Two of my four kids have always been picky eaters. They don’t even want to smell foods they don’t like. My family’s food prejudices grant me some perks. All I have to do to eat in blissful solitude is concoct a spicy curry. Peace and quiet smells like turmeric to me.
But as any of you who suffer with picky eaters know, there’s a downside. When sautéing onions and garlic I have to blend them to a pulp if I expect these two kids to eat the resulting sauce, soup, or casserole. Otherwise they dissect the food with a fork to find the offending bits. And a clamor goes up when I forget who hates what. My daughter plans to make me a chart so I’ll remember which kid expects to be spared nuts, cumin, green peppers, bananas, and other atrocities.
Imagine my surprise when one of my fussy eaters started cooking. I’ll admit, it didn’t happen until he went away to college so if you have a picky eater, a good tactic might simply be to bide your time.
Aside from the motive of providing himself food more edible than the starch that passes for cafeteria fare, he had greater incentives. The joy of making foods formerly unattainable at home and the pleasure of proving nutrition-geek Mom wrong.
My picky eater, I should say formerly picky eater, was raised in a house that never contained such everyday edibles as white bread, lunch meat, soda, or Twinkies. After celebrating his freedom by indulging in these gustatory delights he realized I’d ruined him for good because preferred home-made food. He just wanted something beyond his mother’s vegetarian fare brimming with freshly picked veggies, topped with ground flax and Brazil nuts. He wanted to make his own “real food.” Understandable.
So he started concocting. Sure, he made a few dishes that seemed designed to horrify his mother, like the one that involved weaving a pound of bacon around sausage patties and cheese. He took photos illustrating each stage of the process, probably to see if he could gross me out.
But it didn’t take him long to get as geeked out about cooking as he is about his other interests. He’s experimenting and learning in all sorts of culinary directions. He pays attention to the science behind the perfect burger and as a result prefers grass-fed beef ordered in a coarse grind.
He makes no-knead bread that takes a 20 hours to rise. Already he’s modified the recipe. He uses half whole grain flour and half unbleached flour using a sourdough starter he developed after delving into the long history of fermentation.
He follows blogs like Smitten Kitchen and Goons With Spoons. He finds not-your-ordinary cooking videos and replicates the dishes (one of his current favorites features director Robert Rodriguez making Puerco Pibil).
His part-time wages have been spent on cast iron pans, a spice grinder, good knives. And perhaps most satisfying to him, he’s winning nutrition debates with me. To catch up, I’m reading science-based blogs he recommends. Today I spent nearly an hour on the archives of Whole Health Source, entirely my son’s fault.
Now my formerly picky eater shows me the best way to chop onions. He rhapsodizes about roasting whole heads of garlic in oil to spread on crusty bread. While he’s away at school I try to avoid telling him how much I miss him. But I do tell my fellow cooking geek I wish he were here to cook with me.