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Just your average 15 year old foodie.
December 30, 2008 11:18 PM   Subscribe

Screw getting a new car. Use your summer job money on fine dining. Nick is a fifteen year old "foodie" who used his summer job money to dine at Per Se, one of the poshest restaurants in Manhattan and home to one Thomas Keller. He had to hide out in his school bathroom between classes to try and get a table. When that failed he did what normal teenagers do: he manipulated his mom into letting him do it on a school night. (via)
posted by littlerobothead (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Saw this on Kottke a few days ago but didn't read through it all until now. Great story and pretty good writing for a 15 year old. Before anyone scoffs at a kid spending $300 on a single meal for the third time in his life, think back to your own childhood and teen geek obsessions and how silly they might appear today if you relayed a story of how you spent your summer job income.
posted by mathowie at 11:35 PM on December 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I applaud this kid's ambition but fuck if his writing style doesn't piss me off.
posted by Jairus at 12:04 AM on December 31, 2008


fuck if his writing style doesn't piss me off

He's SIXTEEN. I personally think this was damn cool.
posted by mrbill at 12:06 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just curious, Jairus, what pisses you off about it?
posted by andihazelwood at 12:07 AM on December 31, 2008


His writing style would be pretty pretentious coming out of an adult, but I think a lot of kids write that way. Overcompensating, basically.
posted by delmoi at 12:24 AM on December 31, 2008


Hasn't this kid been on here before? A NY Times or NY Magazine article about his birthday meal, or something?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:24 AM on December 31, 2008


That was 12 year old David Fishman.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:44 AM on December 31, 2008


My typical restaurant visit is typically a $40 check, but this kid is calling the staff over the chat with him all night? Really?

But I have to say, for that level of service, and that many courses of excellent food, in Manhattan, he probably got off light for $300. Also, loved the holden caulfield references. Teenagers are awesome.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:47 AM on December 31, 2008


I actually think he writes as well or better than most food critics I have read. He's certainly better than that smug prick, AA Gill, whose every review begins with three paragraphs of utterly irrelevant nonsense.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 3:26 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I thought this was kinda neat but not overly so. Per Se is one of the most highly rated restaurants right now, by chefs and food critics alike. Its easy enough to find plenty of reviews out there so the interesting thing here is that the kid is 15.

What might strike some people as a bit annoying is that one wishes he could convey his experience in simpler more accessible terms without resorting to phrases and cliches that seem lifted from somewhere else. This phrase for example: "The bread, often overlooked in restaurants, was nothing to miss. A miniature soft pretzel roll put Philadelphia makers to shame and a crusty ciabatta roll transported me to Tuscany." Really? Transported him to Tuscany? Has he actually been to Tuscany or was that just a phrase-everyone-says?

I suppose I personally would have found it more interesting if he had actually shown some knowledge about the food and how it was cooked. How do you cook langoustines to stay tender? What makes Perigord black truffle the "finest"? Thats an arguable point, after all. White truffles from Alba are arguably finer. And so on... Without any of that, its a wide-eyed tale of a birthday dinner, complete with a cake at the end which he gets to take home:

"I expected the meal to end rather conventionally after that. I think I forgot I was at Per Se. My waiter brought out a whole chocolate cake that they had baked for me for my birthday!"
posted by vacapinta at 3:40 AM on December 31, 2008 [4 favorites]


home to one Thomas Keller

It can't be that great if they only have one.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:22 AM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to see a kid interested in something more than WOW.

Because it means I might stand a chance of killing his character and taking his stuff.
posted by vapidave at 4:25 AM on December 31, 2008 [11 favorites]


That was 12 year old David Fishman.

Ah, this guy is over the hill in the juvenile food critic stakes then...

And given how demanding he is of the wait staff's attention, I wonder how much he tips on those $300 checks? The NY standard, double the sales tax? More, because he's demanding and getting better service? Or less, because he's just a skint kid?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:01 AM on December 31, 2008


I think the higher level of service he's describing is typical of Thomas Keller's restaurants, if not that style of fine-dining restaurant in general. As far as tipping, that's included in the price. I suppose if he were inclined he could have left a little something extra, but it's not really expected.
posted by fore at 5:16 AM on December 31, 2008


I hate the word 'foodie'. Blech. I was, however, really impressed with this kids writing. At 15, I hate to say it but I think he's already much, much better than I.

