“Sorry I’m not home right now / I’m walking in the spider webs / So leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
Gwen Stefani’s voice percolates loudly in the background as my husband’s hands stretch seemingly preternatural dough from a deep hotel pan. I giggle and marvel at just how much the living flour and water monster really does resemble spider webs. The sinuous dough is the result of a recipe he had been working on for months, obsessively testing the moisture content and temperature of the air in the Philadelphia restaurant where he works in order to end up with this: a gassy, temperamental gluten web.
Like the rest of this Chef’s Table-obsessed nation, I’m enthralled by what my spouse does for a living and always look forward to these behind-the-scenes updates. The video message is a lot like us—satirical, a little bizarre but also focused. It centers around our shared cultural values: curiosity, guts and a healthy dose of humor.
The conversation doesn’t wrap up neatly at the conclusion of the exchange, or even when that spidery dough transforms into an airy, beautifully blackened wood fire pizza. Next week, we will express new ideas and values through something else. Perhaps, we explore our flaws through the fermentation of misshapen vegetables via deeply puckering, briny pickles. Or, maybe we’ll indulge in a little nostalgia over cheap beers paired with the bubbly broth and zesty raw beef salads from the Vietnamese restaurant in our old neighborhood. The story always has context and it always has meaning, but the meaning inevitably changes with us.
Like the constant evolution of food and food preparation, we as people change and change often.
“With our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly ourselves.” — M.F.K. Fisher
When we talk about food culture and what it means, we’re more often reflecting our own perception of social culture and communication. The more we learn and understand food as a means of cultural identity and exchange, the more curious we become about the process, its characters and how we fit into that overall storyline.
No table for one.
Food brands and culinary artists inherently understand that food is a never ending story; therefore, it requires authorship of the many over authorship of the few. And this is something that marketers should really learn from. No one is asking you for the answer. They’re asking you for the opportunity to shape the answer.
The discipline of marketing is wrought with advice that encourages marketers to collect as much profiling data as possible and develop finite solutions or content tailored to that buyer or persona. This kind of thinking, however, neglects a fundamental human desire to change and grow, often through continued, iterative expression and exchange with the things around them.
Food has always been both historian and provocateur of culture, alternating between safeguarding tradition and aggressively sprinting towards innovation. Our identity and our relationships to food do the same. This means, as storytellers in food and beverage, our overall perspective needs to focus less on what our brand or story is, and think more about what’s next or what else and who should be telling the story?