Adam at age 15 with some camp cooking equipment from the 1950s. People in the U.S. today would likely be extremely squeamish about eating food prepared with these.
When it comes to food, I don’t really like “top-ten” or “top-one-hundred” or any other kind of similar lists. Those lists are very dependant on the taste buds of the voting majority, their culture and history, where and how they grew up, even what kind of mood they’re in or whether or not they have a cold when they eat whatever they’re voting on. But at the same time, there are things I constantly … constantly … hear regarding foods of various kinds, statements that burn my biscuits so bad, my biscuits turn into hockey pucks.
I’ve been working in the foodservice industry off-and-on since the summer of 1979. Most of the statements in the list below have only really shown up in the past ten years or so. It seems people in the U.S. are just getting snarkier, more arrogant about their own feelings about various foods and other people, and decidedly less informed about what real food is and how to enjoy it. I’m definitely of the opinion that it’s the demise of the formerly ubiquitous “home economics” courses in public schools, along with less knowledge of farming and animal husbandry and butchering, that’s contributing to this overall ignorance. This type of education needs to make a comeback, and fast, before we end up as a nation of “food ignoramusses” with no knowledge of those subjects whatsoever.
When it comes to this list, you will never hear me say these things, and if you say them in my presence I might just have to call you on the carpet for it. Ok, so there are two on this list that I used to say … but I won’t any longer … seriously, my daughter will make sure of that … Frankly, if you want to be snarky about food, especially if you open your mouth with any of these and haven’t thought it through, you have a lot to learn. Here are your hard lessons …
12) “I never use canned ingredients … Don’t you dare ever make me anything out of a box.”
Really? If that’s an absolute, I want to see the cow you’re getting your milk from, the backyard chickens giving you your eggs every day, the garden with all your veggies, the bread you’ve got proofing somewhere, your butchering shed … If you’re in the U.S., this ain’t likely. Sure, there are a lot of overly-processed foods out there, but there are certainly some things you’re going to need to use in today’s busy world. Frozen phyllo dough in your baklava, packaged peas for that potato salad, that steel-cut Irish oatmeal that’s just so comforting in the morning … even the good Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, prepped correctly, with the onions and celery sautéed in butter, and the chicken stock added. Yes, you can be particular about your canned and boxed foods, there are some decent ones out there, and to completely draw a line like that is rather unrealistic. Get your head out of your can and go get some good Kosher pickle spears to roll up in that thinly-sliced ribeye with the layer of German mustard out of a jar before slow-roasting it in that freshly-made gravy.
(The image: Margaret Rudkin was the founder of Pepperidge Farm, and was author of the Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. She developed the first packaged stuffing mix, the Sage & Onion, based on her grandmother’s recipe, which is in the book.)
11) “You’re going to eat some real food, not junk.”
If you’re taking your kids out somewhere and you say this to them, you’re some kind of stick-in-the-mud. If you’re saying this while you’re on any kind of day trip or vacation with them, you should facepalm yourself. Say it to your spouse at any time, and you should go see a proctologist about your Serial Buttholiness. Get the kids a grilled cheese sandwich, let them have ice cream first, it won’t kill them or you … if they’re asking for a bag of chips, maybe wandering Disney all day has dehydrated them a bit and their body is telling them they need salt …
And if the spouse wants the 16 oz T-bone with baked potato and sour cream, maybe look the dish over when it arrives and consider learning how to grill steak like that at home for a special occasion. Learn how to have fun on trips of any duration, and include the food in that fun. It’s good for relationships of any kind.
(The image: A handmade corndog from the Rock & Roll Café, one of the better food trucks in southeastern Michigan. They also offer an amazing half-pound sirloin burger topped with grilled peppers and onions.)
10) “That’s not how I make it … That’s not how my Grandma made it.”
And you didn’t bring me any? How rude is that???
Seriously, let’s talk about hot dogs and Chinese food.
It stands to reason that you will like the foods you grew up with. Regional, cultural, religious and family-specific preferences will always be a factor in what kind of foods you will enjoy or even prefer. In early 2012 journalists from MLive put together what they called the Michigan Coney Dog Project, resulting in what they determined to be Michigan’s Top 10 Coney Dogs. That they put the Flint Style Coney further down on the list (at position #4) than the Detroit Style Coney (at positions #1 and #2) is not at all surprising since only one of their members is from Flint. That “Coney Detroit” co-author Joe Grimm was along for the ride is even more telling as a partial reason for those results. And a brief look at the more-than 100 comments below that article will show proof of liking what you grew up with.
