“Class, tell me what a vegetarian is. . .”
I remember culinary school as if it were yesterday. Our chef is pacing up and down the classroom while students attempt to call out an answer.
“Someone who doesn’t eat meat,” Jessica answers. Wrong.
“A person with a dietary restriction based on certain proteins,” I answer. Wrong.
“A vegetarian,” Chef responds, “is a pain in the ass.” The class erupts in laughter.
“Now,” Chef continues, “do you know what a true pain in the ass is? It’s every diner that walks into a restaurant.”
I have been thinking about picky eaters and food turn-offs lately. Not about people with dietary restrictions, food sensitivities or allergies. Just about those of us who hate certain foods. We can’t be swayed. We cringe at the thought of eating a certain something. We are people with food hang-ups. We all have them, we feel incredibly strong about them and most of it makes no sense.
My friend Korey won’t eat white rice. Matt refuses to eat mushrooms. Jen hates corn. Alison can’t fathom the thought of eating brussel sprouts. My buddy Tyler will never sit down to an Ethiopian meal. As for me, I can’t stand the taste (and smell!) of ketchup. It disgusts me to no end.
When you have a food hang-up, there’s no rationale that will make you change your mind. You’re not going to put whatever you find repulsive in your mouth. Trust me, I’ve tried ketchup and I won’t eat it. On a hot dog, I prefer being a grown-up and enjoying it with mustard. On a hamburger, just give me mayonnaise, ground pepper and a dill pickle. I don’t like the smell of ketchup and I certainly don’t like the acidity of it’s taste. As much as I love going to a sports game, I am always repulsed by the condiment stand and the way people ooze gobs of that gross red stuff onto their food (See what I mean? There’s no changing my mind!)
Thankfully, food hang-ups are not on par with diets or dietary restrictions. You can’t just say you’re allergic to something just because you don’t like it. Try as I might, there is no allergy to condiments, but I’ve used that line once or twice.
Now, to prove that I’m not a total jackwagon, when a home cook or chef takes the time to handmake their own ketchup, I give it a try. Honestly, I really do. If someone is going to take the time to do it themselves, then I will make an effort to give it a fair taste. I’ve been blown away by some ketchup creations, including a recent tasting of a wonderful tomato marmalade created by Chef Jeannie Pierola.
I suppose that’s the moral of the story: that despite our own conditioning, we’ve got to give our palate a chance to experience flavors and tastes, despite our mental hang-ups. Even if you know you won’t like it, allowing your tastebuds to work through both the bitter and the sweet keeps your senses alive. I may not like ketchup straight from the bottle, but I won’t deny my mouth the chance to savor in smokey barbecue, a zesty Thousand Island salad dressing or even crispy fries with a special sauce. To do so would be to dull my senses and cut myself short of some wonderful culinary experiences — and I find that worse than an exploding packet of Heinz.
I say, make youself happy and give in every now and then. You may surprise yourself, or, you may remind yourself. Either way, you’ll give your tastebuds and palate a good workout and your tongue will be happy and healthy for life.