‘You paid $550 for dinner at The Fat Duck?’ is a question I get asked frequently. Yes, without hesitation. And that’s not including flights to Melbourne, drinks or a tip. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Another question I get thrown my way is ‘you go out four times a week to eat?! Wow, well, we know where your salary goes’. Yep. In the bigger scheme of things I’m on a below average salary, I eat out at least four times a week, and I travel a whole lot. But here’s the thing. If it’s worth the experience, I will happily pay for it.
Quality over Quantity
I grew up with notions of quality. As a 7 year-old girl my favorite butter was Butter Lindner, a fine food deli in Berlin that makes seriously awesome butter. My second pick was Lurpak. On Saturdays we’d go to our local market and I remember buying my favorite camembert there. These quality cues have stuck after all these years. I don’t want to make any claims that I’m ONLY into quality, because sometimes I crave mi goreng or French fries. But whenever possible I seek out quality.
When I started working at Brasserie Bread in 2011 my appreciation for quality only magnified. Good bread wasn’t new to me because I grew up eating a lot of rye bread and sourdough in Berlin as a child. But the long fermentation process, the ingredients, the way a sourdough starter works – that was all new knowledge I absorbed. It’s awe-inspiring to have a boss (co-founder Michael Klausen) who won’t take shortcuts, who won’t compromise. With the rise of highly processed, mass produced food, it’s refreshing to see his passion for a slow three-day process of handcrafting bread. He drinks in new information, he opens his mind to new ideas, he thinks about the future, and most of all he wants to make bread in Australia healthier and more sustainable. These are all quality cues I’m exposed to every day.
Expensive Asian Food
If I had a dollar someone said ‘I hate paying for expensive Asian food’ when I mention the likes of Mr Wong or Kim Restaurant, I’d be rich AF. The same goes for how a $17 char kway teow at Lazy Suzie is perceived as expensive compared to a pasta dish at Cafe Sopra, where you’d likely spend around the same (or more) without blinking an eye. There’s something about Asian food that people demand to be cheap and nasty. The only exception seems to be Japanese cuisine. Nobody compares Sokyo’s omakase to a $3 sushi train. Go figure.
Time, Love, and Ingredients
My partner Eric spent four hours prepping, improvising, and cooking fregola with creamed corn and 60 degree egg the other day. This was a famed dish on the Pinbone brunch menu, which would have set you back 18 bucks (Pinbone is now closed). But the point is that a lot of love, time, and good ingredients went into that dish. You could fork out the 18 dollars. Or you could slave away for four hours at home. Or you could go to McDonald’s. As my good friend Sam so aptly put it: ‘Ingredients + overhead + your personal opinion = satisfaction’.
And yes, of course it’s hard to commit completely to buying quality produce and eating at lauded restaurants. But it’s an aspiration I work towards and it’s my personal preference. Buy the free range eggs, the milk from happy cows or the local extra virgin olive oil if you can. Your food will taste better, it’ll likely be healthier, and you’ll often be supporting a bunch of feelgood things like animal welfare, the environment, sustainability, and a farm-to-table ethos.
The idea of quality over quantity pervades through to other parts of my life, too. I value quality conversation over small talk. I find people who talk just to fill the silence annoying. I prefer spending quality time with friends over materialistic things. I appreciate experiences over tangible stuff.
How do I eat out so much?
I spend about a third of my salary on food most weeks. That’s about the same amount I spend on rent. And the rest goes to my savings or to fun things like my Opal card, yoga classes, and bills. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t know if I’ll ever even own a house. I don’t plan to get married. I’m 99% certain I won’t have kids. I don’t go shopping (except on holidays). My priority is living life to the fullest, taking in as many experiences as I possibly can, instead of spending hard-earned money on material things that won’t last. Experiences and memories last forever (well, I guess until you die).
I know I’m a pretty extreme case. And I don’t expect people to live their lives like I do. But whether you go out for a nice dinner four times a week or four times a year, I hope you take into consideration the level of service, the ingredients, the complex techniques, and the creative mind of the chef when the bill arrives at your table.
So what do you think? Is expensive food worth it?