"on being a gourmet"

St. Teresa of Avila.  Bodega Bay, CA
I spent a couple of days in Bodega Bay this past weekend, where I found some lovely things in a couple of the antique shops, including a book by Roy Andries de Groot, the author of one of my favorite cookbooks, The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth.

I had no idea that he'd written more than one book on food, so when I saw an early edition copy of Feasts for All Seasons, I snatched it up.  As I flip through it each evening, I continue to fall deeper in love with the message of this beautiful book.

Before there were foodies or food blogs, celebrity chefs or the molecular gastronomers, there were gourmets.  Over time, the meaning of the word, I fear, has changed, been diluted.  But the epilogue to this book is a gorgeous, timeless treatise for the gourmet, and frankly anyone who is appreciative of quality (or as my 11th grade English teacher Tom Dorman might say, Quality).

On Being a Gourmet
We began this book by defining a gourmet as a perfectionist--in the market, in the kitchen, and at the table.  The essence of the gourmet's attitude is expressed by two basic qualities of living: respect and integrity. When friends enter the circle of our hospitality, the care we take in preparing the food is a measure of our respect for our guests.  To achieve the final perfection at the table, we must begin with respect for the gift of Nature's raw materials.  Respect demands that good meat, for example, shall not be spoiled in the oven; that it shall be brought to the table at the proper temperature; that it shall be carefully carved to preserve its texture and served in such a way as to enhance its natural flavors.  In the market, the gourmet has a right to demand integrity in the growing and distribution of food, whether it be the farmer cultivating his peaches for flavor rather than size, or the butcher cutting his carcasses for maximum quality rather than maximum profit, or the grocer taking care to store his eggs at the right temperature.  When fresh fruits and vegetables are allowed to deteriorate through incompetent handling, when the contents of a can fail to fulfill the promise of the label, when a package is deliberately designed to mislead the shopper, these are all reflections of that lack of respect for the customer which is implicit in the phrase "the public won't know the difference." 
We believe it to be the responsibility of the gourmet to demonstrate in every possible way that the public does know the difference and to demand respect for the good taste and intelligence of the consumer.  It should never be too much trouble to write a letter to the president of a manufacturing company demanding the replacement of a poor-quality product.  If the first taste of a bottle of wine shows it to be inferior, the bottle should be recorked at once and returned to the wine merchant with a demand for a refund.  Above all, the gourmet makes demands upon himself: he must continually raise his own standards and resist the multitude of compromises that are constantly offered to tempt him. 
It is perhaps a strange twist that it was an Englishman, not a Frenchman, who expressed the ultimate definition of the attitude of the gourmet.  It was Dr. Samuel Johnson who said: "He who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else."

--Roy Andries de Groot, 1966

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