Sometime during the 4th or 5th grade, we all learn about the five senses. As children it seems clear to us what they are:
The soft cuddly stuffed bear that tickles our skin as we nuzzle it to fall asleep.
The tender feeling of our mother’s skin when we wrap our arms around her.
The sting across our butts left by a leather strap to teach us a lesson.
The scent of our grandmother’s (my grandmother wore Tabu) perfume as she bends down to kiss us.
The aroma of bacon wafting into our rooms from the kitchen as we open our eyes unto a new day.
The putrid scent of garbage bins behind the restaurant which oddly transforms into the glorious smells of garlic, basil and tomatoes simmering in a pot as you enter the back door.
The brilliant colors of paint at the county fair as it hits paper in a swirl of splattered design.
The green grass against a colored horizon giving way to blue sky on a bright spring day.
The bright peach glow of our Easter dress bought solely for the purpose of looking especially girlie on that spring Sunday
morning when we search for those pastel eggs we dipped the night before.
The soft purr of a kitten as we gently rub his belly
The intensely shrill ring of the recess bell that springs us to our feet and out the door for a moment on the monkey bars.
The slightly off tune crackly voice of the woman in the pew behind us trying to belt out “bringing in the sheaves”, in hopes that her sins might be forgiven.
The sweetness of a snow cone’s syrup left after the ice is long melted.
The pungency of liver and onions that our mother would not let us discard, but force to eat, if we ever wanted to be excused from the table. We, of course, secretly fed it to the whining pup underfoot. Who would have known Foie Gras would become our favorite food?
Dairy Queen’s rich hot fudge and creamy vanilla ice cream, with a juicy red cherry balancing decadently on top, made summer all the more enjoyable.
Yes, at an early age we have a fundamental understanding of God’s gift of senses, and as the years pass we learn to develop that gift through life’s experiences. Yet as a “foodie” I believe there is one sense most often left behind, not developed or fully appreciated; a sense most taken for granted. It is the restaurateur’s most precious (and sometimes detrimental) commodity…the sense of taste.
All my life I've been surrounded with culinary awareness; passionate cooks who shared with me the fresh bounty of their home gardens' or their obsessions with the diversity of liquid delicacies. They shared the importance of the balance of flavor, texture, aroma and presentation, all which are a part of honing the sense of taste. They weren’t aware of this legacy, sharing this came natural. I was one of the very fortunate who learned from this culinary history. I continue to pass this passion to my children, who I hope will follow the tradition. We are the chosen ones, the blessed ones who've had a door opened at a young age. We are lucky enough to have been given a head start above those family trees of bland unaware diners, horrible cooks and alcohol fearing misfortunate beings. It is our job to educate and enrich the lives of those poor unfortunate “tasteless” souls by introducing the world of olfactory and taste bud tantalization. The epiphany of this calling came to me when I met my husband, the epitome of a taste-poor family legacy.
It was not that he didn’t like many foods such as cheese (really?), mustard, pickles, vinegar, mushrooms, capers, cream sauces, bitter greens, Swiss chard, lamb, sushi, (anything raw was unthinkable), duck, olives, licorice…the list was endliess, it was the inability or unwillingness to venture into the world past meat, potatoes and Captain Crunch. Many of those aforementioned disliked foods, hadn’t even sampled to shun, only assumed to be unsavory. It was the year 2006 when my quest to enlighten him began. I knew it would be a long journey.
Learning to understand his handicap has developed a tolerance in me to be patient with those less fortunate and to realize that honing the sense of taste after years of neglect is a very slow and gradual process. I was determined to show him the way.
It started on our first date at a tapas bar. Not realizing his being culinary challenged, he asked me to order. Of course I went for the delectable diverse samplings, thinking I was sure to delight him. When our food was presented, I assumed he was just nervous as he pushed the morsels around the plate (which I, of course, scarfed lake a starved rabid pup). Later that night he confessed that he didn’t like cheese. I had never met anyone who didn’t like cheese. It was, and still is, inconceivable. On our second date, I cooked. I was too smitten and distracted to notice whether he ate or not. When we moved to the fireside couch after dinner (a truly romantic setting), I poured two snifters of Sambuca, with 3 beans of course. I settled in next to him to sip and revel in the anise fragrance. I closed my eyes to take in the aroma and as I opened them, peering over the rim of my glass, I was aghast to witness the remnants of a headtilt as he “shot” the pricey delectable liqueur. I lowered my glass slowly and asked, “Did you just shoot that?” With a deer in the headlight blank stare he finally replied in his deep resonant voice, “What!?”
This act of “shots” has always been foreign me. If I am drinking an alcoholic beverage, it is because I revel in its fragrance, flavor and appreciate the passion that the vintner or distiller has portrayed in his art. Shooting is merely for the “buzz” and an insult to any aforementioned artist, unless, of course, that “artist” is Mr. Everclear. These days though, I’ve been known to throw back a Jaeger Meister or two, equally enjoying its taste. My husband has had some reverse training on me as well.
A few dates later (I love a challenge), I took him to a popular Boulder restaurant and asked him if he trusted me. He said he did, so I ordered and told him he MUST at least try a little of everything and afterwards we would discuss what it was. I ordered cured duck, lamb kabobs, carpaccio and tuna tartare. He looked at the food with an expression of what appeared to be shear fear, but manned up and took a nibble from each plate. To my surprise, he liked them all except the tuna, but he did try it. Together we ate every last bite. He didn’t even balk when I divulged what he had just consumed. After that evening, every meal was an education and an adventure for both of us. I made it a point to challenge his palate every chance I got.
I have officially created a monster. Today, not only does he order carpaccio for himself every time we do Italian, he is now pairing wines with his courses to have the ultimate dining experience. He can even detect if a wine is oxidized or corked. Though he still does shots, they are usually shots of artisanal whiskeys or imported liqueurs, and he savors every drop.
He still doesn’t like pickles, cheese, mushrooms and other foods, but now he can almost present himself as a late bloomer “foodie”. I am proud of how he has refined his palate. I feel as though I have given him a gift of his 5th sense which in turn gives me pure joy.