I had a lovely Easter bank holiday weekend with my extended family in Colchester. I had two meals, however, that made me ask myself if perhaps I’ve turned into a bit of a food snob. They were both, as luck would have it, pub lunches. One was through choice, with 11 of us going to a local pub on Sunday for a late lunch. The other was imposed on me when I found myself stranded for 6 hours after my car broke down on bank holiday Monday. The only option for a meal was a pub nearby where the car had decided to give up the ghost.

I wrote quite a long blog last year about my difficulty in finding good pub lunches and, whilst these weren’t all that bad, they certainly wouldn’t hold up to my litmus test, which is “Are they as good as my Mom or I would have cooked at home?” Maybe that’s a bit of a loaded question, since we both happen to be professional caterers, but I think most people would use a similar standard of judgement based on their own experience and expectation.

I always tell myself I won’t do it, but I just can’t help it. I sit down, and my inner food critic comes out. I found myself analysing the food that was served to me, critically identifying the faults. Frozen Yorkshire puddings at one, homemade at the other. The oil was horrible and burnt tasting, which ruined the flavour and substandard roast potatoes. A pie was pretty decent but had been clearly reheated in a microwave and ended up with soft, gooey pastry. A pizza base garlic bread that was so undercooked, the pastry was raw in some sections. The list goes on, but you see my point.

After having been disappointed by the initial pub lunch with the family, I was really looking forward to cooking at home on the Monday, so it felt like a punishment when I ended up being stuck with another pub lunch instead. Then the rescue vehicle showed up to bring us home. On the journey back, he said he’d eaten in that pub the week before and thought it was really good value and quality.

I spent the rest of the drive home thinking back on my two meals. Have I really turned into such a snob that I make myself a martyr for having the exact same meal other hard working families look forward to? I was lucky he’d told me his view before I’d launched into my complaints, as I’m sure it would have made him feel he was driving the ultimate snob if I’d shared my views. The meals hadn’t been terrible. They had both had friendly staff and, despite some service issues, they had made every effort to give us a good experience. The pubs had been full of plenty of people having a good time. There had been families and friends enjoying the food and each other’s company. To be honest, I had failed to notice how lovely it was to see families eating together, which is something I think our society severely lacks these days. One pub was having a children’s birthday party in the corner. The other seemed to have a few first dates, or certainly relationships in their early stages.

All in all, they both had nice, convivial atmospheres and customers that were happily paying the very reasonable prices for food they thought was pretty good. Who am I to say otherwise? Isn’t that really what’s it’s all about? Bringing people together. Unifying families. Giving parents a break from cooking and cleaning and a chance to spend some quality time around the table with their kids without breaking the bank. Maybe attracting the teenagers to come along if a visit to the pub seems more exciting than a night in. Giving a young couple the chance to have a meal in a place that’s informal and less intimidating both in atmosphere and price.

I’m lucky. I grew up in the business and was taught what good looks like from a young age. I was taught to cook and I have the privilege of working with some of the most talented chefs in England on a daily basis. But that also comes with its drawbacks. Rather than just enjoy my meal out with the family, I spent my time poking holes in the meal. Rather than appreciating a very reasonably priced pub lunch with my wife, I just kept whining about the roast I would rather be eating at home.

I can’t let myself forget that I didn’t just stay in catering due to a passion for food. I could not have cared less about food when I was a kid, but I loved my parents’ restaurant all the same. I loved the buzz of a packed room with people laughing, others arguing, cutlery clinking on plates and waiters rushing around. I loved the appreciation customers showed us when we got it right. I loved every aspect of the business, and the quality of the food was just one part of that. As I’ve grown older, food has become more and more of a passion and now it borders on an obsession. But I’d rather share mediocre food with my friends and family served by friendly employees in a bubbly atmosphere than eat the finest food in the land at a quiet table for one.

I may have a higher standard than a lot of people, but that’s kind of my job. I still believe people deserve fresh, homemade, good quality food. A lot of people are quite happy with less and, at the end of the day, maybe they’ve got the right priorities. I’m not saying I won’t still be critical. It’s in me now and I can’t ignore it. Also, it’s my job. I will make every effort, however, to live in the moment and appreciate the entire experience without letting my critical nature ruin what should be a good meal. And I’ll be keeping my criticisms to myself! Me, a snob? Well not anymore.

Francois Gautreaux
Managing Director