Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm Tired Of The Food Lowlitists

Yes, it's from scratch, and yes, you'll taste the difference.
I read an article in a magazine recently that assured cake decorators that they didn't really need to understand what makes one cake recipe better than another, because they're decorators, not bakers. The author referred to snobby pastry chefs and dismissed their skills as unnecessary. Well, call me crazy, but it was my understanding that people generally want to eat the cake, too, not just look at it. Wouldn't that require a certain understanding of how to bake?

I am tired of food lowlitists. I am tired of people saying "nobody can tell the difference anyway" when we talk about scratch baking vs. mixes. (I sure can and I know I'm not the only person who can.) I am tired of people calling me a snob because I know how to bake and understand the chemistry of it. And I'm really tired of the idea that there's no difference between scratch baking and things like Twinkies, Ho-hos and the 99 cent cupcakes that Dunkin Donuts is now selling.

Now let me be clear. I DON'T CARE what other people do in their businesses. That's right, I don't care. I don't care if you use cake mix, and I don't care if you have no idea how to bake from scratch. What I do care about is the convoluted rationalization that using mixes is the same as baking from scratch, and that clients don't need to know if they do ask. (I also care about people lying to customers, but that's a topic for a different post.)

I didn't coin the term "lowlitist", but I think that it applies here. It refers to someone who denigrates anyone who has any type of education regarding whatever subject they feel inferior in. By claiming that people who have knowledge and/or skills are just snobs, and that the "common people" are the ones who are truly authentic, they make themselves feel better and eliminate their own need to actually learn something and maybe gain a skill in the process. Food lowlitists are the people who argue that Olive Garden is the same as a restaurant in Rome, or that a box of Steak-Ums is good enough for them so if you prefer sirloin you're just a snob.

I do think that scratch baking by someone who knows how to bake is better than cake mix. That is my opinion. But it is a skill, and you do have to know what you're doing, and that seems to be what offends people for some reason. You can't just toss everything into a bowl and bake it, there are techniques involved. The lowlitists prefer to not try, so it's easier to say that the people who do know how to bake are snobs and dismiss them. It's much easier on the ego.

Does this kind of lowlitism exist in other areas of the culinary arts? I don't know, but if anyone has any insight I'd love to hear it. In the meantime, I'm going to go bake a spice cake with amaretto Italian meringue buttercream. From scratch, because I know how to.


 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

19 comments:

Jamie said...
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Melissa said...

Fantastic. Can this get published in that same magazine. It would be great if the truth was spoken to the masses.

dkelly said...

Well said Kara! I'm proud to be in such good company!

Kara said...

@dkelly-- Deb, you're a good example of someone who isn't a culinary school-trained pastry chef, but who still knows her way around a good cake. There's no reason that you HAVE to go to culinary school to be an accompished baker, you just have to be willing to learn and to make an effort. I can't cook a good steak to save my life (well, maybe I could if I had to save my life) but I don't look down on someone who says that they can. I just ask them to make dinner for me!

Kara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Promise said...

Hear! Hear! As has been said before, "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Which, in this case means, "if you can't bake from scratch, shut up about it." ;-)

Kara said...

Right! And let me say again, I don't care if someone uses a mix, big deal. Just be honest about it and don't kid yourself that it's the same as scratch.

Jennywenny said...

Awesome, good for you. I'm hoping that my scratch cakes will stand out in flavor from the mix cakes and the extra expense will be worth it.

Since I've never learned any other way, it seems very simple making scratch cakes to me, but I wish people would just be honest about it.

This does remind me a little of my super clever husband, who now has a Phd and his dad saying 'I dont like those clever people, cant trust 'em'

Anonymous said...

very well said!! this is a much debated subject especially on cake forums and i stay far away from them since i do not like to argue simply for the sake of arguing. how ridiculous--scratch baking and using a mix are totally different. i feel strongly neither side should put the other down but this is what some people live to do. you should use what recipes you love and your customer's love. lying to customers about ingredients is NEVER cool.
cindy/cindy's cakery

Kristi said...

Well said Kara!! Is this the same person who believes soggy cake is a moist cake? Fairy tales...

Anonymous said...

Another uneducated scratch baker here who shares your viewpoint. Very well said Kara! I can just see the steam coming out of some mix bakers ears right now. Makes me smile.

