Eating out? Forget Instagram, put your phone away and enjoy the moment for real
PUBLISHED: 16:36 15 January 2020 | UPDATED: 13:36 17 January 2020
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Chefs create dishes for you to enjoy in the moment, not to record on your phone, says food-loving Andy Newman
The chef Heston Blumenthal has always been a trend-setter rather than a herd-follower. He was at the forefront of what came to be known as 'molecular gastronomy' in this country. The menu at his Fat Duck restaurant in Berkshire (one of only five in the UK to hold three Michelin stars) features dishes which sometimes sound more like chemistry experiments than food.
But this week the bespectacled super-chef has had a rant against one of the more pervasive trends in the restaurant world - the habit of diners of letting their food go cold while they frame the perfect Instagram shot of their plate.
Never mind that by the time they get to eat it, it will be a rapidly cooling shadow of what the chef created; as long as we have convinced the rest of the world (or at least those who have so little in their lives that they spend most of their time on social media) that they are enjoying the best food money can buy.
The habit is so mind-numbingly stupid that you have to question why more chefs haven't threatened to ban photography in their restaurants altogether. Actually, Blumenthal is not the first to consider it; the three-star Waterside Restaurant, just down the road from the Fat Duck in Bray, banned diners from taking pictures of their food in 2017.
You can imagine how annoying it must be for a chef to spend a lifetime honing his or her skills, working long and unsociable hours creating delicious plates of food, only to have idiot customers allowing those very same meals to spoil, all for the sake of satisfying their vacuous addiction to social media.
Now, you might argue that since the customer is paying for the privilege, it's up to them what they do, and the chef should get back in the kitchen and get on with what we are paying them for. That might be a reasonable argument if the habit of turning dining rooms into photographic studios wasn't so incredibly annoying for the rest of us - who are also paying to be there.
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When I go to a restaurant I am looking for great food, fine wine, good conversation and a relaxing atmosphere - not to be an extra in somebody else's amateur and completely pointless photo shoot.
Sadly, this is a disease which has reached epidemic proportions, and not just in the world of food. Wherever you go - gigs, tourist attractions, beauty spots - most people are not paying any notice at all. Instead of looking at and enjoying the spectacle in front of them, their attention is exclusively taken up trying to capture the moment on their mobile phone. Perhaps they think that being able to watch it all later on a six-inch screen will somehow be better than the moment in real time. If so, they are idiots.
One particular bugbear of mine is people who treat art galleries as their own personal photographic project. These selfish oafs will stand right in front of a picture and take forever getting the 'perfect' shot, getting in everybody else's way and preventing the rest of the world from looking at the painting.
I have often seen such people go round an entire gallery doing this, taking not even a cursory glimpse at the works themselves. If they want to enjoy the pictures at their leisure, why don't they just buy the book of the exhibition, where they will find professional quality photographs of the works, far superior to what they could take themselves?
The answer to this, and why our restaurants are so full of these Insta-menaces, is that too many people are now living their lives with the sole purpose of showing off to other people, trying to demonstrate to their 'followers' that they are living the perfect life. Shame they are so busy doing this that they have no time to actually do the living.
What's more, and this is an important point: no-one is interested. Fellow social media addicts are too busy updating their own statuses, and the rest of us couldn't care less.
It's not that social media doesn't have its place. It can be great for keeping in touch, for communicating and for entertaining our friends. But when it becomes a substitute for life itself, you are going to miss out on the incalculably greater pleasure of the real world.
So next time you are in a restaurant, or an art gallery, or a concert, put your phone away and let your senses concentrate on the here and now. Granted, you won't have a four inch square snap to look back on later, but what you will have is a memory of the real thing - and that is so much more satisfying.