"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

My trouble with Rocco

by Julie Tilsner on September 29, 2009

in Good Ideas Gone Bad

Bad Home Cook at BlogHer Food: Photo by tk
They still hadn’t opened the doors for lunch. Caroline and I had stepped out of the crowds and here into the corner near the doors. We could breath here. We could talk without getting in anybody’s way. Best of all, we thought, we’d be one of the first ones into the ballroom for lunch.

We had peeked inside quickly: the ballroom was filled with round tables, covered with white tablecloths and set formally, down to the desert forks. Three small glasses of wine were placed at the top of every setting. Caroline and I hugged ourselves in excitement. Lunch at BlogHer Food! What kind of tasty were we in for?

Of course the conference agenda clearly stated that lunch would be sponsored by Bertolli Frozen Meals. I don’t know why I thought that somehow it would transcend my understanding of frozen food just by dint of being served to 300 food bloggers, but I did. I didn’t focus on the “frozen” aspect of what was promised. I focused on the food part.

It was a case of hope over experience. I grew up on frozen food out of a box, and apart from the frozen quiches at Trader Joe’s, I steer clear of the frozen food aisle.  I am not a food snob, I tell myself. I’ll happily eat from taco trucks and drugstore diners and cheap Chinese joints. But when it comes to home cooking, I can’t eat out of the box. (unless it’s breakfast cereal, but that’s a whole other category of eating). I never imagined that what we’d be getting for lunch would be, well, frozen food.

The mood was high when we all sat down. Our luncheon host was Rocco Dispirito, a chef and food-world celebrity. He’s tall and dark and handsome, and I wondered how much he was getting paid to whip us into a frenzy over Bertolli Frozen Meals. He must be on a hell of a retainer. How much would they  need to pay me to spout bullshit over the merits of frozen food? Probably a lot less than they paid him. But still.

The salad was actually tasty: butter lettuce and a kind of tuna I’d never had before, creamy and flavorful. Some sliced egg and some sort of vinaigrette. This was Rocco’s own recipe, I learned. OK. Points for the pretty chef. The bread was good, too.

The second course was some kind of rigatoni with shrimp. I can’t eat shrimp. It makes me break out in hives.  I picked at the pasta. It was overcooked and lukewarm to boot. Not appetizing at all. Not even to me.

I drank one glass of the wine. It was, thankfully, quickly refilled.

Rocco danced around the room, telling us a tale about how he keeps this stuff in his freezer, and how he whipped some up recently for a date, who mistakenly thought he’d made it from scratch. Models aren’t paid to be bright.

I drank the second glass of wine, hoping to improve my mood. I ate my dinner roll. “You gonna eat that?” I inquired of the guy sitting next to me, whose dinner roll sat untouched.  “Hell yes,” he said.

The third course was ravioli in cheese sauce, which had all the appetizing appeal of dead baby chicks under a blanket of Velveeta. No one at my table opted to try this course.

I decided to stop drinking the wine as it was giving me a headache.

I looked over at the table where the big bloggers sat; Heidi Swanson and David Lebovitz and Matt Armendariz. and Amy Sherman. They weren’t eating the pasta, I noticed. In fact, they had bowls of fresh berries in front of them.  Heidi would later remark to me that at conventions, like on airplanes, it’s always best to order the “special vegetarian” meal.

After lunch I called the Flamenco Guitarist, who’d accompanied me to San Francisco, from a bench in the lobby. “Hey!” he said, mouth full of something. “I’m at Gordo’s! Eating two tacos! Damn they’re delicious! What’re you up to?”

I’m hungry, I told him. I’m actually hungry at a food blogging conference. It didn’t seem fair. I wanted to be at Gordo’s eating tacos. I wandered back upstairs and found some mushroom soup being handed out by one of the sponsors. It was topped by a mushroom-bacon-infused whipped cream. That was more like it, I thought. More along the creative lines I’d hoped lunch would highlight. This sated me for the time being, but also left me feeling more pissy about lunch.

I went back upstairs and ran into Lisa Stone, one of the co-founders of BlogHer. She was pretty; slender and blonde, in an executive way: well-shod, good bag and iPhone at the ready. She asked what I thought of the conference so far, and in particular, what I thought of the luncheon.

I panicked, searching for my inner professional. I knew she was in there, somewhere. How could I give constructive criticism that expressed my unhappiness (not to mention my hunger pangs) with diplomacy?

Turns out I couldn’t. So: “Well, serving frozen food to hundreds of food bloggers was certainly a … bold move.”

“Thank you for your honesty,” she smiled coldly. But professionally.

My enthusiasm for the whole thing quickly waned after that. Or maybe that was just my blood sugar crashing through my pelvic floor. I called the guitarist and asked him to come get me. And bring me a burrito, would you? Or two. I’m really, really hungry.

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