I'm also one of the ones who didn't stay away from this subject in the forums and I thoroughly enjoyed the mayhem I created. I guess that's why they call me Surly. :-)

Sally - House of the Rising Cake.

Kara said...

Surly...heh heh...

I really was not thinking of anyone in particular when I wrote this, I'm just tired of hearing the idea that it's the same as baking from scratch if you add something to a mix, or the rationalization that everything's chemicals anyway, so it's the same thing. No it's not. If it was, everyone would bake from scratch and get a consistent product.

I'll use my favorite comparison here. If I open a Bertolli frozen dinner and add some broccoli to it, that doesn't mean that I'm an Italian chef, and I didn't make it from scratch. In the same way, if you open a box of cake mix and add something to it, it isn't from scratch, and you're not a pastry chef. I don't claim to be an Italian chef, but I also don't go around saying that the frozen meal is the same thing as a meal made from scratch, and that nobody can tell the difference. Oh now you're all getting me riled up again! Hahaha! I need to go eat some chocolate and watch tv or something...

Maree @ Sweeter than Sugar said...

Well said! What a shame that magazine isn't supporting our business instead of making us look like uneducated plebs. I was talking to another local decorator and we ended up debating the use of non-edible paints etc being used on cakes, and also the fact that she thinks I am wasting my time by baking them myself and not buying them in frozen. Her argument was "its all about the look anyway, who cares what it tastes like". Hmmmm... I care!

And it does exist in other culinary sectors. When I managed a fine-dining Italian restaurant the chefs would be furious when someone compared them to pub cooks. They would complain that people want Michelin star quality at McDonalds speed & price, which of course is not going to happen...

Linda said...

This is absolutely the best post ever. I can't add anything more to what has been commented here except to say I agree. I'm a new scratch baker and won't go back to cake mix. I did it once because I was short on time. Little did I know that my whole book club had been excited to taste my cakes and I showed up with a box mix. Never, never again. Now to get baking for the next book club and this time from scratch!

Mandy @ Sweet Sensations said...

Kara, this is a wonderful post. I never went to a formal culinary school (though I did take some culinary classes in high school YEARS ago lol) but I grew up with my granny - my fave georgia peach - baking cakes from scratch so she was the one that taught me. The only time I have ever used a cake mix was for my son'a cake and I was a little pushed for time and I have NEVER used a caxe mix for a customer. As for these condemning people, in the ever famous words of Forrest Gump..."Stupid is as stupid does." Whoops...that wasn't very nice :)

Rosie said...

Came late to the debate, but this a great post. I bake from scratch and from a mix- depends on what I want to eat and how patient I'm feeling.

I don't appreciate bakers treating customers like idiots and not letting us know if something is from a mix or not. I can certainly tell.

Anonymous said...

I love this blog!. I use "doctored" mixes and tell my clients so up front. I am so new to baking (and a bit on the ditzy side) that I don't trust my results, I let them know that, too. Honesty is always the best policy.

I also tell folks, I am NOT a pastry chef, I have no formal training, and am not in a business, at least not yet, cause I know I don't know enough. I don't think I have the right to charge as if I did, so I don't. (I am only on my 6th wedding, and can't wait to get the next one started ;)

I have "lost" business saying that, but with me, you will know what you see and taste is what you get. If you like my cakes, then lets work together, if not, there are WAY better cakes out there, I don't mind at all. I am thrilled to know someone found the RIGHT cake from the right person for them, it is THEIR wedding, after all.

rosemary said...

I have been seeing this scratch vs mix topic heat up on cakecentral. I am in Africa. These mixes have recently found their way into our shops. I was keen on trying but the prices of the brands I saw made it more expensive than scratch. Then I saw something cheap one day and tried it. The only time I did not leak my bowl clean! I did one layer for my daughter's birthday cake. She took the cake to school and out of six layers of 3 tiered cake, everybody complained about that particular strawberry layer. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

Cat said...

Very late to the party here but I see this hot little topic just keeps cropping up on a certain forum that has changed a great deal lately. I was unable to log back in after the "improvements" and due to the fact I can still lurk I realise I no longer want to be part of that particular forum...so I come here for laughs great writing and Kara Wisdom.
So true a scratch cake is a real cake a box mix is a cop out for those who cant. The biggest laugh though is reserved for those who claim they "doctor" them..thereby attempting to imbue health giving properties to their chemical mix.
Keep up the blogging Kara, its sanity.
cat