I've been thinking a bit about some of the television programs I like to watch, the people I gravitate to on Google+, and the things I like to cook and/or eat. And the question popped into my head, "Am I a foodie?" I really enjoy watching some of the cooking competition shows on tv. No, I don't watch cooking shows all of the time. In fact, when I think about it, I don't watch cooking shows very often at all. By cooking shows, I mean things like Miss Suzy's Cozy Kitchen. The ones I gravitate to are the shows like Master Chef, Hell's Kitchen, and Top Chef. I can tell you without a doubt that my cooking skills are nowhere near the caliber of the contestants on these shows, much less those of the judges and chefs who determine their fates. Sometimes I am not even sure why I like these shows so much, but I suspect I know a couple of reasons why they appeal to me so much.
If a chef-contestant who is a vastly better cook than me can screw up terribly, then perhaps there is hope for me in the kitchen. I see people on these shows creating flavor combinations I couldn't possibly dream up. Possibly because I haven't had exposure to some of the ingredients they use on a regular basis, and therefore haven't educated my palate. Is a sensitive palate something you're born with, or can a palate improve with education? I'd love to be able to just think for a minute and say, "Oh, these scallops would be fantastic with a white-wine and mango reduction and topped with micro-greens." Apologies to my readers who know food well; I just pulled that out of my hat, so if it disgusts you, consider the source, and kindly, please!
If I see someone who can put together a dish that Gordon Ramsay says would be good enough to serve in his restaurant, I am duly impressed. Chef Ramsay didn't earn his Michelin stars by making bland, boring food. If this same brilliant contestant gets flummoxed by making sunny-side-up eggs to serve as breakfast for firefighters, something I know I can do, it just makes me feel better about myself. For just a moment, I realize that greatness in the kitchen comes in many forms, often dependent on who will be eating your food. Gram had a granddaughter-in-law who could create all sorts of fabulosity in her kitchen. She could make incredible desserts and main courses, and a pate that could make me forget to be a lady and share with others. But she couldn't make a potato salad to save her life. Seriously! She was asked to bring a potato salad to a family gathering, and it consisted of cooked potatoes cut up and doused in Green Goddess salad dressing. A few days later, I was making a simple meal to share with Gram, and lamented my inability to cook fabulous dishes. Gram complimented me by saying, "A good cook can make all sorts of fancy stuff, but a great cook makes food that people really want to eat. You are a great cook!" Obviously, it meant a lot for me to hear that, since I have remembered it for so many years.
Watching these shows excites me to try new things, both in my kitchen, and in restaurants. Thanks to Gram, I have always been willing to try new things. She was the one who asked me never to decide I wouldn't like something until I had tried it. This teaching has served me well. When I see people making dishes that combine ingredients I wouldn't have thought to put together, it encourages me to be more inventive in my own kitchen. Now if I could only remember to buy some coconut milk to create the new chicken stew I have in mind! I also find myself more eager than ever to try unusual food combinations at restaurants. Hearing some of the ways chefs describe the flavors and textures of different foods helps me to experience them with a different mindset. Instead of just eating a scallop and thinking how delicious it is, I am paying more attention to things like how the dish looks, smells, and feels in my mouth. I have, in many ways, gained a new appreciation for things I may have eaten before, because I am experiencing them in a completely different way.
So, am I a foodie? I still don't know. I am not in search of the perfect fill-in-the-blank dish. I don't have any illusions about my abilities in the kitchen, or the sharpness of my palate. But I do appreciate food, and even more than I ever used to. I am inspired to elevate my simple dishes by adding little twists. And I am learning to enjoy foods in ways I hadn't really done before. No, I'm never going to develop a snooty attitude about food, but I don't think that is part of being a true foodie. If being a foodie is about having joy for food, and adventurous eating and cooking, then sign me up. For that, I will eagerly and proudly acclaim, "Yes, I AM a foodie!"