Be kind, urges Gemma Simmonite, of Bury St Edmunds restaurant Gastrono-me, after personally feeling the injustice of online trolls over her ‘avocado on toast’
“It’s just BASICALLY avocado on toast.” That was part of the statement about our Melbourne Smash I read the other day. It was the same comment and review that kept me awake at midnight, and then again woke me up about 5am.
Such was the unfairness and lack of justice I felt after reading a recent TripAdvisor. Its words seemed to burn into my consciousness and tried to openly taunt me when the house was quiet and dark. I guess I felt so tormented because what I wanted was to be able to justify my little menu item to this invisible woman. I wanted to tell her how I had actually resisted for years from putting avocado on toast on any of my menus. How when, and only when, I was satisfied that I had tweaked the flavourings to make up for the sub-standard avocados that we receive in this country, that I happily capitulated.
I wanted to tell her about the hours of thought that went into finding the right spiciness to spread on the toast, a flavour that would complement and not overwhelm the avocado.
I wanted to walk her through the step-by-step process of what we went through to make the perfect whipped feta, and why it is a part of the dish. Then, to explain to her how we came up with a vegan version and accidentally created the fabulous neon pink beetroot schmear.
I really would have liked to have name-checked the chef who looked at countless pictures of avocado on toast I thrust their way, until we came up with our own perfect, precious version of our dish.
But I couldn’t do any of that.
Now it’s not the first criticism I’ve encountered in this world of judge and review, and it definitely won’t be the last. In fact, it’s not by any description even the meanest. It was just the obtuseness of it that I found so objectionable – “they didn’t like where they were seated”, “they didn’t like the music”, “they didn’t like that they could see parts of the kitchen”. TripAdvisor is an odious forum. It’s a forum where companies are completely and utterly powerless, other than being able to write a reply.
But what I’m curious about is, do people really know what they do when they write vitriol? In our modern world, we experience real horrors such as starvation, poverty, sickness and homelessness. Yet people will happily pepper their reviews with adjectives like ‘disgusted’ and ‘horrified’ when applying it to the fact their table was missing a fork, or their eco-friendly paper straw went soggy, or the seat was uncomfortable – truly, I kid you not.
We’ve all heard of internet trolls who lurk like monsters behind their keyboards. We talk about them, despise them, and demand their eradication from the world. But do most people realise, they’re actually being part troll themselves?
Do they realise they actually enter your bedroom, your bath, your sofa on a Sunday night with your family, or when you’re reading your children a bedtime story. Because that’s when these words buzz into your existence via our ever present phones. We’re plugged in all the time, accessible constantly. I think it’s a bit like wandering around a party with the super power of being able to hear what everyone is thinking privately in their heads about you. But instead, it’s now in black and white and real.
We’ve all watched how the life and now, tragically, her death unfolded for Caroline Flack in the public domain. Her critics and monsters were around at all her most vulnerable times. Now, please know I am not comparing what I go through as even a smidge to what she had to endure. But I can imagine it. When you’re at your lowest ebb, someone can aim a knife at your most vulnerable spot, and ‘bam’ without warning go straight for the jugular. She, like many celebrities and people in the public eye have to endure grotesque and visceral witch hunts, and we watch/read them being ripped limb from limb. Too easy is it to forget that their lives are real and not a soap opera. We use the excuses that, “well they put themselves there”, or “they get paid for it”, but surely the price is too high?
Getting through life is hard enough. Hard enough to navigate the road bumps of relationships, work, life and death, without haters watching and openly commenting on every mistake you’re guilty or not guilty of. Our young people have the biggest percentage of mental health and anxiety problems than ever before, and I don’t doubt it’s because they’re plugged in 24/7.
If, in my youth, a boy stood me up and took another girl to a party, I might hear about it from a friend, but I didn’t see it played out in real time through a phone, with videos and photos to commemorate the occasion, so I could punish myself by looking at them over and over.
We must endeavour to circumnavigate this age of ever present social media with more responsibility. We’ve blundered in, stomped all around its murkiness, and trashed our social lives with it. Now it’s a mess that needs to be tidied up. How? I don’t know, but I think it’s imperative we try. We can start by teaching our children (ourselves as well) to be kind – yes, I know we always have. We’ve shown them how to share, how to say please and thank you, and to be gracious when losing. But a new version of kind. . . a kind where criticism of a person (known to them or not) stays in their head for a while, and doesn’t spill out onto the internet. That they think before they tear someone down. We used to confide/gossip in our close friend circles, but that circle has become global. It has no filter and doesn’t go away.
We need to think about feelings. How will this impact on somebody, and if I’m going to type something, would I say the same thing if I had to say it directly to their face? Then, would it still be just as important or even valid the day after or the week after? We’ve got to learn to put down our rage ammunition and think about it for a while before we take aim; realise it’s powerful and at times devastating.
So in a very, very convoluted way I bring you our Melbourne Smash recipe. I named it that because of the glorious city that I glean so much inspiration from, and long to go back to. These laid back Aussies invented café culture, and yes, absolutely, avocado on toast along the way. This dish itself has been unfairly parodied and mocked, often being described as the ultimate manna for millennials. Even Goddess Nigella received the most acidic of backlashes when she dared to give a recipe for it. But you know what, who gives a stuff? You may like it or you may not. Of course, I hope you do, but if you don’t it’s just not that important. As they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. I’m going to try to remember that, and more importantly to turn my phone off at night.
1 avocado (should yield under slight pressure, but not soft to the touch)
2 slices of bread toasted – choose something robust
1 boiled egg – boiled to your preference
Baby plum tomatoes
Fresh herbs – we use coriander
Salt & pepper
Peel, de-stone and mash your avocado with a fork. You’re going for a mash with texture, rather than puréeing it till smooth.
Next add a dash of lemon juice, and a little drizzle of garlic oil (chilli oil will work nicely, too, if that’s what you have in your cupboard), then add salt and pepper to taste – all of these things give an extra tweak to get them singing.
Toast your bread and spread with the harissa paste. I chose this particular North African paste because it bursts with chilli, cumin and aniseed flavours. As with all my recipes, leave it out if you don’t fancy it, but I implore you to give it a go, it really does add another layer of flavour, and lasts forever in your cupboard. It’s fabulous for livening up a stew or casserole, to give roasted vegetables a zing, or even add it to a boring hummus for a change.
Next, spread on your avo smash onto your toast, layer it fairly thickly, and then top it with the sliced plum tomatoes, your boiled egg, some fresh torn herbs, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
As I mentioned earlier, we also use a whipped feta on our dish, the saltiness and creaminess punches up and complements the avocado beautifully – a few cubes nestled into your creation will get the same effect and without causing you a mountain of washing up! If you’re vegan or don’t like feta, try some cubes of excellent pickled beetroot. I really like the flavoured ones you can get from the supermarkets, such as sweet and fiery, or smoked.
Nothing left but to feel utterly millennial, with nothing but sweet vibes whilst enjoying your super easy, and super healthy creation.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
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