Foods — like people — I don’t like turn up just fine

One of my favorite food moments was in Kauai when the personal chef for Ben Stiller came  to our rented house to cook a dinner for us. My only condition was that he couldn’t serve us. He had to teach me. I became his sous chef for the night, still one of the best culinary experiences of my life.

He told me “food is love.”

He also said, there were no bad foods. Nobody should dislike any foods. It’s all about the way the food is prepared and with what combination. Find something to celebrate the food, he said, rather than dismiss it.

I took it to heart. I still cook to say “I love you.” And I still vow to like every food I try, which simply wants to please me and say “I love you back.”

Which leads me to Rhubarb. It was stubbornly on the “dislike” side of the ledger. I couldn’t really find a way to use the stringy, weird tasting stalks in a way I liked. Chunks of rhubarb in pie didn’t appeal to me either. There was no love lost here.

But the color appealed to me. I was determined to find a use. I simply pulverized it. Using a juicer I extracted the flavor with none of the stubborn stringiness. Then I used a remaining stalk for a stir stick. It turned out great. Love flowed.

I am reminded of this challenge whenever I start to dismiss a food. I give it a second chance now. I try to find new combinations to extract its creative beauty. Maybe it’s not a solo act, but can it blend in four-part harmony? Often it takes a different type of preparation to truly embrace the distinctive flavor.

Cinnamon is one such example. I’ve liked it just fine, but never used it beyond a combination with sugar, mostly on pumpkin-type recipes. But it’s health benefits as a true super food appealed to me. I played with it. I discovered what Latinos have known for ages: it goes perfect with chili powder in savory dishes to give a robust flavor that is anything but sweet. Now I LOVE cinnamon. It’s a go-to-spice.

The obvious comparison here is to how we experience people. Those first experiences often set a course of judgement. That one bad taste, one bad circumstance can spoil the flavor of the friendship forever. We move it to from the “love” column to the “hate” with no room for a middle, evolving, creative view.

There are no “bad” foods. What, just what if, there were no “bad” people either?

Find something to celebrate the person, I say to myself, rather than dismiss it.

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