If you’re from Detroit, you might like American or Lafayette Detroit Style coneys, while thinking a friend who likes Flint and Jackson styles is crazy. A person standing by from Chicago will tell them they’re both nuts, while the Hawaiian resident and the West Virginian will be arguing Puka vs. Sam’s Hot Dog for an hour. Similarly though, a person from the deep south will avoid Zehnder’s fried chicken like the plague since it “will never be like my mama’s”, Chesapeake Bay crab lovers will always be at odds with those who love Bering Sea ophelia, and a new Chinese visitor to the U.S. will always have a difficult time figuring out why a so-called Chinese restaurant serves that incredibly popular General Tso’s thing he’s never heard of.
Being even a mildly-adventurous eater means not only being more accepting of flavors and textures outside your comfort zone, and being willing to try them, but also acknowledging our differences in food likes and dislikes, celebrating those differences even though we may not agree for whatever reason. Saying a town “Doesn’t know how to do a hot dog” isn’t true. They don’t do your hot dog. They do theirs just fine. When you’re in their town, you’re actually the one who’s nuts. So try theirs. And remember to keep your mind and your taste buds open.
(The image: Some Chocolate-Oatmeal No-Bakes, made from my mom’s recipe.)
9) “That just sounds nasty … I can’t believe you’re gonna eat that … I can’t stand that, I’m good.”
I’ve enjoyed the Flint Style Coney since I was probably 7 or eight, maybe earlier, I really don’t know for sure. My kids have always liked them as well. Unfortunately now, since I’ve let those kids know the real thing has beef heart in it (the original sauce from Abbott’s Meats is almost 100% beef heart), my daughter has a difficult time stomaching it.
I’ve always told my kids they have to try every food once. I don’t care if it looks bad, smells bad, came out of a sheep’s or lamb’s gullet (i.e., the natural casing on sausages and some good weiners) or the bottom of a cloudy lake (i.e., catfish), you’re going to try at least one bite before you tell me you don’t like the thing. At that point I can have some respect for your opinion, but not before. Because of this, my daughter now enjoys alligator, calamari, some of the eel she’s tried (not all, but that’s ok), deer venison, has a passion for good rabbit dishes, helped me search on a trip once for the best fried okra …
… but she won’t eat cornbread. Can’t stand the stuff. Make her a corndog from scratch, the breading comes off of it. Doesn’t like it with chili or ribs. However, that stinker will break up that same cornbread, dump it in a glass with some 2% milk and eat it with a spoon. I can’t figure that out …
Something to keep in the back of your mind is that we have seriously become a whole country of complete food wimps. I happened on an original copy of the 1922 “Home Economics Cook Book for Elementary Grades” printed by the Board of Education in Toledo, Ohio. In the chapter on poultry, kids through grade eight were taught to singe the pin feathers off the chicken, cut its head off, draw the pin feathers out with a knife, use the fingers to find and remove the windpipe and crop, dig in with the hand again to remove the intestinal organs (“being careful not to break the gall bladder”), also pulling out the lungs, kidneys, the heart (“found near the lungs”), the oil bag near the tail …
If you enjoy chicken, but the above description and the thought of following it grosses you out, you do indeed have double standards. You should be ashamed of your squeamishness. In these “first-world” countries we’re supposedly so incredibly advanced. But our food has become so sanitized and processed that we’ve selectively (yes … selectively) lost track of where our food comes from. We prefer not to know that other countries pass down recipes for dishes usng the complete animal, largely without a cookbook for a hundred miles in any direction. Only recently have restaurants here began to celebrate “farm to table” and “nose to tail” menus and recipes. This is supposedly a big deal, with higher-end and specialty restaurants making a lot of noise about it. Meanwhile though, authentic Mexican restaurants have always served Menudo made with good tripe (a.k.a. cow stomach), Abbott’s Meats in Flint still makes and distributes the 1919 version of the Flint Coney sauce made with almost 100% beef heart, secluded families in the Ozarks eat daily meals of squirrel and raccoon, and any time you eat a decent sausage, that crunch is some animal’s intestine. So pull your heart out of your throat and have some real food. Learn about where your food comes from. You’ll appreciate it more.
(The image: A whole beef heart, used in the development of a recipe for Flint Style Coney sauce.)
8) “I had a bad experience there once … They used to be good, not anymore though.”
