Eggs benedict is a peerless dish that has stubbornly remained on brunch menus since its inception in the 19th century – invented either by chef Charles Ranhofer at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York, or by Oscar Tschirky, maître d’hôtel at The Waldorf in the same city, depending on which story you want to believe. Either way, it was born in the realm of the upper class, but over time has been democratised. It has lent itself to subtle tweaks and updates, but the basic recipe remains the same: a toasted English muffin, ham, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.
That is exactly the dish that was placed in front of Thomas Hesketh at a Tesco cafe in Wigan, and yet obviously, the result feels a long way from a swanky New York hotel’s version. I mean – the ham looks fine, but there’s not much hollandaise and the eggs do have an odd, milky-white residue around them. Cue a tweet to Tesco, immediate virality and everyone pulling out their best John and Gregg impressions on Twitter.
There is an uncomfortable trend on social media of what essentially amounts to talking behind someone’s back. You see it when someone overhears something they don’t agree with and tweets about it, or makes some passing comment about how they don’t know how to talk to the bloke who’s come to fix their boiler.
Everyone has become a narrator of their own lives, and everyone else a character in their story, whether they want to be or not. The result is a snarky, sneering attitude towards people “not online”, that often results in grim, classist rhetoric.
Because that’s what this quickly descends into. Scroll down the comments and you don’t have to go far to find references to Brexit, people saying the staff don’t have pride in their work, one comment saying how Tesco doesn’t understand the difference between a latte and a cappuccino, and fancier restaurants smugly dropping photos of their more Instagrammable benedicts – ones that presumably cost more than the £5 Tesco’s cafe charges.
According to jobs website Indeed, a chef at Tesco earns around £7.50 an hour, with a cafe manager on a salary of around £20k. This falls below the average salary for a chef, according to caterer.com, which puts it in the region of £25k. This isn’t to say that Tesco kitchen staff are being criminally underpaid; rather it’s an explanation – if one was needed – that the goals of the kitchen at a Tesco, or indeed, any supermarket, are different from those of a pub or restaurant.
Supermarket cafes have to keep their costs low, get food out quickly and have menus that are simple enough for an untrained chef to prepare, whilst also catering to a broad clientele. Their priorities are to be cheap, reliable and friendly, and they do this very well across the country.
I do get it. I know this doesn’t look like a great breakfast, and I know the temptation to try and trade cruelty for likes, and to try and milk your bad consumer experience for a bit of viral fame. But supermarket cafes are an easy target, a free hit. Similar places – traditional greasy spoons, or Wetherspoons, which Hesketh mentions by way of comparison in a Huffington Post piece – occupy a similar standard of food and price point, but both have been accepted by a growing middle class in a very knowing, ironic way. Even Ikea’s cafe – essentially exactly the same as a Sainsbury’s or Tesco cafe – is lauded as this hallowed, bougie culinary treat. Nobody’s making coffee table books about supermarket cafes, and if you tweeted anything about how you didn’t like ‘Spoons food, or Greggs, you’d get picked apart. There are certain brands we go to bat for and others we don’t.
And this is not to criticise any of these other things. They are all good, for exactly the same reasons supermarket cafes are. You know what you’re getting, you can pay a reasonable price and they’re incredibly convenient. That’s it. The food might not look great with a filter on it, but if that’s what you wanted then there are literally dozens of other options available to you – you might just have to pay a little bit more than a fiver for eggs benedict.
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