Palate Expander – The Eggplant

My relationship with food is odd. Or perhaps it’s relatively normal, per LA societal standards.

I see it as The Enemy, a means of making me lethargic and sick. I have Celiac and for the longest time I physically feared food. It’s (naturally) the biggest contributor to my jean size, which affects my innate sense of self loathing. In today’s day and age, a woman’s weight unfairly signifies to everyone else her ability to maintain discipline, self control, self care. I’ve always thought of mine as an public indicator as to how well I’m doing on the inside. If I’m killin it at work, then I better not be shoving my face with pizza in the interims.

But on the flip side, food is what we gather around. It’s how we nourish one another, the means through which we bond. As a result, quite a few of us fall into this category in which we order foods we know are “safe.” They’re something we can count on to either be an indulgence or sustenance.

Working in the food industry you see it all the time – people spend their resources on what they know: Burgers, fries, pizza, Cesar salads, chicken, lox, Benedicts. They’re “safe.” The most exciting thing we do is add “truffle;” it’s a bonus “safe” accoutrement which we can count on to take our standard order up a notch.

Chef Ricody (Cody Dickey + Ricotta, in case you were wondering) vehemently disputes this way of living and ordering.

A year or so ago, over a post-work cocktail, he threw his hands in the air with exasperation (metaphorically speaking, as Chef Ricody is relatively reserved in his mannerisms. Which we all appreciate given his looming 6 ft something frame.) and he expelled how frustrated he was with everyone’s contingency to order “safe.”

Food can be life changing.

I didn’t get it.

Haven’t you ever experienced flavors that illicit actual emotions? That make you cry?

I hadn’t.

And I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept. Sure cheese (specifically burrata, served alongside some decadent gluten free bread) made me happy, but never had I cried over a plate.

I pondered and pondered until I found myself at dinner with Chef Ricody and his husband at Hinoki & the Bird. Chef Ricody was to do the ordering for the table.

Now it should be noted that, other than chips and guac, I really don’t share …per say. I don’t trust others to have the same “safe” palates. I don’t expect them to waste their dollars on something gluten free. And I certainly wasn’t going to risk a sub par indulgence, should someone else’s tastes be different than mine.

But alas, Chef Ricody knew my palate, knew my allergies, and knew the restaurant …so I sucked it up and obliged.

I also let him pick the wine, so long as it was red.

And that was the first night I felt my palate expand. When I cognizantly experienced flavors, textures, and combinations I hadn’t actively pursued and anticipated. Each new plate that came out offered something different and unique. Something worth all my senses.

From there on out, no mater who I was with, I restrained from my “safe” plates. I asked waiters and chefs what they loved. And I continued to expand my palate.

Another added bonus of my job is the fact that I get to spend so much time in the kitchen with my chefs. And sometimes I’m there as raw ingredients come in.

Over the past year I’ve learned how wonderful farm fresh basil is. How delicious micro greens, carrots, and nasturtiums can be, straight from the ground. How interesting caviar is, in its many different forms. The difference in how raw and cooked wagyu beef tastes. I’ve had my first oyster, my first uni. I fully comprehend how incredibly ephemeral ramp and squash blossom season are. Plus I’m learning to share and not live in a place of food scarcity.

It’s been quite an education. Notably, my weird relationship with food has evened out. I no longer see it as the enemy; as something to mitigate and avoid. Rather, it’s a sensory experience worth pursuing fully. I don’t know if I quite know how to explain it.

But I’m going to try. Here. And on Insta. As I continue to explore and self-educate.

Now that Chef Ricody has left the little seaside kitchen I spend my days in, I can feel myself reverting to old habits. Living off baked potatoes and beans. Splurging on spicy tuna or burrata. Skipping meals. Skipping most meals, if I’m being honest. Forgetting the pure joy that food and nourishment can bring.

So here we go. Without my darling Chef constantly introducing flavors and foods, because … really…I can do it myself.

Starting with an eggplant. Yikes. A little balsamic, honey, sesame glaze. And some Himalayan sea salt.

Conclusion: I am a mother effing chef.

Everything in italics massively paraphrased and filtered through the haze of memory.

1 reply »

  1. So glad to see your blog again. Writing these pieces has to be so good for your overall skill package. I’m sure you find the process personally satisfying. And I get to learn about what you’re up to and about food and drink. Love

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