Know Your Audience

I like dining out. I love cooking. But, I’m at my best and happiest when I’m feeding people. That’s the best part, being able to share that meal with others. (Who wants to come over for dinner?)

Cooking for the family is all about the long game. It’s no surprise to me that my family and I have fairly different tastes and preferences, something Christine and I discussed after a bowl of decent-but-unremarkable beef burgundy the other day. Shame on me for serving a stew during the early hot days of summer, perhaps, but we have very different ideas of what comfort food lies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve read before that I lean towards broadly French flavors and dishes. Some of that comes from my interest in the technique – more on that later – and some of that, I can’t trace. Growing up, while there was sometimes the Louisiana or occasionally outright French dinner at home, I wouldn’t say that either of my parents cooked particularly French food. (They’ll correct me in the comments if I got that wrong.) Whatever the reason, it’s what I lean towards.

Christine is much more in the Italian camp, but to get right to the heart of it, her favorite foods and flavors are classic Midwest American. Grilled steak, baked potato, creamed corn, and so on. Good food, but not what I would ever choose – it’s often bland and uninspiring to me. Neither of us is right or wrong, it’s just two different tastes and palates.

While some of what I cook isn’t to her taste for texture issues (both she and Jason are picky about how food feels) or for being more esoteric (I’ll tweet about food in French when I know it’s something she wouldn’t want to hear about), much of it comes down to flavors. My base herb is thyme, hers is oregano. I use, or would use, a lot of wine in cooking. And so on.

Back to the point about the long game, then. Eating in a restaurant means the chef has one shot to get you a great dish. If you don’t like it, you don’t go back. Cooking for the family, being committed to it, means catering more to their tastes over time. I’m thankful that my family has gamely played along when I go mad scientist in the kitchen, and their … candid … feedback is appreciated. (Seriously. Plus, I figure it’s karmic payback for the times we gave Mom grief about dinner growing up.) But, I’m not exactly winning hearts and minds, either.

Studying cooking means expanding the vocabulary of ingredients and techniques avavilable. Doing a program like Weight Watchers (down 25 pounds this year to date, thank you very much!) has meant changing that vocabulary, replacing some habits with newer ones. This is no different – I need to amend my vocabulary to include more things that my family likes, to balance everything I would choose to prepare otherwise. It sounds so simple to say, once I put it down in writing, but it’s one of those realizations I just had to come to in my own sweet time.

Oh, and I mentioned technique. For my birthday, I picked up a copy of The Fundamentals Of Classic French Cuisine, the book form of the first part of the French Culinary Institute’s course work. I have every intention to cook my way through the book – it’s broken into twenty six units – and blog the hell out of it along the way. I may have even convinced Christine that she needs to do some of the food photography for me. So, throw out everything I said above – I may be going hardcore French soon.

I just have to remember to grill a steak and bake a potato too.