Once upon a time, long before Eat Y’all, there were a lot of things I used to not eat. I didn’t think I liked them.
It all started when I was young and my mother forced me to eat “healthy” asparagus. From a can. Slimy does not even begin to describe the texture of 1980s canned asparagus. Brussels sprouts are notorious for being gross, so I avoided them. I didn’t know you could eat the root of a turnip. Beets scared me.
And I had one bad experience with a fried oyster. A poorly, burned tasting, sandy textured, chewy piece of leather called a fried oyster. I think it was probably in a small-town three night a week seafood buffet sort of place. My father encouraged me NOT to chew. I did. I’m not sure how you are supposed to manage the “not chewing” part of that equation. But I didn’t try an oyster for 25 years after that experience.
Fast forward to today: my partner in life and work and I will soon celebrate three years of accidentally finding ourselves in the food business. We didn’t go to culinary school, nor did we read a lot of cookbooks to make up for it. We don’t have parents who ran restaurants or who were in the food service industry in any shape form or fashion – unless you count that my mom can make one melt-in-your-mouth form of cinnamon tea ring, available only to friends and family. But that’s another story.
For three years, we’ve had the privilege of eating at all sorts of restaurants and learning by experiment and patience how to enjoy food, wine and drink from a variety of chefs, cooks, food purveyors, sommeliers and mixologists. And one of the things I’ve learned is that there are few bad foods. But there is a LOT of badly PREPARED food.
Here’s what I mean: that asparagus from my childhood? It should have never been allowed to turn slimy in that can. It wasn’t the asparagus’ fault. Some poor soul prepared it badly.
Brussels sprouts are a tasty vegetable: fresh from the market, roasted and seasoned properly. Just the way God intended. Not flash frozen and boiled.
Turnip roots, beets and lots of other roots with a bad rap can actually be yummy and affordable and healthy. Listen to me: you just had one bad experience and need to set the record straight. Beets can be good. They can also be pickled to a state of gelatinous waste and stuffed into a can. Don’t eat those kind. Eat the good ones. Fresh from the ground. Sweet like candy.
And oysters. Ah, oysters.
Recently, we were in New York City covering City Grit’s Taste of Mississippi Dinner presented by Mississippi Seafood Marketing. When the first course was served, there it was – a Mississippi Gulf Oyster in the Shell – staring me in the face. Well, not literally. But all I could think about (with the chef’s wife sitting right next to me) was “How am I going to eat this oyster?” Option B was to just NOT eat the oyster. And after a few moments of pause, I realized that option was really NOT available to me. So, I casually took a deep breath and reached into the shell with my cocktail fork with the confidence of a seasoned oyster eater. I popped that bad boy into my mouth. And no one is more surprised than me at what happened next.
“Oh my gosh. Whoa. Uhm, I think I REALLY like this. I can’t believe it. I liked an oyster. This oyster is delicious. I had no idea they could taste this good…!” (Note that in my surprise, all semblance of charm and poise disappeared, and my oyster phobia was at last exposed in a rush of unstoppable rambling.)
My better half laughed, congratulated me on my feat, and proceeded to excuse himself from the table to walk to the kitchen and congratulate the chef on feeding his wife an oyster she actually enjoyed. It was indeed a first in my life.
And now, here, I’ve extended my rambling in an effort to tell you that your food fears – and the fears you don’t even know you have – can and should be conquered. Life’s too short not to enjoy more of our God-given bounty, and to enjoy it correctly. So here are my tips for conquering your food fears – and enjoying life more fully in the process.
Six Tips for Conquering Food Fears
- If you’re tasting something unfamiliar, insist on tasting it in the freshest state, prepared in a high quality way by a chef you trust.
- Have the chef explain the texture, flavors and even compare it to something you’re more familiar with before you taste it the first time. Correctly aligned expectations are very helpful to enjoying something new or conquering a food fear.
- Start by requesting a tasting sample or smaller sized portion to start. I don’t love oysters, and I still don’t eat them with as much confidence as I do shrimp, for example. But I have enjoyed them on two occasions now, in small portions. Small steps are a good way start in developing your sensory palate to new flavors and to experiencing life in a more bountiful way.
- Over time, branch out to try the item in different preparations – always from the freshest product by chefs you trust or that are highly recommended. At this point, it’s okay to prefer one preparation or chef over another. And you will begin to enjoy and prefer the freshness or flavors of various preparations.
- Know that it’s OK to prefer the higher quality product and/or certain preparation styles. God intended the product to be fresh. You should enjoy them best when prepared from the freshest state.
- Know that fresh and quality preparation methods don’t equal expensive. You can even experiment yourself with preparation of fresh, previously feared ingredients by purchasing them from a local farmer in season – usually at a local farmer’s market. For example, I was able to get a bag full of turnips back in the fall to make a turnip mash (like mashed potatoes) for only $1. Gourmet is most definitely affordable – and you’re supporting your local farmer in the process!
That’s how we Eat Y’all!
Have you ever overcome a food fear? Tell us about it in the comments below!