At least 99,283,000 American households get the Food Network. And after drooling over dishes eaten by celebrity chefs and adventurous eaters on the other side of their TV screens, it seems everyone in America has branded themselves a foodie with a new hunger for mescaline greens and sustainable halibut cheeks. Hungry, growing teenagers are no different.
The newest club at Bellevue's Newport High School is simply called Food Club, or Taste Bud Explosion Club as they're called on Facebook. Every Wednesday, for the past couple of months, as many as 22 students have met at a restaurant to eat and talk about eating.
I met up with the club and it's designated restaurant reviewer Daniel Anderson at Facing East in Bellevue, a popular Taiwanese lunch spot.
"If it's Asian food, you want to see other Asian people there because it really makes it authentic," Daniel told me in the lobby while we waited for a table. "They're making that kind of food at home so if they're coming all the way out here that must mean its really, really good."
At 17 years old, Daniel takes criticism pretty seriously.
"Me wanting to be a food critic, this is definitely really good practice for me. I love doing this."
The idea was sparked by his 16-year-old classmate, Isaac Chan.
"I like eating, food is awesome. But also because at school there are different clubs that appeal to specific interests. You have chess club, which is mainly designed for people who like chess. But then I thought, why not start a club that everyone can participate in? Everyone has a favorite food or a favorite restaurant. So just starting a food club would be really cool. Get everyone's opinions."
Daniel writes up an adjective filled report on each restaurant and gives it a star rating.
"We do it out of a four star rating, just like the New York Times. Two star is like a good restaurant, three is really good, it sets a high standard, and four is just excellent," Daniel said.
The club has been to Ezell's, Lunchbox Laboratory, Bai Tong, Wing Dome and others, but Isaac and Daniel agree on their favorite so far.
"Definitely the taqueria. Taqueria el Maestro in Renton," Isaac said.
"What we were raving about was a little bit more on the wild side," Daniel said. "The beef cheek and the beef tongue was so, like, juicy. Really fatty, absolutely delicious."
So I took a seat at the round table at Facing East to observe the food clubbers in action. They ordered beef noodle soup, Tawainese pork burgers, which were actually pork and vegetables stuffed into spongy, steamed Taiwanese buns, rice and pork chops and thick, mango smoothies. When the dishes arrived, the table fell silent minus the sound of noodle slurping.
"Everybody's just eating food now so it gets all quiet. That's how you can tell it's good. The conversation just stops," observed Daniel.
I asked him how his Taiwanese burger was.
"This is so good right now. I just got a little bit of the peanut and that, like, sweetness kind of works really well with the bao and the meat. I like the play on textures."
Daniel would love to make a career out of his passion, but he's not very confident that it will bring him much success.
"Nobody says, 'I'm going to go to college and study food journalism.' That's not a thing. I'm hoping that one day colleges will make, like, a Food Studies & Communications. Something like that."
But for now, Daniel and Isaac are loving their weekly lunches with the hope that their peers will turn their backs on fast food chains.
"Just encouraging them to, when they have time, try something new. Don't limit your horizons."