Scratch gumbo from a bacon roux. Pan-seared foie gras. Raw oysters. Brussels sprouts glazed in aged balsamic. These are my delectable romances. These are a few of the dishes that I find formative, part of my personality, the tastes that weaken my knees and stick in my soul like thistle burrs.
On the other hand, my children want chicken breasts. Preferably unseasoned: no salt, no pepper. Raw vegetables are a favourite, or cold shrimp – no cocktail sauce, please. The plainer, the better. If I put a complicated savory dish in front of them, they’ll look up at me and gauge exactly how invested I am in these flavors and precisely how much it’ll hurt my feelings if they don’t take a bite.
How do I tell my fragile, wide-eyed children that innocent hesitation affects me? It’s not that I’m slighted by their reluctance. I’m far more concerned that they’re missing out. I’m worried they’re cutting themselves off from an entire realm of wonders simply because it’s unfamiliar territory, and because they’re scared.
They’re afraid of the unfamiliar because their lives were completely upended, so they crave stability and safety. I live a few hours away from them. When I meet them every other weekend, it’s usually at family events, circuses of food and chatter and rough-housing in the rec room, whirlwinds of time in which we fit every possible positive interaction until I inevitably notice the time and have to drive home.
With so much in flux, is it so hard to understand their reticence to break out of their secure boundaries? When the unknown possibly brings confusion and pain and separation, why would they risk trying something new?
I know, as a foodie and chef, that there’s a staggering smorgasbord of pleasure out there in the big mean world. I want my children to taste bits and pieces of that buffet, the good and the bad, so they know what they like and what they don’t. All I want is for them to make up their own minds. I fear I may have eliminated their need for variety.
I’m terrified I might’ve killed their sense of adventure.
As adults, we set expectations based on prior results. We can look at a plate of food, a pair of jeans, or a travel location, and make a quick judgment founded on our previous experiences. Whether or not we like something is almost a foregone conclusion, because we have the history to back it up.
Our children don’t have the same timeline behind them but that doesn’t mean their opinions are any less concrete. I can wish all I want for my sensory appreciation to be passed on, but to be realistic, those early years may simply be immutable.
We say, “To each his own,” but I think the French saying is better: “A chacun son gout.” To each their own taste. My kids like simple, unassuming fare – and it’s entirely possible that their palates are a direct result of my absence. It’s equally probable that they simply like what they like. Regardless of what brought them to this point, I need to accept that I cannot change them. That’s not my job. My job is to show and teach, not to project my culinary strictures on the small, beautiful creatures I helped create.
They like art, so I can still introduce them to the Surrealists. They like fantasy, so Tolkein is still an option. But cooking classic Cajun or elegant French cuisine will be lost on them, and that’s a consequence I need to accept.
I can’t tell them what’s delicious. I can only encourage their sense of discovery.
Photo via mamchenkov/Flickr