This one’s a “mea culpa” moment for me …
It’s rather common knowledge that restaurant reviewers will make multiple visits to a single location prior to writing their review of the place. While quite a few so-called “reviewers” are hacks who have no history of cooking, knowledge of good flavors and textures, or even the culture of a given restaurant and why its regular guests love it, they normally know better than to only go once. Restaurants should have consistency between servers and cooks at any given time, but it’s definitely necessary to check more out than can be done at one time.
Even if you’ve had a bad experience somewhere, maybe the cook was having an off day, maybe the server had some issues (even though that should never be reflected in customer service), maybe there are new owners/management (maybe someone actually read your comment card and acted on it) … There are a lot of reasons to try a place again.
There’s one restaurant chain I have a problem with. Ok, multiple problems. It’s a fast-casual place, and there seem to be a lot of hit-and-miss depending on which location I visit. One location in particular has really had my hackles up for a long time and I vowed never to go back.
Then my daughter became pregnant. Three guesses where she wanted to meet up to discuss it … first two guesses don’t count … Now she’s one of the lead servers there … at that same location … I can’t win for losing on this one, I have to go back to the place I really don’t like.
So get your butt over there and try it again. Maybe everything will be fine. In my case, it’d better be or I get to withhold a tip from my own kid.
(The image: Bree with some Poutine at Crazy Joe’s in Wallaceburg, Ontario.)
7) “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”
Another “mea culpa”. Worse for me is that this one is my daughter’s suggestion. Sometimes, she’s right. Sometimes …
Longtime readers will know I’ve had multiple sinus bleeds since 2008, requiring (we think) twelve surgeries to shut off the flow of what’s mostly been arterial blood. (You can tell by the color, along with the occasional pulsing that’s synchronized with the heartrate.) For those first three episodes stretched out from 2008 through early 2010, the night before the bleed started I had enjoyed scallops at the Frog Leg Inn. As I also run their web site and shoot photos in the kitchen, I actually have the pics to prove this. It got to the point where I brought it up with my ENT specialist, who thought it rather odd but still worth some consideration. Was there something in the scallop beds off Massachussetts that the scallops were eating that I was strangely allergic to? Just made no sense at all.
But then with these last two bleeds, in June and May 2013, there hadn’t been a scallop in sight since the previous bleed in June 2010. Why? Because “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”
I think maybe it’s time for some scallops. I should probably have a bucket and some towels standing by though. It can get messy.
(The image: A particular plate of scallops in the kitchen at the Frog Leg Inn, the very dish I’ve always suspected as being responsible for the sinus bleed of March 2010.)
6) “If it’s past its expiration date, you’d better throw it away.”
Were you aware at all that the US Food & Drug Administration only actually regulates a use-by/expiration date on infant formula and some baby foods? That the USDA only requires poultry to be labeled with the date it was packed? That any “use-by/expiration date” on food products is highly dependant on handling, storage temperature, and other uncontrollable variables? And that if you stick hard-and-fast to these dates and throw food away just because the date says it’s “expired”, your level of brain deadedness is showing?
If you can’t tell when food has gone bad and need to go by those dates, you probably shouldn’t be cooking whatsoever. Common sense, smell, the look of a certain ingredient, if fish smells fishy, if beef is brown, if poultry is slimy, if veggies have mold on them … Pitch it. It’s really not that difficult to figure this out.
(The image: A 39-pack of Koegel Skinless Frankfurters with a “Sell By” date of September 20. No year is specified on the package. I didn’t make the package blue for effect, that’s a reflection of the sky on a very nice day.)
5) “Poor little bunny … How can you eat Bambi?”
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and you say this, zip it. It’s very seldom I’ve seen or heard of a carnivore preaching that people damn well better start eating meat becuse it’s better for both them and the planet. A good friend of mine is a full vegan, I respect both his and your views. He and I simply don’t force our views on each other the way vegans and vegetarians generally do with carnivores. You certainly don’t have the authority to tell me what I should eat, that’s my decision. Go have some Fritos and “original” Oreos, and be quiet.
If you’re a carnivore and you’re saying this, what’s your problem? Do you really believe that whether or not we should eat something is somehow related to its level of cuteness? Piglets are somehow inedible early-on because they’re adorable, but when they’ve aged a bit they’re only good for a long smoking of the shoulders and ribs with sauce added, and the divvying up of the bacon and pork rinds. Baby chicks seem to only belong in a petting zoo, while chickens only belong in a skillet with seasoned breading and an inch of hot oil for frying. Selecting which animal to cook based solely on how flippin’ cute it is, is a ridiculous double standard. No, deer, rabbits and other species don’t lose their attractiveness as they age like other animals do. But that in no way means we shouldn’t enjoy them at dinner time. If your emotions are in the way when you’re deciding what to cook, or what I cook, you’re the one with the problem. It’s all food, so eat it.
