Few things make me happier as a parent and a chef than walking by a table where kids are eating a variety of foods. I have seen children eating sushi, oysters, Thai food, escargot and all sorts of things that might not be on your average list of Kid Food — and I always want to hug the parents or other appropriate adults for laying out various things to try.
When my kids were growing up, the rule was they had to take a bite of everything. If they didn’t like it, that was fine (even if they had already made up their minds ahead of time). Not that we would have unreasonably forced them to sit there until they did, since there’s no sense in turning the dinner table into a battle of wills. But you get the point — and, like any of us, they more than often found they actually liked or could at least handle something they thought was intolerable.
I guess, in my perfect world, there would be a ban on chicken fingers and fries until someone is, oh, 30. I have had far too many parents tell me, “Oh, well, he won‘t eat anything but chicken fingers and fries when we go out.“ Not that there’s anything wrong with such fare and there are a couple of chains that make millions from it. But damn. Go to the chain when Junior comes along. Bon freaking appetit.
We were always big wine drinkers as the kids were growing up and we never hesitated to allow the kids to taste any alcohol we had available. At one point (I think they were 16, 15 and 14), I decided it was time for them to learn quality from crap. I bought a bottle of cheap cabernet, a mid-range selection and a $50 dollar bottle and gave them a blind sample of each, then they told me which one they liked best (the mid-range won). I know this violates the law in many states, but I don’t care. It was the beginning of an excellent education that, hopefully, never ends.
But the fact remains there are some foods each of us simply can’t abide or have some sort of personal objection to preparing. This can be particularly problematic when your job is food and offering it to paying customers. Some chefs simply don’t serve things they don’t like, partly because they can’t handle the smell and partly because they have no idea how to prepare them.
My personal hangup is cauliflower. Not that I refuse to eat it, since it’s an integral part of the olive salad that goes on a muffaletta. But its chop is so fine that it vanishes, at least in theory, so it’s okay. I’m not a big broccoli fan either, but I can deal. Just don’t bring me a case of cauliflower or broccoli and ask me to make them the basis of an entrée for 50. I’m not your guy.
Lately I’ve been making a lot of beets — something I would never bring home because I think they taste like dirt with a little sugar on top. But they are one of the more popular items where I’m working these days, and I’ve learned a good amount of Beet Appreciation. The sesame oil/soy sauce/ginger/garlic glaze is very good and I can see why they’re a popular item. Just because I’m not wild about it doesn’t mean I won’t make it the best I can. I think any of us would agree it would be a sad world if we tried to enforce only our own culinary opinions on everyone else. It’s just food, fergodsakes.
But, as a chef, sometimes there are limits for the Good Of Mankind. There was a time, when we were running the kitchen at The Avenue Pub, there were chicken wings on the menu. One particular couple wanted ranch dressing with their wings and asked us to heat up the dressing. A co-worker put a small container of ranch dressing in a microwave and let ‘er rip and, I gotta tell you, the odor of this stuff as it heated up would have knocked a buzzard off a manure wagon at a thousand yards. It was, in a word, awful. Other customers literally walked outside to get away from this putrid, horrible stench that even a powerful ventilation system couldn’t dispel.
We served it with a “thank you“ and the customer was happy.
Note to staff: If someone wants their dressing heated, microwave is “broken.“ It’s best for everyone. Really.
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.