Today, I have a treat for you, yes you, my super terrific, wonderful readers. I have a guest author. (Between you and me, I gave him an A+ and a Gold Star sticker.)
It is my pleasure to introduce to you our oldest son, Dustin. His gifts, talents, palpable energy and generous spirit make me puff up a bit when I type his name.
My “kids” never, ever cease to astound me. When your adult children end up being humans that you (and others) would love to go to a long lunch and end up talking for 2 hours, you get this sneaky suspicion that you did something right.
I have a favor to ask, if you like today’s post or have something to add in the way of conversation, PLEASE share. Please leave a comment. Please share on social media. Please share with your friends. Please add to this conversation. It is a topic near and dear to our hearts.
We would love for this topic to be the springboard for conversation around your dinner table tonight.
Honoring the ingredients and the guests
I am not a chef. My wife is a chef. She has spent countless hours in schools and kitchens and classrooms perfecting her art. She is a master in the kitchen and gives back to the epicurean world by empowering countless classes of students as a culinary arts professor at a community college in a rough part of town. She inspires healthy eating, or creative cooking, or passions hidden deep down inside of people. Some of these passions have been repressed by years on food stamp programs or eating unhealthy, cheap food. The gift she selflessly gives away every day is amazing.
My mom is a food writer and aficionado of not only healthy eating and living, but of ingredients. She has a wealth and breadth of knowledge about so many foods and ingredients, herbs and spices that it boggles my mind.
So with all of this in mind, it’s humbling beyond belief when someone tells me, of all people, they liked the food I cooked for them. It’s an even more powerful statement when I’m told that some humble, meager dish is one of the best things this person has ever eaten. It’s truly a one of a kind experience to know I honored the ingredient and the guest.
Let me back up.
I’m son #1. Call me Dustin… yeah that’s a good internet name. Dustin…. I’ve known the author of this blog for almost 34 years now and am finally brave enough to submit a piece of work as a guest author. I have been interested in food as long as I can remember but that interest has changed significantly in recent years as I have evolved from a creature of habit to one of exploration and expectation.
I have only informal culinary training but have passion for good food that transcends almost any other passion in my life. I love ingredients. I love food. There are so few things I don’t like it’s incredible and yet I’ve only tried a tiny portion of the number of tasty things out there!
Currently, I’m taking steps to lift my pop up restaurant off the ground (shameless plug incoming) find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/prixfixemobile Creating a pop up has taught me a few things about people and ingredients and I’d like to share them with you.
First, you bought too many daikon radishes. Yep, that’s something I’d like to pass on. You bought too many and now you’re stuck. They smell terrible, they are taking up a lot of room in your fridge and quite frankly, you made the one thing you were going to make with them and now you are stymied.
You have to be aware that this is your golden ticket to do one of two things. Create something amazing or let it rot. When we started out, I spent WAY too much of our precious few dollars making sure we had enough food. Never mind that we are serving 4-7 course meals, I damn well wanted to make sure everyone had full portions of everything. I think we needed maybe two cups of daikon pickles for a Vietnamese dish we were doing and I bought three HUGE daikons. By the time we finished eating those things I was sick of daikon. That’s a sad thing actually.
I LOVE daikon and I should have used the opportunity to dial up 1 of a 100000 different recipes out there to honor my ingredient and try to push its boundaries. Honor the farmer, the trucker, the buyer, the seller and the hundred people along the way that brought that daikon to your fridge! Try to only grab enough for what you need, but if you wind up with too much, EXPLORE! Use the opportunities presented to you for good and expand your universe!
Next, people will eat bugs if you cook them right. It’s true. We served a very traditional Mexican dish at one of our dinners called Chapulines. For those that don’t know, its grasshoppers roasted and spiced with chili. We made tacos out of them and they were excellent actually. Point of order here, I didn’t want to eat them, cook them or serve them, however my partner vetoed me.
He took the time as we are both apt to do, to research the bejeezus out of preparation methods, reliable, ethical and sustainable sources for the bugs, and how to best present the final dish. In short we took the time to get to know more about grasshoppers as food than I ever cared to. The end result of serving grasshopper tacos to 18 people dressed to the nines and expecting anything but grasshoppers, was only one of the 18 tacos coming back uneaten.
There is a craft to honoring your ingredient by knowing it. The more you know the better you can honor it. Anyone can eat a bug because it’s a gross out extreme type thing to do. Honoring the ingredient lets you serve a room full of people carefully crafted works of art that no one is afraid to try.
Lastly, (for now) whether you are cooking or eating, trust that the person you are connecting with over food has your best interest in mind.
This may come off a little rant-y, however even with my limited experience behind the stove, I’m already really, really tired of special requests. If you choose to go to a seafood dinner and you have a shellfish allergy, trust that you’ve made a bad choice and are not honoring the chef or their ingredients.
Immerse yourself in the experience that is eating food that someone else prepared. You can sense, feel and taste their culture, their influences and their art when you let go and just eat what the chef made for you. Give ten chefs ten pieces of tuna and tell them to sear it and serve it, chances are you’ll get ten distinctly different pieces of fish, each honoring the guest by having had love, time, experience, effort and personal touches poured into them. If you know you don’t like one particular thing, don’t order it! If you still want whatever it is, then just pick out the part you don’t like!
By the way Millennials, I’m looking at you. You’re not special, just eat it. You’ll like it. Taste buds change. If you don’t like it, at least you can say you tried it, and move on. No one wants to make you something special just because you freak out at your beans touching your pork chop which by the way also touches your salad which you specifically ordered without tomatoes because thinking about tomatoes makes you itchy but you can tell there were tomatoes near your plate because while not itchy.. well…., you have a small rash over there near your butterfly tattoo…. I’ll show you butter flying… at your head….!
Conversely, if you are cooking and you chose to use pre-tubed garlic, get out! Who doesn’t have time to chop garlic?!?! Your guests can dump boxed pasta into water and pour some jarred tomato product over it, but can they craft a quick marinara from scratch? It takes seconds to learn, minutes to cook and years to perfect, but it honors the guest you brought to your table. Don’t take short cuts when the better way takes mere moments more.
In conclusion, find ways to honor your guests. Find ways to honor your ingredients more and find ways to up your food game. It’s a short life, do you want the last thing you ate to be a yellow sponge cake filled with processed HFC “crème” or a Chioggia Beet salad with first press olive oil, cracked tellicherry pepper and French feta cheese?
Live well, eat better and raise a glass once in a while!!!!!