I wish someone would ground his ass for that.
posted by Bageena at 5:23 AM on December 31, 2008


Next up, six year old reviews Gray's Papaya.
posted by fixedgear at 5:28 AM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


He's certainly better than that smug prick, AA Gill

I had to see if he was as smug as you described... and you may have gone too easy on him. What an asshole! That was the worst piece of writing I have ever come across.

I'm genuinely angered. That guy sucks.
posted by pwally at 5:39 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


As far as tipping, that's included in the price.

How does that work then? In the UK, they'll say something like 'a discretionary 12.5% will be added to your bill', but I thought Americans resisted this because people in the US tend to tip larger than our meagre 10% or so? Is this just at the very highest end American restaurants that they have this practice?

I wondered about it because the kid said he did leave a little extra on the bill, so I was trying to figure out how much that would have been. If he'd already paid a service charge, he was being pretty generous, imo.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:51 AM on December 31, 2008


Is this just at the very highest end American restaurants that they have this practice?


Pretty much. French Laundry (and thus probably Per Se) adds 20% onto the bill. You can leave more if you like but 20% is already a whopping amount given the size of the usual bill.
posted by vacapinta at 5:58 AM on December 31, 2008


I predict this kid will end up the GOP presidential nominee in 30 years or so.
posted by tommasz at 6:10 AM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd like to see this kid trump his achievement next year by parlaying his summer job money into a trip to El Bulli.

The only thing that detracted from the awesomeness of this story for me was that this was his third time to Per Se. But that's only such a silly little thing to quib about -- he accomplished quite a feat here by doing the entire thing himself (and I know how much fun it is to try and get reservations to Per Se and French Laundry) and paid for it himself and had a great time. But speaking from a story angle, his victory would have been more satisfying if he had never been before and did all this himself just to achieve his dream. But it's still all good. When I was 15, my summer job paid for a 2400 baud modem and comic books. Rock on, kid.
posted by Spatch at 6:15 AM on December 31, 2008


Serious question, what is the difference in a foodie and a gourmand anyway? Is it just that foodie is the latest word fad?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:39 AM on December 31, 2008


Hah, when I got my first job I used a good part of the first paycheck to go out for a $150~ meal or so. I completely understand why he'd want to do that; I'd have probably spent more if I could have.
posted by Nattie at 6:58 AM on December 31, 2008


I'd like to see this kid trump his achievement next year by parlaying his summer job money into a trip to El Bulli.

There was another teenager in the comments who talked about how his last two birthday presents had been dinner at El Bulli and at The Fat Duck.

I predict this kid will end up the GOP presidential nominee in 30 years or so.

Much as I enjoyed the kid's blog, I also detected a degree of ambition that I found kind of unsettling. The kid wants to be a chef, that much is clear -- and good luck to him with that -- but it almost seems as though he's stalking Keller with his visits to the restaurant, arranging a little extra time at his book signings, etc. It comes across as trading on the novelty of his precocity in an attempt to try and get a foot up the ladder. If I can just manage to get my face in front of Keller's often enough, then when it comes time to apply for a job at his kitchen, how can he possibly turn me down?

And I'm not sure why this bothers me. Other obsessive teenagers stalking their idols don't seem quite so weird. I think it's got something to do with the fact that most young people that age will never have had the opportunity to cultivate the kind of palate that makes them think that spending $300 on lunch is a desirable thing to do. And something to do with the fact that I've always found teenagers who take too much of their influence from their parents rather than their friends to be a little peculiar. Mostly though, it's a cultural thing. Here in Europe, we tend to find precocity and naked displays of ambition a little unseemly, whereas in the USA, people seem to regard them as admirable.

An obsessive sixteen year old kid who put this much effort into wanting to be a rock star or a sports star wouldn't seem at all weird. And who wouldn't want their own kid to follow their dreams? But there's something that just doesn't seem right about such a self-congratulatory celebration of bourgeois values in a fifteen or sixteen year old kid and I'm still not at all sure why that should be? But whatever it is, I presume it's what's making some other people respond to him in a negative way as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:09 AM on December 31, 2008 [9 favorites]


"Foodie" is probably the most annoying word in the English language.

Per Se does indeed include service with the bill, as at French Laundry.
posted by pineapple at 7:26 AM on December 31, 2008


Is this just at the very highest end American restaurants that they have this practice?

Actually Ruby Tuesday does this too. At least, the one in Times Square does. A little weird, but hey.
posted by lampoil at 7:39 AM on December 31, 2008


Here in Europe, we tend to find precocity and naked displays of ambition a little unseemly, whereas in the USA, people seem to regard them as admirable.

