Saturday, December 26

An Honest Opinion is a Matter of Taste

Some Folks Just Won't Try New Foods
Pickey eaters! They are everywhere and, some times, right at your own table. It's been my good fortune to have a family willing to try anything I prepare and eagerly look forward to new tastes. But, that's not true for every chef. So, for today's blog, I'm going to offer a few tips to new chefs to help them gain confidence in their culinary skills.

Take this little unfortunate fellow on the left here. This is definitely NOT one of my creations but was the result of a Photoshop Pictures Contest site, Freaking News, asking for bad food pictures, that does manage to get my point across, quite vividly. (If you're really brave, check out the site for even more vivid entrees!)

Many of your food critics (and I am not speaking of professional food critics here) don't so much dislike what you have prepared so much as they don't like nor want to try new foods. Been that way since birth and you're not going to change them. Some folks wouldn't be caught dead trying snake meat and others wouldn't eat this little guy because of the onions, complaining that they overwhelm the subtle chicken taste.  Both are right. It's just an opinion, and a matter of taste.

Teddy Roosevelt Said it Best
Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, was also reknown for his common-sense quotes. One of my favorites, "You have a right to state your opinion; but, inherent in that right is not the right to be taken seriously."

Where would we be without the opinion of others when we're trying to accomplish a goal, whether building a house, learning to drive, or creating a meal. The opinion of others, if given honestly and fairly, helps us grow and perfect our skills. In the kitchen, it is possible to be too heavy-handed with spices and herbs, prepare foods that are too dry or too moist, or, not recognize that pink rice should never be served with bluefish . . . well, should never be served, in my opinion -- but, I digress.  If left to our own opinions all the time, we'd stagnate and become quite dull, serving the same meals week in and week out.  BUT . . .

There is a big difference between a fair and honest opinion and criticism that is masking a mean spirit or cruelty, the kind of criticism that destroys your will to continue.  So, for all you new and returning chefs, let me give you a few hints on what types of opinions to accept and which to ignore when sharing your meals with others and asking for their opinion.

Consider the Source of All Opinions Given
One of the easiest way of working out most problems is to adapt Journalism's 5 W's of good reporting to your criticisms.
  • Who is giving the criticism? A best friend, husband, wife, lover, child, chef, take-out diner? Knowing their background helps you work with the criticism. Most folks are pretty attached to their favorite flavors and ingredients. If your dish is out of their comfort zone, the opinion is just that, something they don't like because it's different. Look for the kernel of truth and use that to improve your dish and ignore the rest.
  • What is the criticism? An honest opinion reflects the majority of tasters and you will learn that your meal is too salty, too bland, too mushy, too crispy, under-cooked, over-cooked -- things that can be fixed over time. But, most people tasting the dish will likely have the same opinion, so you can feel safe in assuming they are right. The lone wolf always finding fault, no matter what is prepared, can be ignored. If the critic blinks rapidly, screws up their face, and says, "bletch," without giving any real reason for the theatrics, wonder why you're trying to please them.
  • When is the criticism given? Waiting until you've been served the same dish four or five times before letting the chef know that there really is far too much sage in the dressing for the average person to eat in a lifetime is the same as waiting until after the party to tell your friend that they have spinach on their teeth. An honest opinion comes no later than the second time a dish is served with the same ingredients and given with the understanding that different people have different tastes.
  • Where is the criticism given? Does the critic wait for a roomful of people to grow silent before shouting, "My God, is this a cat in the casserole! I'm allergic to cats! How could you do this!" Or, do they wait until you can have a private conversation and tell you that there was something unpleasant, something hard to pinpoint, something like, well, a dead cat, on the bottom of the bowl? Honest opinion comes from love and a desire to see someone grow in their interests, not in humiliating them before others.  
  • Why is the criticism given? This is the tricky one. If you've asked for an opinion, then it's only fair to accept the opinion. If unsolicited, consider the source and what they may or may not have to gain by either praising your dish to the skies or tearing it apart. Do you trust their judgment about food? Do you trust their friendship? Is it an unbiased opinion? There's nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. Your own instincts should tell you whether the criticism is honest, given in love and support of your interest, or meant to curb your enthusiasm about cooking.
Everyone's Opinion Has Validity in Their Kitchen
We all feel that we can improve anybody's recipes. If you don't believe me, check out the comment sections on cooking sites. A recipe is posted, then everyone says why they did or did not like it -- usually, after they've altered most of the ingredients to their own liking. "I didn't have hazelnuts, so I used corn nuts," and, "I substituted cider vinegar for the white wine and used wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, and left out the garlic because. . ."  Sometimes, in their opinion, the dish turned out better than the original recipe; sometimes, it didn't live up to the hype --  in their opinion.

Never mind that they changed the interaction of the ingredients and altered the recipe to suit their own tastes. In their opinion, your recipe wasn't very good. But, that's all it is, their opinion, based on their own personal likes and dislikes. If your critics can pass the 5 W's test, you'll be able to trust their criticisms and feel confident preparing your family's favorite meals while building your own recipe file. And, before long, they'll be asking you for your opinion about their latest recipe.


10 comments:

  1. we love your blog

    Vincent
    http://en.petitchef.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. wow, really great posting.. I'd like to exchange link with you.. :D

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you.
    Pecinta: what's the url that will work on FB? Tried to use the one from your site and it wouldn't go through. 8-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. P.S. Of course, anyone who becomes a follower automatically sets up a link to their page. Folks can click on that.

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  5. :) Thank you. My soon-to-be critic threw out Batali's name as if he were Bruni himself. If I'm honest, I'm sure I've done the same sine my Alinea experience. I think its important to start at home with my criticism of others first and that will set the tone of others criticism of me.

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  6. Exactly. Understand why you criticize a meal and you'll quickly figure out where your critic begins their pronouncements! Love your adventurous spirit in cooking!

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  7. What an interesting post! I am not a well-versed cook (or an adventurous eater) and am often surprised when I look for a recipe on a cooking site. I can never tell if it is any good based on the reviews, because like you said, no one ever makes it like it is written! What a different perspective you have on that though. I never thought about the critical aspect of it. Definitely food for thought.;)

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