I firmly believe that cooking is a form of art. A delicious one at that! However, there is a fine line between truly aesthetic dishes and food that is simply pretentiousness plopped on a plate. And sometimes… sometimes you just want a burger, you know? With normal buns instead of portobello mushroom caps and ketchup instead of 13 types of hand-made condiments spaced out on a drumset. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity. When done right.
However, a lot of chefs and restaurants believe that they’re more important than they really are and they try to show this through the food they serve. Finding the perfect balance between looks and taste isn’t for them, no sirree! Instead, they opt to create the most ‘dazzling’ dishes that end up overwhelming and confusing the customers.
The crème de la crème of pretentiousness ends up on the r/StupidFood subreddit that is dedicated to shaming the most arrogant food creations on Planet Earth. Have a taste of their best (or is that worst?) photos and remember to give the food that you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot spork a big ol’ upvote. Grab your silverware and let’s go!
I had a chat about the subreddit with Clackpot, the founder of r/StupidFood. I was also interested to find out more about aesthetics and pretentiousness in food, so I reached out to talented pie artist Jessica Clark-Bojin, the founder of 'The Pieous' project and author of 'Pies are Awesome.' Scroll down for Bored Panda's in-depth interviews with Clackpot, as well as with Jessica, who spoke about the importance of cooking to put a smile on someone else's face and why it's worth experimenting with food.
Redditor Clackpot, who founded the r/StupidFood subreddit, went into detail about the community with Bored Panda. They noted that the pretentiousness in food lies in the chef, not the actual dish itself.
"It's not a binary choice," Clackpot said when I asked where the line between pretentious and fancy food lies. "Supremely wonderful food can also be sphincter-tighteningly precious, and I will cheerfully deride the pretension whilst also applauding the skill and imagination required. And really the pretension in food is about the creator, not the food itself nor the outcome. Consequently, although it is very difficult to define what makes food stupid, it's actually very easy to decide whether it is stupid or not, it's a subjective call which we are all equipped to make," they told Bored Panda.
The founder also told us a bit about how they founded the subreddit in the first place (you can find the full story on their wiki!). "In a nutshell, I was bored and hungover one Saturday morning five years ago and I knocked it together and forgot about for more than a year until it started to gain a little traction," they shared with Bored Panda.
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The 'Stupid Food' community has changed "immensely" over the 6-and-a-bit years since being founded. Instead of trying to control it with an iron fist, Clackpot let it grow naturally. "Stupid Food is an entirely different creature to what I originally envisaged, but I've allowed it to grow in its own way and here we are. To be honest, I don't like the modern Stupid Food nearly as much as the thing I conceived but it has been fascinating to watch it grow and mature," they opened up.
Moderating the actual community is a fairly easy task, however. Something that many of us Pandas probably didn't expect to hear. "You might think that a sub racking up millions of pageviews per month would be infested with the worst of humanity but it's actually amazingly easy to handle with just two main moderators, myself and /u/VodkaBarf. I seriously hope that it never gets toxic because I fear it could get out of hand very quickly. But I feel that by allowing the sub to grow into its own thing without too much steering or interference, it has developed an identity of sorts and maybe that encourages mostly tolerable behavior."
Clackpot added that making any 'absolute' statements about cooking or food would be "unmitigated piffle." For them, food is extremely subjective, while pretending that we've found some objective truth is "completely meaningless, and indeed approaching Stupid Food level of pretension. "Food is a highly subjective thing which each of us experiences individually/ Literally every human being consumes food and we each have our own view, some of which will differ wildly from one another," they said.
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The ‘Stupid Food’ subreddit has been naming and shaming arrogant dishes for more than half a decade, since April of 2015. In that time, it’s amassed a following of 306.5k redditors who are always hungry for new content. We just hope their appetite doesn’t grow bigger than the members’ ability to sate it with new and interesting photos…
The subreddit’s tagline is “Pretentiousness. On a plate. Without the plate.” The moderators note that the group is “a place to lambast idiotic methods of serving food, or any other epicurean insanity worthy of ridicule.” I love this extremely colorful description. But what I enjoy even more is that they also have a TL;DR follow up, in the spirit of simplicity being the best approach: “Food. Point. Laugh.”
Pie artist Jessica also believes that it's not the food but the creators who can be pretentious (or not). "There is no such thing as pretentious food, only pretentious chefs (I say this with tongue planted firmly in cheek!) But seriously, I believe that with food art, as with any art, the intention of the artist and the context in which the plate is presented have to be taken into consideration before one can truly judge the dish," Jessica told Bored Panda.