Not everywhere. I know what you mean, and yes, it's mostly considered cute or admirable in American society, but frankly I find it creepy and I immediately point the finger at the parents. When a wide-eyed six-year-old aspiring beauty queen in a $500 dress and a porn star's makeup tells the camera how all she really wished for in her whole life is to be crowned Little Miss Dade County Sweetheart... you have to ask who elected to use this child as a vehicle for his or her own vicarious needs.

But it's possible that Nick just really loves food, and has done what all teens do with the object of their obsession: immersed himself in books and writing about fine dining... which in turn has colored the way that he writes about foie gras and amuse-bouches and salmon cornets.

For comparison, if you look at an earlier entry where he writes with simple appreciation for an apple crisp baked by his grandma, you'll see what I mean: he only gets into that florid, aspiring verbiage when he's writing about fine dining.

But there's something that just doesn't seem right about such a self-congratulatory celebration of bourgeois values in a fifteen or sixteen year old kid and I'm still not at all sure why that should be? But whatever it is, I presume it's what's making some other people respond to him in a negative way as well.

What vacapinta pointed out sounds right to me: it feels to an outsider like the child is trying to fit in the adult world by using the language that adults would use, rather than by having the appropriate child's experience, which would have been far more charming. This happens a lot (at least, I see it a lot at the secondary schools in my community) -- kids think they need to behave like adults to be taken seriously by adults.

His restaurant review post is no better or worse than I would expect to see from the monthly print column of a small-town stringer who makes it all the way into Kansas City or Birmingham for dinner occasionally. What Nick needs is simply an editor, a patient one with an eye toward cultivating young talent. He might be ambitious for a 16-year-old but he's no more or less ambitious than the average adult writer. If he wants to be in the world of food writing already, here's hoping he at least finds a sherpa to help him get there via his talent, and not just as "that kid who ate at Per Se."
posted by pineapple at 7:52 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jeez. The fact that he paid $300+ for the meal just hit me. I'm thinking of how many records I could buy, classes I could take, or places I could go with that. Seriously, $300 would get me from Phoenix to Rocky Point, a hotel for 2 days, at least 1 or 2 vials of ketamine, and a shitload of tacos.

Different strokes, I guess.
posted by Bageena at 8:06 AM on December 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


I hate the word foodie more than anyone else.
posted by I Foody at 8:18 AM on December 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't know, going to Per Se and seeing Thomas Keller is sort of the gourmand/foodie equivalent of watching Jurassic Park and wanting to see Spielberg. I mean sure Jurassic Park is a great movie, really well done, and Spielberg is one of the greatest American directors of his era, but it seems to lack a true appreciation of food. Like someone up thread noted, it seemed more like he was writing about the experience without any authenticity. This is what he should be writing about. Part of me wants to take him and make a high lit, post-modern novel about a 16 year old serial killer who picks sous chefs at famous restaurants, spends months obsessing about the particular restaurant before committing his deed. This is something Ellis does almost too well, to the point of many people believing his protagonists are actually the epitome of the modern GQ male without realizing that Patrick Bateman (or any of his other characters) are actually kind of dorks that no one likes. But hey spend 30 minutes talking about the break on an Armani pant leg and you end up fooling half your audience into believing you know what you talk about.

That said I have a friend who worked at the Savoy in some sort of minor chef role. The kid loved food, and when he comes in town ever 3 years for whatever special event brings him into town (death, birth, marriage), it is a real delight to hang out with him. Sure we'll go to the $300 a dish place, but he scours every greasy shit hole in town. Don't think he has some sort of magical gourmand nose and can go to any diner and find the special dish, no what he does is just plain science, experiment with everything about you're bound to hit something. To me this is someone who loves food and cooking, and doesn't give two shits about service or analyze the bread at Per Se vs. The French Laundry (I take that back, he will hit you with moments where he just nerds out on something, but he's not searching for the ultimate dining experience). So I sort of hope that this kid finds goes a similar route and doesn't end up that guy you know who wants to be a film maker but is always in community college and has a shelf of popular movies. If you love your craft, be an Ebert and see everything.
posted by geoff. at 8:43 AM on December 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


Here in Europe, we tend to find precocity and naked displays of ambition a little unseemly, whereas in the USA, people seem to regard them as admirable.

I understand your distaste. It's not the precocity (precociousness?) or ambition itself I find problematic. It's that he's channeling his ambition into being the world's biggest suck-up in the hopes it might get him noticed. I think if we saw his ambition manifesting itself as working really hard at practicing being a chef or building up a restaurant from the group, we wouldn't find that unseemly at all. It's when it manifests itself as constant attempts to catch the attention of a celebrity that it comes across as a bit desperate (though it may well be successful!). However, for many professions, that's life-- there are a lot of places where the number of interested people far exceeds the number of available positions, and there is no standard metric for "merit."

kids think they need to behave like adults to be taken seriously by adults.

