Politically Correctness V. Sustainability–my 2 cents on the Raynor/Moonen smackdown

Further to Mike Dobranski’s recent post here on the Raynor V. Moonen “Top Chef Masters” sustainability debate, I wanted to chime in with a few observations and comments…

First, there is a difference between sustainability (good) and political correctness (bad).  I think Chef Rick Moonen falls into the former category, and believe that critic Jay Raynor unfairly places him in the latter camp.  The distinction is significant.

Sustainability is pro-consumption, where political correctness is anti-consumption. Sustainability wants us to save and sustain game, fish and plant life that is threatened so we can continue enjoying it in the future.  This is the opposite motive of say a militant vegan, who would argue that consuming all animals is unethical and morally wrong.

An environmentally aware hunter may be opposed to hunting threatened animals because he wants to continue eating them; our militant vegan is opposed to hunting as a practice altogether. The hunter’s opposition is pragmatic, the militant vegan’s are philosophical.

As an omnivore and whimsitarian–a self-invented term for those who enjoy eating rabbits, duck, and other cute, whimsical animals–I am all about sustainability.  From what was aired on this season of Top Chef (granted, we didn’t see everything) I think Rick Moonen was consistent in coming across as practical and not preachy.  But beyond that, Raynor’s sniping about Moonen’s “fish guy” and “sustainability guy” cred is ridiculous on its face.

An Inconvenient Deer

To wit: Raynor calls Moonen out for serving New Zealand Venison because he (incorrectly) assumed it was flown in (and its carbon footprint therefore too large, chided Mr. Raynor, as if Chef Rick Moonen were Al Gore).

Here’s the problem with that logic: Unless all of Rick Moonen’s fish came from Lake Mead or The Mojave Ocean, which last time I checked didn’t exist, planes trains and automobiles have long been involved in his career.  To say a chef has no right to advocate for sustainability because he/she ships product in is like saying that Al Gore has no right to raise environmental concerns because he owns an SUV.  Why didn’t Jay Raynor bring this up in the first episode if he felt it was such a problem?  Or is shipping fish OK, but not Venison?  It makes no sense.

“The Fish Guy”

Raynor was equally annoyed with Moonen’s referring to himself as “The Fish Guy.” I too kept wondering if Rick Moonen could cook things with legs during the Top Chef Masters season–but wouldn’t that be reason to applaud his cooking a protein that walked?  I am sure if Rick Moonen had served three fish courses in the finale Raynor would have called him on the carpet for only doing fish.  Raynor lamely complains that the NZ Venison didn’t fit in with Chef Moonen’s ‘story,’ but part of Chef Moonen’s story is pushing himself, taking risks, and surprising his diners–all of which could be said of the Venison dish.

Another thing: while not as out-front as Moonen, winning chef Marcus Samuelsson also made claims to cultural and environmental sensitivity, and even implied that those who didn’t like his last dish didn’t ‘understand’ it.  I don’t take issue with that, but I do think its disingenuous for Raynor to be offended by one chef’s story/point of view and not the other.  If Raynor were more fair in his critique, he might have wondered why Chef Samuelsson, who is eloquently passionate about world hunger and the economical use of food/water, served foie gras in the final competition.  I love foie gras myself, but I’m sure the ROI in grain to duck liver is pretty low…

Thanks to Mike D. for initiating this lively debate, and the good news is that we got to see, in the Top Chef Masters Final, the beatiful work of three truly worthy chefs.  What I’m dying to know is where Gael Greene and James Oseland were in the whole fracas…anyone have the details on that?

Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well, as a pretty militant environmentalist & vegetarian myself, I do have to say… That IMHO Rick Moonen was robbed! I mean, how can Jay Rayner slam Chef Moonen over his venison when Marcus Samuelsson served FOIE GRAS for gawd sake?! While it helps for all of us to buy and use as many locally grown ingredients as possible, we can’t be expected to be “all locavore, all the time”.

    And isn’t Top Chef all about pushing limits? So
    shouldn’t Chef Moonen be commended for going outside his comfort zone of fish?

    I don’t get it, not this year’s finale. Last season, I got why the judges chose Rick Bayless’ meal. But this time, I dunno…

  2. I missed Gael Green in this episode. By the way, your commentary was spot on. Does anyone know if Marcus has even been to Africa after he grew up? I don’t think he’s even met his siblings. And he grew up in Sweden.

    • I think Michael just mistyped Gael Greene when he meant to say Gail Simmons.

      As far as Marcus’ travels to Africa, isn’t his wife (wa wa wee wa) Ethiopian and they held the ceremony in Ethiopia? He also seems to have a genuine interest in his heritage, so I’m sure he’s quite studied on the customs.

  3. Thank you so much for articulating exactly what I feel

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