(The image: A serving of some impromptu Rabbit Chili.)
4) “I can’t tell you, it’s a secret recipe/ingredient.”
In 2007 when I first started working on developing www.frogleginn.com, Chef Tad made it clear he wanted a section where he could post recipes. With so many chefs and professional cooks guarding proprietary recipes as “trade secrets”, I asked why he’d want to do something like that. He explained that home cooks would not have the tools, equipment, or the cooking techniques he and his team do, and that even if a professional were to attempt a duplication, subtle differences in those items would prevent an actual duplication. Any “copycat recipe” will certainly result in something similar but never an exact duplicate. You can only duplicate exactly within the same kitchen the recipe was developed in using identical ingredients.
In late July 2013 Mary and I spent the weekend at the Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we enjoyed a 7-course meal prepared by owner French Master Chef Francois Moyet. The entrée I selected was his Chicken Marsala. Later in the weekend I bought a copy of the book the Chef had written on the history of the more-than-100-year-old castle. It it were some of his recipes, including the Chicken Marsala. Think about that.
The same goes for home kitchens. Sure, it’s a “home kitchen”, and y’all probably shop at the same Piggly Wiggly over yonder. But the concept is the same … You’re going to buy different ingredients, you’re going to measure them somewhat different, Paula’s 350F oven will average 355F while Mildred’s averages 343F, it’ll rain the day Frank makes it while, when Gilbert finally gets around to it, it’ll be 95F outside with high humidity and he ain’t got no A/C. Yes, each batch will taste and feel differently.
“Secret” recipes … “secret” ingredients … Get over yourself.
3) “My chicken/pork/beef/fish has to be well-done.”
Why do you want to ruin the taste and texture of your food this way? Why is it so important to you to remove all those good flavors by overcooking what can actually be better on your plate? This is nothing more than paranoia about supposed food safety issues that are preventing you from enjoying these foods the way other people actually enjoy them and survive.
There’s a burger place in Toledo called Bar 145. They didn’t name it that because of an address or area code, rather they’re using the internal temperature of a piece of beef that’s been cooked medium-rare. At the Frog Leg Inn in Erie, Michigan, the menu description for the 12-ounce Pork Saltimbocca states “Recommended medium-rare unless otherwise instructed.” And in his Les Halles Cookbook, Chef Anthony Bourdain wrote “Hell, most people figure that if the crispy skin tastes good, and there’s no yucky blood or pink stuff near the bone, that’s a fine roast chicken … Chicken should taste like chicken. Understand also that legs and breasts cook at different rates. In your zeal to make sure that there is no pink (eek!) or red (oooohh!) anywhere in the legs, you are often criminally overcooking your breasts. Find a happy medium. A little pink color by the thigh bone does not necessarily mean you are eating rare poultry.”
People do eat food this way. In Japan they have medium-rare chicken sushimi. They are also allowed to have chicken tartare. It’s only because their chickens are raised in such a way that they’re safer to eat. We’re the ones that are backward, while their ancient culture has food goodies we can only dream of having. We’re the ones with the food safety problems. We really, truly suck at it. Meanwhile, other cultures are enjoying some great treats. You should at least try food medium-rare when possible. You might actually like it.
(The image: The raw ribeye I then cooked to medium-rare at the Monroe Boat Club over their community grill.)
2) “That’s a heart attack waiting to happen … A heart attack on a bun … It’ll put me in a diabetic coma.”
No, it’s not. It’s a splurge, a meal to be enjoyed, a once-in-a-lifetime food experience, a challenge, maybe even a meal to be shared with someone you’re with. And you … are inappropriately judgemental.
Unless you’re a Registered Dietition, someone’s doctor, their trainer, or even their lifestyle coach, you have no right and zero authority to use this snide and blatantly offensive comment. Even if you say it when looking at a photo of a dish, you’re more than welcome to slap yourself in the face. People happen to like food, people do like large meals, and if you’re using the current media obsession with “the obesity epidemic” as your basis for saying this you are, again, judgemental and inappropriate.