Do a degree, they do. It's when kids behave like they think adults behave that they start to come across as annoying. That said, not counting the "a crusty ciabatta roll transported me to Tuscany," line (which really should qualify for a place in the StuffWhitePeopleLike hall of fame), the writing didn't bother me so much. I was expecting something with much more of an awkward affectation. He's just writing about what he likes.

The fact that he paid $300+ for the meal just hit me. I'm thinking of how many records I could buy, classes I could take, or places I could go with that.

After having my 12-year-old european car break down a few times and seeing the mechanic's bill for repairs, I can't say that being faced with a $300 bill phases me anymore.

Also, this is my 1000th MeFi comment. Do I get a prize?
posted by deanc at 9:02 AM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


The [writing] was plain unctuous on its own...and [grated] my [middleaged] taste buds[.] [H]owever together, the delicate [sensibilities of this child] was overwhelmed by [my] strong alcoholic flavor.
posted by applemeat at 9:03 AM on December 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


For comparison, if you look at an earlier entry where he writes with simple appreciation for an apple crisp baked by his grandma, you'll see what I mean.

Actually, I did read that apple crisp review and it was the thing that made me read much more of his blog than I'd originally intended to. He came across as a really likeable young man in that piece, writing about the much less grandiose pleasures of good food, prepared with care for people that you care about.

I suspect had I not stumbled on that piece very early, I wouldn't have read any more. I can see that it might be worthwhile going out and blowing $300 on lunch when you've been at it for years and you know what you're about, but has a 16 year old really had the opportunity to really explore the enormous range of moderately priced ethnic cuisine that you get in the USA?

Now, perhaps its just me, but if I were a chef looking to hire some new kid, and I was presented with two kids one of whom had eaten at half a dozen of the biggest named restaurants and one who could reliably guide me through the maze of local cheap joints, I'd be putting my money on the kid who knows his way around the cheap places -- because I'd feel more secure that he was displaying his own taste than simply reflecting the received wisdom. It's not that you wouldn't wanna go to the nice places too, but given limited resources, would you really go more than once?

On preview, I think both geoff and deanc nail it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2008


Some of the best food I've ever had was in a local restaurant half way up a mountain in Lanzarote where cats climbed on the tables and there were millions of flies. I didn't even get sick!

$300 on a meal seems obscene to me, and frankly, I can't imagine the food (or the service/bread) being worth that amount of money. Maybe that just shows that I've never eaten at a restaurant of such supposed greatness.

I feel fairly guilty if my meal out costs £40, I'm not sure how I'd feel if I'd just spent around £200 on a meal.
posted by knapah at 10:24 AM on December 31, 2008


I don't know, going to Per Se and seeing Thomas Keller is sort of the gourmand/foodie equivalent of watching Jurassic Park and wanting to see Spielberg. I mean sure Jurassic Park is a great movie, really well done, and Spielberg is one of the greatest American directors of his era, but it seems to lack a true appreciation of food.

First, geoff: I want to meet your friend. Next, a lot of coverage of celebrity chefs has focused on creating a trendy, popular dining experience, so it doesn't surprise me that someone like FoodieAtFifteen is following along that path. The attention goes to the celebrity chefs famous for screaming at their staffs who start big-name places in the prime locations that require a team of venture capital partners to put together and run the risk of going out of business in 3 years if things don't pan out. Comparatively less attention is given to the good cooks who bring in some starting capital from their jobs, get a business loan, and lease some space where they can get it... and that's where there's a lot of good food happening, but the "bourgeois values" (in a bad way) don't reward being those guys doing the work-a-day effort to have a profitable restaurant business. To much of the public, being a celebrity chef with a "fine dining experience" is ok, but being a mere "restaurant owner" somehow seems declassé.
posted by deanc at 10:55 AM on December 31, 2008


Serious question, what is the difference in a foodie and a gourmand anyway? Is it just that foodie is the latest word fad?

The word foodie occurs in this net.bizarre thread from 1985, so no, not a word fad.
posted by The Tensor at 11:15 AM on December 31, 2008


deanc, I agree with you 100%.

But in fairness to Thomas Keller, at least with French Laundry (which is inarguably the establishment on which he made his name), he did do the work-a-day thing where he borrowed money from friends and so on.

