Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Opinions on Food

Actually, I'm not just talking about food here. I'm largely using food as a metaphor, but it is also the focus of today's thoughts.

There is a sandwich restaurant in Utah called Gandolfo's. I don't think they're based out of Utah, but they're all over the place here. Personally, I find them to be horrible. Not so much that I wouldn't eat a free sandwich from there if somebody else drove out there, picked it up for me, drove back and gave it to me. This is occassionally the case at work, when we're stuck in a meeting that lasts through lunch and the boss decides to buy us dinner. Don't think I'm ungrateful when he chooses Gandolfo's, because I'm not. But if I had to spend the money and/or make the effort to buy a sandwich, I would just as well go to Subway. Of course, there are several other sandwich shops in the area that I would go to first (The Italian Place, Sensuous Sandwich, Quiznos, and on very rare occassion, Hogi Yogi, but only for their Stacked Club). But even Subway ranks well above Gandolfo's on my list.

Now, this is what's known as opinion. For those of you that missed the "fact vs. opinion" day back in Kindergarten, opinion is the one that's entirely subjective. That means that just because I don't like Gandolfo's doesn't mean I'm calling you a horrible person because you do. And conversely, just because you like it and I walk in and say I find it to be horrible, it's no reason for you to get all defensive and start treating me like I'm arrogant because I went to cooking school and all that. If you do, I'll likely just laugh at you anyway.

As you can guess, a similar experience happened to me today. The experience in and of itself wasn't really blog-worthy. But it reminded me of several past experiences. I remember being a wee chefling in my first weeks of cooking school, utterly fascinated with all of the things that I had been learning. On one occassion, I was talking on the phone to a friend back home about some of the things that I had learned. Amid my excitement, I was suddenly taken aback a little bit when she replied to one cooking technique, "well, that's not the way I do it."

What had just happened? Well, it turns out she had a certain method that she had been brought up with, that she had always used, that she had never questioned. And suddenly, here was her high school friend, Big Bad Cooking School Guy (TM), telling her that she was wrong, had always been wrong, and so long as she continued in her degenerate ways, she would continue to be wrong. This of course was not my intent. I had merely meant to express my excitement for my newest trick that I had learned.

As I made my way through cooking school, I began volunteering to teach classes to local church groups. I would always have my camera with me, and somebody taking pictures of me cooking. It was great portfolio fodder. And as I taught my classes, I found the same thing over and over: almost invariably, there would be one or more women that had established themselves as the expert cook or cooks, that fancied themselves the one that everybody else in the church group would turn to for advice. These were usually the women that had already sent most if not all of their kids off to college, after slaving over a hot stove for them for 20 years. They knew how to cook. And then suddenly this Big Bad Arrogant Chef (TM), who's half their age, comes along and starts misinforming them and their flock with this "cooking school" nonsense.

Here's the thing. I'm not the greatest cook in the world. In fact, before I went to cooking school, I was somewhat closer to being the worst cook in the world. That's part of the reason I went to school: I wanted to learn. I spent a lot of money to learn, and it took a lot of time. In order to graduate, I had to serve an externship at a real restaurant (or a bakery, in my case). My boss and his boss got to yell at me a lot, especially when I first started. I still remember the first time the Executive Pastry Chef told me that I was "never going to make it as a baker if [I] did it that way". It wasn't the last. She doesn't just cook for her family every night. She cooks for thousands of people on a daily basis, and has been doing so for at least a couple of decades.

So when she suggests I try doing something different, I don't think it's too much to ask to try it. If her suggestion works out worse for me (not that it ever has), at least I have that piece of knowledge tucked away in my brain. And when I tell you how I like to do something, and it differs from how you've always done it, well... maybe it's worth trying. Just once. I got to cook for thousands of people for a few months too. And if you end up not liking the way I do it, then at least you have that piece of knowledge. You may still go back to how you did it before. You may even develop a new technique that's better than your old one or mine.

It doesn't stop there. You don't even have to have a Big Bad Arrogant Chef (TM) like me attempting to dispense advice to you. Maybe you could try a few things on your own. Do you really need to put ranch dressing on your salad every single time? Try the honey mustard vinaigrette. Maybe you'll like it. If you don't, don't count it as a loss. Count it as gained knowledge.

I have a pretty decent-sized list of foods that I don't like. I decided in cooking school to remove any and all items from that list that I had never actually tried. While things like avacados, ranch dressing, "fry sauce", caviar and sour cream are still on the list, things like bleu cheese, buffalo (technically bison) and deer have moved over to my list of things that I quite enjoy. And even though I don't normally like avocados, I have managed to locate dishes that I do like them on. And I must say that the sour cream topping on the world-famous Deer Valley cheesecake is worth it. But ranch? Give me a break. And pass the bleu cheese dressing.

1 comment:

  1. As it turns out, while Gandolfos lists its corporate HQ in Georgia, the original store was the one on University Avenue and Center Street in Provo, and the owner / founder lives here in Utah County.

    And you're right: it rarely hurts to try a new way of doing things. TMTOWTDI applies to life at least as well as it does to Perl :)


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