mercredi, juillet 06, 2005

just say no to cilantro

Most of my friends know that I detest avocado, mushrooms (except certain varieties of fresh chanterelles), and eggplant. Some have even gotten me to re-think my stance on beer and anchovies (not). Generally, I'm not a picky eater. I will try most anything once, but prefer to only eat things that I really enjoy ... which really doesn't present any problems, as there is a veritable cornucopia of foods that I love.

Nonetheless, this New York Times article on chef's personal food dislikes succinctly sums up how I feel about cilantro (I loathe it because it tastes like soap to me; I'll admit that I'm a cilantro-hater) and why I don't particularly enjoy green peppers.
I'm the Boss, and I Say No Lentils
By OLIVER SCHWANER-ALBRIGHT
ZAK PELACCIO can't stand sweet potatoes. "I find them a little too rich, a little too cloying, a little too overwhelming," Mr. Pelaccio said. "I don't like to eat them."

It isn't unusual for somebody to hold a deep dislike for a particular food, but Mr. Pelaccio is the chef of 5 Ninth, an inventive restaurant that plays fast and free with its ingredients. Veal breast is braised, topped with botarga, and served with green tomatoes, shishito pepper and ground ivy. But no innocent sweet potatoes?

"I just have no desire to cook with them, ever," Mr. Pelaccio said. "And sweet potato fries are the most disgusting things."

Almost everybody has his or her sweet potato, a food that is harmless to the rest of the world but that is, to this individual, too revolting to stomach. Your basic eater can spend a lifetime dodging that ingredient, bypassing those dishes that will make him at best unhappy, at worst queasy. But a chef can turn his personal dislike into restaurant policy.

"Whenever I tell somebody I hate lentils, they're shocked," said Bobby Flay, whose menu at Bar Americain, incidentally, is peppered with sweet potato, including some in the clam chowder. "There are a lot of lentil fans out there."

An early draft of Bar Americain's menu had a beet and goat cheese salad with lentils, but Mr. Flay rejected it before the restaurant opened. "When I go on vacation, they run specials on lentils," he said.

Celery is a building block of French cooking, but it has no place at Chanterelle. "I don't use it in my stocks," said the chef, David Waltuck, whose loathing has become lore. "I don't use it in my mirepoix. It has no flavor. It's one-dimensional. It's an exercise in chewing. It's pointless."

There are arguments for banning an ingredient based on concerns about quality or morality. Some choose not to use out-of-season strawberries because they're flavorless, or Chilean sea bass (also known as Patagonian toothfish) because of overfishing.

The argument for banning carrots bigger than your thumb, however, is a little more arbitrary. "I will serve baby carrots," said Alexandra Guarnaschelli, the chef of Butter. "But once it gets over two inches long I break into a cold sweat."

Miss Guarnaschelli was the sous-chef at Guy Savoy's La Butte Chaillot in Paris, where julienne carrots had a permanent place on the menu. "Now I have a panic attack when I see shredded carrot in a salad," she said.

Other ingredients are almost universally snubbed by chefs. Green bell peppers, that staple of chili and the catered crudité, are possibly the most-loathed ingredient.

"They're headache-y," said Anita Lo, chef at Annisa. "For some reason I've never gotten past the flavor."

Brian Bistrong of the Harrison doesn't like the way green pepper lingers. "If you eat one, you're going to taste it the rest of the meal," Mr. Bistrong said. "I got rid of them when I finally had some authority. Now that I'm the boss, I can not have them."

Dan Barber, who won't let green peppers into the kitchens of either Blue Hill Restaurant in Manhattan or Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., called the problems with the vegetable "multitiered."

"First, I don't like the flavor," he said. "And I've learned more about them. They're an immature pepper. You're eating a vegetable before it's supposed to be picked."

Tasha Garcia, one of the chefs of Little Giant, recoils when she tastes anything that reminds her of it. "We had a staff tasting and with this one cabernet franc it was like, oh, green peppers," Miss Garcia said. She added that she was overwhelmed by the association. "I hated the wine, hated it, hated it," she said. "Now I'm not a big cabernet franc fan."

Like many anxieties, many food revulsions seem to have been incubated in childhood. Mr. Waltuck remembers one too many celery stalks with cream cheese and paprika when he was young; Mr. Barber has "taste memories from hoagies."

Floyd Cardoz of Tabla has refused to eat bananas since he was 10. When he was named executive chef a little over three years ago, banana desserts were banned from his kitchen.

"Growing up in India, the only fruit we'd have year-round is bananas," he said. "Banana fritters, bananas in cream, bananas, bananas, bananas."

Mark Ladner of Lupa shares a distaste for bananas but for a different reason. "It might be from all that banana Bubblicious I ate in the '70's," he said.

Chika Tillman, one of three owners of the dessert bar ChikaLicious, finds oats repulsive, but she could not keep them out of her restaurant.

"Dry, it's like bird food," she said. "And cooked, it's like somebody chewed it and took it from their mouth."

Yet homemade granola was voted in over Ms. Tillman's objections. She tried her best, and dressed it up with yogurt sorbet and cantaloupe brûlée, but the oats were too much. It was on the menu for one day.

Those who hate certain herbs and other aromatics make chemical associations. Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune thinks verbena "tastes like lemon Pledge."

That is exactly the phrase Michael Romano of Union Square Cafe used to describe lemon thyme. "I love lemon," Mr. Romano said. "I love thyme. I love them both together. I even like lemon Pledge on my furniture." But he stops dead if lemon thyme sneaks into a dish.

Shea Gallante of Cru says cilantro tastes like soap, and Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 says the same thing of dill. "Not that I've eaten a lot of soap in my life," Mr. Dufresne said. "I'm not phobic. I just think it's dreadful."

And Laurent Tourondel keeps saffron away from his restaurants. "It reminds me of the dentist," he said flatly.

Inevitably, people encounter undesirable food. If Mr. Cardoz sees a banana coming his way, he politely lies and says he's allergic. If he's not sure about a dish, he asks his companion to taste it first. "Because if it's in there," Mr. Cardoz said, "I'll throw up." Mr. Dufresne heads dill off at the pass: he won't touch gravlax or potato salad.

It's more complicated if the chef is a guest at somebody's house. "People don't like to cook for me because they think I'm going to be supercritical," Mr. Romano said. "I like it when people cook for me, and I wouldn't embarrass anybody and say, 'I'm not going to eat this.' "

Speaking of those who might cook for him without knowing of his distaste for green peppers, Mr. Bistrong said: "They usually have enough of a complex cooking for a chef. I'd be polite and eat them. And taste them for the rest of the night."

Also speaking of green peppers, Miss Garcia said: "Manners would win out. I'd push it around my plate and get some down."

Mr. Ladner has eaten bananas because friends have served them to him as a gag. "I can eat them," he said. "And I have. I can take it."

But don't even try to tempt Mr. Tourondel with saffron. "I don't eat it," he said.

As for sweet potatoes, Mr. Pelaccio is a dutiful son. When his mother roasts them with maple syrup for Thanksgiving, he eats every bite.

"Then I have to take a nap," he said.

1 commentaire:

Diana a dit…

The cilantro aversion may be genetic. Apparently, this is a topic for many blogs, like this one http://www.whoknew.us/archives/000464a_question_about_cilantro.php