That he was then wildly successful with it, which catapulted him to the position of being able to start per se, certainly puts him in big-name/staff-screaming/VC territory now. But it's hard to argue that he got there the hard way.

And, to play devil's advocate even more, chefs celebre like Joël Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay all worked their way up too. And now that he's a superstar (or in spite of it), Gordon Ramsay is still nonetheless a poster boy for bad behavior (which I can't knock, because maybe that perfectionism and temper is how one gets to be a superstar in any field. The concept of the "corporate psychopath" doesn't exist in a vacuum.).

As long as stars and awards matter (Michelin, Mobil, Gayot, Zagat, NYT, whatever), chefs will aspire and compete to win them. And great chefs will succeed and they will become famous for it, and others will not.

I guess my point is that the profession is what it is, and it has metrics for world renown like any other profession. That some of these folks started as mere restaurant owners and are now treated like celebrities says more about us than it does about them. Which I think is probably what you're saying too -- I'm just loath for anyone to blame the chefs.

"Hate the game, not the player," in a way.
posted by pineapple at 11:23 AM on December 31, 2008


(To clarify: "But it's hard to argue the notion that [Keller] got there the hard way.")
posted by pineapple at 11:23 AM on December 31, 2008


I've eaten nearly the same meal at per se and thought he captured the place quite well. I bet keller isn't too happy with the kid reporting publicly about having been served alcohol. someone should have come over, offered to serve him the full meal but asked that he kept the alcohol part between them.

sixteen and alcohol is fine with me and he'd be okay in europe but you know how liquor licenses in the US work.
posted by krautland at 11:51 AM on December 31, 2008


The alcohol thing is hearsay. They're not going to get in trouble, because "the kid was making it up to improve his story" is reasonable enough doubt.
posted by explosion at 1:39 PM on December 31, 2008


I thought he wasn't served alcohol, krautland, but was given some sparkling (and presumably non-alcoholic) cider in its place?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:39 PM on December 31, 2008


he wasn't served champagne?
posted by krautland at 1:43 PM on December 31, 2008


Technically, I think he got champaign.

sorry, couldn't help myself.
2009 resolution: be kinder.

posted by pineapple at 1:53 PM on December 31, 2008


"Foodie" is probably the most annoying word in the English language.

posted by pineapple at 10:26 AM on December 31


No, it's still "Aspie".
posted by Bokononist at 1:55 PM on December 31, 2008


Agreed. Can "foodie" be second?

And, can "blogosphere" be third?
posted by pineapple at 1:59 PM on December 31, 2008


Technically, I think he got champaign.

sorry, couldn't help myself.
2009 resolution: be kinder.


oh, you snotty americans and your imperfects languagesses.
posted by krautland at 7:45 AM on January 1, 2009


Jeez. The fact that he paid $300+ for the meal just hit me. I'm thinking of how many records I could buy, classes I could take, or places I could go with that. Seriously, $300 would get me from Phoenix to Rocky Point, a hotel for 2 days, at least 1 or 2 vials of ketamine, and a shitload of tacos.

Metafilter: Ketamine and a shitload of tacos
posted by codswallop at 5:09 PM on January 1, 2009


jeez, keller or tacos, eighteen-courses or ketamine, rocky point or new york city.

sure, I see why you are having a better day than this kid had.
suuuuuure.
posted by krautland at 12:27 PM on January 2, 2009


Ha! Until you've tried K, tacos, and Rocky Point, you have absolutely no idea what you're missing. I'm pretty sure that with one pretty good line of K, you'd find yourself magically teleported (in your mind, obviously) to New York to eat 18 courses or more anyways. It is what you make it.
Although I prefer my K-travels to take me into outer mufuckin' space. I'll say this though - I could see myself doing what this kid did at least one time in my life. Nearly everything should be tried at least once. Makes life more interesting, right? *shrugs* I think I've spent as much as $250 on a meal for my wife and I at a local five star restaurant called Kai. It was definately delicious and, of course, romantic so it was worth it to me. I just don't think it'd be as easy to drop $100 more than that to have a dinner all to myself. Maybe if I didn't eat for, like, two days before hand so I could actually eat 18 courses worth of food and enjoy it to it's maximus levelus.
(I'm mostly kidding about the K thing. Ever since they changed the border laws to require a passport, I've found that certain chemicals and ziplock baggies full of other fun are much, much too hard to aquire. I'm clean as a whistle now. Damnit.)
posted by Bageena at 1:07 PM on January 6, 2009


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