Most of us know "The Dude" as Jeff Bridges' character in "The Big Lebowski." But two first-years who call themselves the "Dudes of Food" are putting a more intellectual, cultured and savory spin on what it means to be a dude.
The Dudes — Aron Lesser '15 and Gab Lesser '15 — brought their popular college-town food blog, the Dudes of Food, to Providence last semester. Though the twin brothers hail most recently from Atlanta — where they began the blog three years ago — they previously lived in Brazil and Providence. They base their blog on a concept they call "FSFW" — full stomach, full wallet — which they think is particularly palatable to college towns.
Gearing their blog toward college youth, the Dudes aim to change the way Brown undergraduates interact with Providence. "Tons of Brown students never even think about leaving campus, but Providence is so small," Aron said. "It's so accessible by foot," he added, calling it "a shame" that students don't take advantage of it.
Aron said foodies at Brown don't think of going to other neighborhoods for cheap, tasty meals. "They think ‘Oh, I know the best restaurant in Federal Hill,'" he added.
But Gab said Brown's diversity lends itself to some unique cultural eating experiences. "It's fun to see somebody so excited to try a bowl of homemade pasta, and then for them it's totally commonplace to have tongue tacos."
Food for thought
The cultural experience is a large part of the Dudes' blog. "You can be transient between these various cultures, and that's what keeps it interesting," Aron explained. "A lot of people think you're offending someone when you go in not knowing about their culture, what they eat. But it's a huge compliment." He explained that the blog has evolved into a forum for cultural learning.
While the blog originally just talked about food, Gab said they've tried to make their content "smarter."
"When we eat duck with a cinnamon spice, we try to think about why a Chinese food has cinnamon, which is an American spice," he explained.
In one blog post about the Taqueria El Taconazo, the Dudes noted though "Providence is known as an Italian city," there are a surprising number of Latin American restaurants in town and several Rhode Island politicians have been of Latin American descent. "Food is a means by which you can understand culture," Gab said, particularly immigration patterns.
"We try to simplify some more complex ideas into the food," Aron said. "We talk about cultural hegemony and what it means to be a Latino in the United States, but we did it through a burrito."
The cultural element transformed their blog into an intellectual endeavor. Professors at Emory University have requested the twins' permission to use the food blog in their courses.
"I guess we're a part of modern Southern culture," Gab said.
Professors at Brown have also joined the blog's readership. Aron recalled receiving a teasingly angry email from his professor, Lecturer in Italian Studies Cristina Abbona-Sneider, one night. "‘I got home at 8:45 p.m. and my husband made me go get duck in the ghetto,'" he said she wrote.
Tongue in cheek
The blog has expanded dramatically since it began. "It used to be just our friends that would read it," Aron said. "But then one week we got mentioned in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and then we got real people to start reading."
The twins now boast an international following, including readers in Norway, Iceland and Taiwan.
But they wonder whether their descriptions of adventures to fish markets and hole-in-the-wall taquerias are the main draw for their readership. "I'm not even sure a food blog is about food," Aron said. "It's more about the cultures that surround the food blog ."
"For some people, it's about going to get a 50-cent taco, and for some people, it's about Mexican immigration," Gab said.
"And for some people, it's just funny," Aron added — to which Gab jokingly responded, "and for some people, it's not." The twins said their posts are not always as humorous as they would like for them to be.
"This is the hip new way of doing things," Gab explained. "It's convenient for us that we got into it at a time when things are starting to blossom."
Made from scratch
The blog and their shared foodie heritage have kept Gab and Aron connected despite their differences. "This is a good thing that brings us together and brings our friends together too," Gab said.
The twins' parents both came from big cooking families, and their marriage began with competition for rights to the kitchen.
"Our family dinners are like eating food while talking about food," Aron said.
"We have a good relationship with our family, and that's the experience we recreate when we go out with our friends. I can't imagine eating alone," he said.
This eating culture largely inspired the Dudes to begin their food blog.
"It was a good excuse for our parents to wonder why we were going out to eat with their money every weekend," Gab said, laughing.
Coming back to Providence, where they grew up, has added a new familial element to their blog. The twins try to track down some of the restaurants where they ate with their parents as children, Gab said.
"The multicultural household we grew up in really impacted us in that we like to try different things," Aron noted.
"We like tongue a lot. We don't think that's weird, but I guess that's weird," Gab said, adding that he and his brother like to push their friends to try foods out of their comfort zones that they often end up liking.
The one thing the Dudes tried and did not like was grasshopper. "It was disgusting," Gab said. But the twins generally avoid writing
about such experiences, he added. "We never say bad things about restaurants," he said. "People don't want to hear about where not to go."
"Even if the food is bad, it can even be a good experience," Aron added.
The Dudes have big plans for the future. The blog began light-hearted, but "ended up becoming something legitimate, so we're thinking that if we keep transforming, something cool can come of it someday," Gab said.
The twins spent the past summer backpacking around Europe, documenting their culinary experiences in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain and more. They released a sample of their travel writing on a Tumblr site, hoping to attract investors to sponsor a trip around Southeast Asia this summer that would be the basis for a Dudes of Food-style travel manual.
But a business model was never really a part of the twins' plan.
"You have to do what you enjoy, and if you find something you really love doing, you need to follow through with it," Aron said.
As their blog grows into a bigger project, the Dudes will face the prospect of losing their anonymity. "We don't like that people know who the Dudes of Food are," Gab explained, because it limits the "Dude" concept the twins try to embody to just the two of them.
"Everyone should be a dude," Aron said. "It's not about a blog, it's not about the food — it's about the inner dude."