Let us be frank here – food is to be consumed, not fawned after.
It is an observation I had over the past nine or so years that may seem insulting to my food enthusiast friends and acquaintances. The idea of food as iconic and luxurious, such as fine wine, spirits and even automobiles, just seems baffling from a distance. The notion of celebrity chefs serving up iconic plates for every other budding or established kitchen team to recreate has been a sport unseen even in American culinary history.
Yet, this is the reality fueled by today's cable television programming. It is the side of America that looks delicious – especially if you can afford it. This movement of celebrity chefs, cable channels dedicated to fine food and cooking and the swath of "food porn" all over the Internet has given rise to the foodie.
This is truly nothing new. On some levels, fine culinary arts have been around as long as before the Victorian Era. Some might say that Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines have almost everything to do with the rise of the Food Network and Bravo's "Top Chef" series. Believe me, I hear enough talk of what celebrity chef made which and how they were able to emulate it in their kitchen.
Food is indeed a shared experience, even at its highest levels of diversity. There are many serious foodies of ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender, age, and economic status. The added presence of a cable or a dish coming out of a home and selecting the right subscription for these channels is an outgrowth of last couple of decade's gravitational tilt deeper into this phenomenon.
Automobile brands, primarily luxury ones, have jumped on the foodie craze. They sponsor high-end food events and celebrity chefs wherever the twain meets. Maybe Infiniti, Acura, Buick, and Lexus – among others – know something about their customers that is seen beyond a demographic report.
Why is there a link between luxury brands and fine food? Is there room for the Toyota Corolla owner to want to put the Barefoot Contessa's recipes to the test at a dinner party? Or, could a Lexus ES owner find happiness at the local diner over a plate of comfort food?
The balance of demographics to lifestyle includes a variance where the shared experience of food is now the biggest blip on a premium or luxury brand's radar. This entire idea is absolutely delicious.
There is an appreciation of those in my life who are inspired by the chefs on the Food Network and other lifestyle channels. The food porn really is good photography similar to the work in Gourmet magazine. My friends just simply do not make hot dishes or other summary salads to a potluck. They have to zsush it up. An extra ingredient might be added – something Nigella Lawson would chop up in a hurry and throw it into the bowl.
However, my experience is completely different. First off, I am not active in the kitchen. I should be, but…results may vary. Secondly, I am not a good fine diner. Let me explain…
Somehow, I have more in common to Guy Fieri than most of the celebrity foodies on television. Fieri hosts "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" – a Food Network exploration of the greasy spoons across the USA that are a bit above their ilk. These are places that you just want to sit down, eat and get back on the road. Fieri's picks "down-home" places where anyone could feel comfortable sitting down to a burger and fries in a pair of jeans and t-shirt.
BTW, Fieri is a serious car guy. That first-gen Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible Fieri drives around is proof.
My philosophy about food and dining is simple: A place has to have a great combination of good food, good service and good atmosphere that is affordable. Again, this goes back to being comfortable without being pretentious. I prefer places where I do not have to wear my best jeans and button-down shirt, if I am with friends. I also want to dine for a date, if that ever happens. Even dining by myself, I just want a place where I can sit down, eat and chill out with my laptop, if I am working on something for V&R.
There are occasions when the finer places will come into my radar. My visit to the North American International Auto Show back in 2013 yielded some surprising and amazing dining experiences in downtown Detroit. Who knew there would be an amazing Cuban restaurant right in the heart of the city? Vicente's was so good – it reminded me to try Victor's 1959 Cafe in Minneapolis sometime when we get back to dining out again. The food was great and the service was top notch.
Another gem I found in Detroit was at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel – the 24grille. While others chose between the strip steak and other plates, I enjoyed an amazing veal meatloaf. Some people may have looked at me funny, but I will admit to having a soft spot for meatloaf. You can thank my mother for that.
These two places are just the tip of an iceberg on the rare occasions where fine dining happens in my life. However, I could list a few more places that you would most likely find me having a nice meal. Yet, I admit to having some discriminate tastes even at affordable places. No matter the price range or cuisine, a restaurant has to be good if you want me back.
Fast food is a challenge in itself. We know most of it is bad for our bodies, but you cannot ignore them when you are away from home. There are some good places dotted across the country, but they are indeed few and far between. When I am back home in Southern California, I will seek out an El Pollo Loco for great Latino rotisserie chicken dishes. For a good selection of burgers, Culver's is my choice whether it is in the Twin Cities or down in Madison, Wisconsin.
Then again, I have found a place here in the Twin Cities that I can call my own. Rather the place that has been called the V&R Clubhouse.
Joey Nova's in Tonka Bay, Minnesota has been a place where you could find me on occasion. It is a wonderful pizzeria and Italian food place, run by a great foodie and friend, Gary Ezell. We had many occasions with a bunch of us enjoying an evening there to the point of closing it down that night.
It is worthy of all the praise in the world. Joey Nova's garnered awards from local food critics to a popularity contest out on by a local iHeartRadio station. Everyone I introduced to Joey Nova's has fallen in love with the food and the place.
In fact, we had about 15 people brave cooler temperatures and wet conditions this past weekend just a few doors down from Joey Nova's for a Social Distancing Tailgate Picnic. Ezell was gracious enough to provide us with pizza from the restaurant's catering van – a Nissan NV 200 – along with condiments. We had a good time catching up and enjoying the company – from six feet away from each other, as possible.
There is talk of another event with Joey Nova's to celebrate our 10th Anniversary in 2021. This kind of discussion is why it is always a treat to not only patronize a good restaurant. It is even better to find a partner towards creating opportunities benefitting each other.
Although Ezell's fun pizza joint in the Far West Metro of the Twin Cities is not the only place I found to meet my palette. There are quite a few actually. Places, such as The Classic Garage in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where the car theme lives on with classic motors dining along with you.
In these days of challenges in the restaurant business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, being creative helps to put you out front. Recently, The Classic Garage added a car-hop service in addition to pickup and delivery services for their patrons. To experience this return to a bygone era at a classic location, I started organizing a cruise from the Twin Cities to this restaurant. This should be a good evening out for us.
There are also other great dining spots I can name. Some of which are owned by car enthusiasts. For example, Paul Rode's Agave Kitchen in Hudson, Wisconsin has been a place for Twin Cities/Western Wisconsin Crown Rally participants for the past few years. It also helps that Rode and his family are part of the Crown Rally and enthusiastic Chevrolet Camaro owners…and, that their food is excellent!
If I love dining out so much, should I take what I love and create these dishes in my own kitchen? It is because I am not a great cook, nor for a lack of trying. To equal the television chefs, the kitchen masters, my friends, and acquaintances – it takes time and patience. In the kitchen, I possess neither.
The demographers will tell you that I am in the minority. Those who take the time to craft dishes that are worthy of Food Network fame are the ones the luxury automobile brands want. If your kitchen skills are above the level of Gordon Ramsay – with better kitchen demeanor, one would hope – you are a winner. If your choice of dining destinations scores better than the Zagat guides, you have also won.
Food and automobiles do come together. They mutually benefit other to foster both our social and culinary wants.
All photos by Randy Stern