughlin, guardian.co.uk, Modified: April 19, 2013 14:09 IST

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Worst ideas of 2012: Gourmet junk food The humble burger is now haute cuisine. As is the humble fried chicken, the humble hotdog, the humble kebab.


Honest Burgers. Dirty Burger. Patty & Bun. Burger & Lobster. Slider Bar. Almost Famous. Lucky Chip. Mother Flipper. And, the daddy of them all, Meat Liquor. With news that New York super-restaurateur Danny Meyer's cult smash Shake Shack is about to hit London, you might wonder if all anyone's eating these days comes mashed between a split brioche-style bun. I love a good burger - who doesn't? - but some of us are starting to suffer from what might be termed patty ennui.

Not so long ago, the arrival of a new "gourmet" burger joint would be met by the online equivalent of mass, foaming hysteria. But now, the riposte is equally likely to be an overwhelming YAWNZ. When Carphone Warehouse gets in on the act (founder Charles Dunstone is importing Five Guys from the US) and Beirut starts sending us its take (BRGR.co), isn't it time to get a grip?

While we're drowning in ground meat, every other trashy edible pleasure is getting a haute reinvention. Huzzah! Look at the middle classes getting down and dirty with the oh-so-ironic reinvention of that scuzziest of booze sponges, fried chicken. And hotdogs, and doughnuts, and kebabs, and pizzas, and burritos, and...

I'm starting to flinch every time a new one hits town. It's not about food snobbery (try that on for size where I come from, and you'll be slapped across the chops with a smoked sausage supper), but I'm becoming literally and metaphorically fed up with the whole "gourmet" fast food movement. Even the drooling terminology is suspect: "dirty", "filth", "food porn", "evil", "sick". Like this is a good thing?

It's not hard to figure out the popularity: ramming a grease-oozing, cheese-dripping, squidgy meatgasm into your face is the gastronomical equivalent of a one-night stand - not at all good for you and makes you feel grubby afterwards but, boy, it works at the time. And these sleazebags are coming tarted up in the Victoria's Secret lingerie of organic, or artisan, or rare breed, fooling us into thinking they're a whole lot classier than they actually are. And instead of keeping our shameful secret to ourselves, we're blurting it out like kiss-and-tellers.

Blame the recession, the boom in eating out as a pastime for the yoof (in my day, everyone was taking far too much speed ever to think about eating) and the fact that gourmet junk food is easy to blog about. You can have the palate of a navvy and still be able to tell a good burger from a bad one. Despite the mystique created by the new breed of purveyors, they're easy and cheap to produce and can absorb beefy mark-ups. The whole movement has somehow become shorthand for cool; why, I don't know. It's not as if we're eating like style mavens; we're eating like children. (Yep, alcoholic milkshakes are big, too.)

There's no sign of it stopping, either. The latest junk food trend to land is ramen. At last something lighter and healthier, huh? Not a chance. This is tonkotsu, the Japanese version of dirrrty, with extra pipettes of pig fat in case your bowl of squeezed pig writhing with Pot Noodlyness isn't lardy enough.

This was the year of the donut and the corndog, of the fried chicken and a thousand permutations of burger. Like our arteries, we're about to reach saturation point. They may be posh fat and carbs and salt, but the effect's the same: it's enough to make me long for a plate of steamed turbot with a green salad. I accept that gourmet junk food isn't going away any time soon. But, please, can we stop getting so worked up about it?

See also in food

• "Secret" items on menus: knowing about the off-menu special doesn't make you look cool, it makes you look nerdy.

• Deep-fried mac'n'cheese.

• Food on things that aren't plates: boards, slate tiles and - the ultimate paradigm - John Salt's bricks.

Honest Burgers: 'While we're drowning in ground meat, every other trashy edible pleasure is getting a haute reinvention. Huzzah!' Photograph: Katherine Rose

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