De Gustibus

In my mind’s eye I’m two things: 25 years old and an interesting foodie.

One the first proposition my body is relentlessly calling bullshit. On the second, my vanity refuses to let go.

I bring this up because there are some people in the world who, without my solicitation, offer up alternatives to my esoteric desires that are both pedestrian and annoying. Given my compunction to not care about other’s opinions of my tastes, I’m not reacting to that. It just made me think about what my vanity has to offer me.

There are very few foods that I won’t eat. After all, having been raised by children of the depression, I’m a hard coded member of The Clean Plate Club. For example, after years of attempts, I just don’t like brussels sprouts. But when I’m served them I chew threw my dislike. There are “starving kids in China” after all.

I don’t want to pretend that I’m like Andrew Zimmern and will eat weird bugs, undercooked hog entrails or Asian fruits that smell like vomit. My vanity only goes so far. I do love the likes of roasted marrow bones, foie gras, steak tartar, goeduck, and host of other things my wife rejects wholesale. It’s not uncommon for me to drive 100 miles if I hear about some food that might really surprise my senses. That food, however, might not be what you’d think for which a self-styled foodie would make a quest. I try to make the 50 mile trip to Drummond, MT once a month just to eat one of chef Parker’s magnificent burgers while not treating myself to his really fantastic (looking) culinary inventions. In my defense his burgers are actually fantastic culinary inventions with every component fresh and homemade right down to the house baked buns.

Tastes are funny things. My little granny lived her life with the most humble of kitchens. For near 50 years I’ve been trying to replicate her chicken and dumplings. I have her recipe but, for the life of me, when I make it I just don’t find the magic I found in hers. Maybe it’s my nostalgia fooling me (I loved her and miss her so) but my guess is that she really was that good of a cook. There are time when I just crave chicken and dumplings. I blame her for that. Still, this isn’t something your average uptight foodie snob would often admit. Vanity, damn vanity.

There are foods that are so banal which I sometimes just ache for. There was a little joint in Valparaiso, IN that served a fried bologna sandwich that was simply sublime. They sliced the bologna in 1/2 inch slices and served it fried between two slices of homemade white bread with some kind of crazy mustard sauce. Bologna. How’s that for haute cuisine? And, to this day, I’ll die on the hill that holds that, just sometimes, there is no substitute for American “cheese” in specific applications. Like the old A1 Steak Sauce commercial, yeah, it’s that important. And times when I’d much rather have some good old fashioned pot roast than lobster tails poached in butter (as in this poem). Tastes are a funny thing.

I recall an episode in one of Anthony Bourdain’s series where he was in a rundown HoJo’s on the Jersey shore and the only thing that he found appealing on the menu was a grilled cheese sandwich. He sat and waxed poetic wondering why eating something that almost couldn’t be classified as food – with fake cheese, near bread, and grilled with margarine – was so satisfying. I could relate.

Bourdain got it. Food is cultural. Food is the little happiness which acts an egalitarian equalizer between the well-heeled and the worn-heeled. (“You should just taste my momma’s sweet potato pie”) But most of all food is personal. And it’s so personal that, most often, “foodies” real happiness comes in sharing.

But in the sharing lies the rub. De gustibus non est disputandum. But I can’t let that get in the way. I’ll keep offering . Why? Because is makes me happy. That’s all I need.

ps. You really should read that poem I linked above.