Recently, the food world and world at large have fallen in love with (to co-opt a rather well-known food nerd's phrase) the nasty bits. We've all come out in droves to fawn over cheeks, glands, even the pleasures lurking on the INSIDE of the bones.
The truth is, most of us probably grew up loving those things and are either just now talking about it out loud, or have just realized it ourselves. You've been told by now, by all of us, from celebrity chefs to grandmothers to enthusiastic butchers, that the weird stuff always ALWAYS tastes the best.
What I'm here to do today is apologize on behalf of us all. Not for our zeal, please don't get me wrong -- I value that very urge to JUST TRY IT more than you will ever know. I want to apologize for the eye rolls, the sighs of exasperation, the sarcasm that inevitably accompanies your distaste for raw fish, your nervousness about chicken livers and your declarations that you "do not eat goat."
I obviously can't speak for all of us, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not alone. For myself, I can say that I never mean to behave this way. My first and most important life-governing rule is "don't be a jerk." My awareness that I break this rule instantly when you confess that you just can't eat fish cheeks because they're cheeks is acute and embarrassing to me.
My hope is that everyone I've ever done this to knows with certainty that I love them dearly, otherwise my interest in the enjoyment of their dinner would be significantly less invasive. And, if you'll all play along for a bit longer, I'd like to explain it once and for all.
If you look around briefly at the food people in your life, you'll notice that we have something in common. We all have a few kicking around, right? The sister-in-law who's a chef, the brother who backpacked through Europe and returned home chattering about snails and oysters and livers on toast. I can't say this with absolute certainty -- but maybe 80 percent -- each and every one of those people has experienced something that informed them abruptly and permanently that life is too short to eat boring food.
Maybe it was a positive thing -- a chance meeting with a chef who changed their mind about something they hated, an engagement over a bowl of pasta that they'll never forget. It may also have been a heartache, a loss. For me, although I grew up more interested in play-food than Barbie dolls and have been food-obsessed from the start, it was losing my dad when I was 23 and he was 50 that finally destined me to forever order the least familiar item on any menu. My father, one of the most adventurous and joyful eaters I've ever known, widened my eyes in total disbelief the day he chomped into a raw spring onion and seemed to ENJOY it. He won't get to eat anymore stuffed derma or escargot or sashimi, and I guess part of me now feels like it's up to us.
I don't mean to be morbid, but scientifically, we only have so many more mouthfuls of food to enjoy, so why shouldn't that experience be exciting, rewarding and a little scary? That's really where those sighs come from when you tell me that "you can't get past what an eel looks like," despite it being delicious.
Don't get me wrong -- we all have food preferences, likes and dislikes. The flavor of Bailey's Irish Creme absolutely turns my stomach. I've been known to turn down rice pudding for textural reasons. But I think we can all agree that there is a significant difference between hating the flavor of raw red onions and not eating something because you think it sounds gross.
I guess what we're asking for in the end is trust. Trust that centuries of Japanese chefs preparing and idolizing raw fish can't be totally wrong. Trust that I would never tell you to try something I had not already tried and thought to be delicious. Trust that rabbit, lamb, sweetbreads and strange looking mushrooms are not tricks that food nerds are trying to play on you, but a next step into the total enjoyment and embrace of what life has to offer you.
If you think you're willing to give it a try, I promise to try really hard to leave you alone at the dinner table.