“Picnics are never lovely. Picnics are where lunch goes to die,” writes Jay Rayner in his ironically titled Happy Eater column for the Guardian.
So if you’ve never heard of restaurant critic Jay Rayner, here’s the deal. He’s sort of a Simon Cowell character kicking around the British journalism world. He’s the head critic (and a very good one) at the well-regarded liberal broadsheet and appears on cooking competition shows like Top Chef and a daytime cookery show called Eating with the Enemy. He wrote a book called A Greedy Man In A Hungry World that has received nice reviews.
Jay Rayer is a smart guy, which is why his diatribe about the overall pointlessness and criminal nature of the Sunday afternoon picnic is sort of odd. He calls the picnic a “waste of agriculture” — a blast we’re going to use the next time a restaurant botches a veg dish. “Those soggy fava beans from last night — a waste of agriculture.” Ha.
So why does he hate picnics so much? Did you ever visit the Musée d'Orsay and stand in front of Manet’s masterful Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (“Luncheon on the grass”) and not plan a picnic pretty much then?
Rayner’s pressure point is that food is intended to be consumed as close to the source as possible. “The quality of an eating experience decreases in direct proportion to the distance it travels from its point of origin,” he argues, listing chicken wings and potato salad as losing their edge while in transport.
Pause. Since when have chicken wings been eaten à la minute? It’s obvious that homeboy hasn’t ever ordered three dozen at kickoff. By halftime, there are still a few left and it’s all good. Wings are the prefect picnic food. If fried properly, the crisp will hold for hours. And if not sauced with a Mississippi of sticky glaze, they will hold for hours and hours. And potato salad not being OK for a picnic? We aren't going there.
He also simply doesn't like consuming food outdoors. "The last time us Jews were forced to eat al fresco it was because the Cossacks were coming," he writes. That's just crabby.
Anyways, Jay, thanks for the laugh. We’ve totally had that poached fish that is “falling apart quicker than Michael Jackson's face.” But let us suggest some recipes for a picnic that we would consider a wise use of agriculture.