For example, my wife and I like the Chateau Burger. It’s a one-pounder cooked and served at the Chateau Louise here in Luna Pier. But even when I tell people she and I split the burger, those same people tell me basically that we shouldn’t be having it because it’s just too big. Excuse me, but at that point it’s a half-pound … the same size as a cheeseburger at Sonic, the double at Wendy’s, the double quarter-pounder at McDonald’s … The things they eat all the time. But this info is never good enough for them, because apparently they want to see themselves as “the better, healthier person”.
Gimme a break. You’re a clueless jerk.
Granted, if someone eats like that all the time, that’s a problem. But it’s their problem, not yours. It’s something for their doctor to discuss with them. Now … If you happen care enough about someone to urge them to get help, you’re welcome to do that as well, sitting down with them and having a loving talk about how you don’t want to lose them because of their health. But if you’re going to be snide, insulting, say nasty things about what they’re eating … If you then get slapped or get hot, greasy food dumped on you, you damn-well deserve it.
This same thing goes for those people who claim something will put them into a “diabetic coma”. Have you ever been in a diabetic coma? Are you even a diabetic? Are you possibly just being offensive to diabetics with a snide and insulting remark about an actual medical condition that isn’t always brought on by eating too many sugary sweets? Is there a candymaker standing in front of you who’s possibly proud of their work while you stand there insulting what they do? Those latter two questions are probably more like it. Have some of their work, you obviously need more sweetening.
(The image: The one-pound Chateau Louise burger, as pictured on A Hamburger Today out of NYC. Yes, after shooting that pic I split the burger with Mary.)
1) “Damn, that’s too expensive.”
I’m reminded of a sign that used to hang in the former Bill Knapp’s restaurant in Adrian, Michigan. It listed how much various items cost in 1975. Google the following words:
Look at the results. Gas was 57 cents a gallon. Pretty cheap. Eggs were 77 cents a dozen. They’re only about twice that now.
But then there’s milk.
38 years ago in 1975, milk was $1.57/gallon.
In August 2013 I paid $2.49/gallon. Mary and I both bought milk at school in 1975 at 15 cents a half-pint. That comes out to $2.40 for a gallon of milk when milk was $1.57/gallon.
Yes, seriously. That’s what we paid.
Milk subsidies to farmers have kept gallon prices artificially low. If those subsidies didn’t exist, you’d be paying $7.50 – $8/gallon at the grocery store.
You, my friend, are spoiled.
Here’s the thing: One way or another, you’re paying that $7.5 – $8/gallon, whether you do it in the store or through your taxes via the “subsidies”. It’s the same with corn and other crops and farm products as well. It’s shielded from you so you don’t have to think about it, so it’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind. You are absolutely paying more for some of your food that you think you are. Deal with it.
And then you’re at a restaurant. There’s no “dollar menu” and the 1/4-lb burger is five bucks. You blanche. Right in front of the minimum-wage worker or below-minimum wager server who’s smiling at you waiting for your order, your $50k/year self mumbles “Damn, that’s expensive”. After bitching further about the price of an added drink and fries, you head out to your Lexus, fire up your iPhone and complain on Facebook. Later on after work, that minimum-wage worker picks up their child-support and their public assistance in their rusty used car which is all they can afford because prices at work aren’t actually high enough to pay decent labor wages, heads over and pays the sitter when they pick up the kids, then the rent, the utilities, and hopes to have enough for a couple things at Aldi.
In most states, minimum-wage laws do not apply to tipped employees, meaning servers. That’s stupid. They make probably $2.65/hour and guests are assumed to make up the rest. That’s even more stupid. Minimum wage laws need to apply to everyone, flat-out and period. Tips are a gift, not a wage. Yes, the cost of a meal will then go up, so what? Those workers will then be better able to survive. Get your prissy self out of your immaculate car in your $200 jeans, shove your expensive iPhone into your … pocket … and man-up to paying what you should be paying for food.
It’s a simple fact that customers refuse to pay higher prices for food, prices that are needed in order for workers to make decent wages, while those same customers pay premium prices for anything and everything else. No, unions are not any kind of answer. Customers simply need to stop being penny-pinching boneheads in any situation having to do with eating. The problem will exist while people keep buying off the “dollar menu”. If you don’t like higher food prices, you should be the one starving for a while so you can see what it feels like, not the people who feed your selectively-miserly, inconsiderate and arrogant self.
(The image: Brina, our server for our 7-Course Dinner prepared by French Master Chef Francois Moyet at his exquisite Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in late July 2013.)