"An over-the-top molecular gastronomy multiphasic sensory experience served in a family-style restaurant could certainly be considered pretentious... Then again, if the chef has a sense of humor and it is being served to elicit amusement and give the diners a bit of a chuckle, suddenly it's not pretentious anymore," pie artist Jessica pointed out to Bored Panda that the context and the intentions are vital whether something could be called pretentious or now.
"My own pies may be considered 'fancy' to some, maybe even bordering on pretentious at times (can a pie be pretentious?)... But everything I create, I do so with the very humble intention of putting a smile on someone's face—and I'm not stingy about sharing my techniques so others can replicate my work. I think if chefs create with open hearts and an honest wish to make the recipients of their food happy, their food can't be pretentious, no matter how complex, epic, or over-the-top, it is."
In Jessica's opinion, joy can be just as—if not more—important than taste. "Remember, food is something we experience with all of our senses, and our brain most of all. Yes, taste is a critical component... But I personally feel that when it comes to 'special occasion food' (as opposed to every day, keeping-you-on-your-feet food) joy and delight are even more critical components. If the fondant-covered cake you baked in the shape of your best friend's favorite childhood toy makes her burst into happy tears, does it matter if the sponge is a little dry? Is it a 'bad' cake because it looks better than it tastes? No. It's a good cake because it made someone you love really happy. Context and intention," she said.
I was also curious to understand how chefs and bakers should approach cooking in general, whether it's best to stick to simplicity and clarity or have the courage to experiment with their recipes and presentation. (Even if those experiments can sometimes leave the customers flabbergasted because they're a tad 'too much.') Jessica believes that it's vital to know what your customers want and, personally, she's all for experimentation because it can lead to something fantastic.
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"I'm sure opinions will vary on this, but I think it just comes down to knowing your customers. Do they enjoy being challenged? Do they like the adventure of trying something new and unexpected, and learning about new flavors, textures, and methodologies even if it means sometimes they won't love what they're putting in their face? Or are they at your establishment because they are expecting to receive something they reliably know will give them a specific, safe, and enjoyable experience every time?" Jessica listed all the considerations chefs should take.
"That's not to say that chefs can never evolve beyond their current offering – they just may have to be prepared to go through some growing pains as they slowly build a new customer base that appreciates their new offerings more. After all, it is important for the chef to love what they are creating too!" the pie artist told Bored Panda that finding a balance between keeping one's customer's content and evolving as a chef is important to keep everyone happy.
Jessica revealed that she's an "experimental pie baker" herself, so she's a bit biased when it comes to the safety vs. experimentation debate. "I think experimenting with new techniques, new flavors, new designs, etc. is awesome! Yeah, it blows up in your face sometimes (sometimes literally), and yeah, your customers may hate your new creations sometimes... but sometimes they'll absolutely love them. Sometimes, you'll capture that 'lightning in a bottle' and start a new food art trend that puts your establishment on the map. You never know until you try!"
If you’re raring to post on r/StupidFood (we’ve all experienced food that’s been at least 50% arrogance at some point in our lives), there are a few specific rules that you should be aware of. Obviously, you have to act like a decent human being while in the community, but that’s true for every subreddit and every social sphere.
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The sub’s mods note that the essence of the group is to shame food (albeit in a gentle manner). Keep that in mind so you don’t miss the point with any of your comments. “Bear in mind that /r/StupidFood is primarily for ridicule, and does not care how creative or artful its targets are. We're here to poke gentle fun at other people's creativity, and we do not care whether it is just or reasonable,” the mods explain.
Dumb food challenges, however, have no place on r/StupidFood. “Anything featuring idiotic, dangerous, and pointless eating 'challenges', such as the Tide Pod Challenge, are pretty much always disliked, downvoted, and otherwise ignored. The mods don't like them, the subscribers don't like them, and now the sub doesn't like them.” The mods added: “Begone.”
Finally, the ‘Stupid Food’ subreddit isn’t meant for sharing recipes. Unless they’re incredibly dumb and pretentious, that is!
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It's not just the visual aspects of the food that chefs can mess up. The taste of the food is just as vital. That's why it's important to keep everything orderly in your kitchen. Pie artist Jessica previously told Bored Panda about the best ways to avoid silly mistakes while in the kitchen. "Weighing by volume rather than by weight is a big pet peeve of mine. The chemical reactions involved in baking require precise measurements of ingredients, and depending on how densely people pack flour into their measuring cups, they can be using up to 25% more or less than the recipe actually calls for!"
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Jessica suggested that we all use kitchen scales instead. They're far more precise. That means that we end up making fewer mistakes.
"Working mis en place can eliminate most blunders amateur cooks make… Issues with timing, forgetting certain ingredients, using ingredients at the incorrect temperature, etc.—all of these mistakes can be avoided when you take the time to prep and lay out all tools and ingredients before you start cooking or baking!" the food artist said that we should get everything ready before we start cooking.