Here’s a new contribution from Chef Mark Vogel discussing how to handle friends who insist on knowing what we think about their cooking. – RG
Tell’ em What They Want to Hear
I’m always amused when some public figure is in the limelight and being queried about possible misconduct or impropriety, or is simply avowing the quality of his product or services. Almost universally, their answer is the one that places them in the most favorable light.
This is because either the image-preserving answer is actually true or they’re lying to eschew aversive consequences. Yes there are a few rare instances where people actually fess up. But overwhelmingly their answer will be the one that either exculpates them or exalts them.
Former President Bill Clinton’s promulgation that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” is a classic example. What else could he have said? I mean, did anyone REALLY expect him to go on national TV and announce to the country that the married head of state is getting his freak on with an intern?
Or how about the commercial for Saturn automobiles asserting that “we make cars that people want to buy.” Obviously not, for shortly after this commercial aired GM announced it was shutting down the line. Again, did anyone think Saturn would actually pay for a commercial outlining the advantages of Japanese cars and admit that this was a last ditch effort to prompt people to buy Saturns?
The point I’m driving at here, (pardon the pun), is that in these situations we can never trust the message, because there’s basically only one message. Be it truth or mendacity the answer/affirmation is always the one which serves the speaker. When someone claims they’re innocent, they could be either innocent or guilty. When someone claims they’re product is superior, it could be superior or inferior. Only the rare self-incriminating responses have a reliable validity rate.
Do You Like My Blood Pudding?
There’s another scenario where people uniformly dispense the “correct” answer:
At a social gathering when the host questions if you like their food. In this case we often preserve the other person’s ego to avoid the social/emotional repercussions.
Many years ago I was at a dinner party, hosted by this Bavarian woman fiercely proud of her homemade blood sausages. Knowing my culinary background she was particularly intent on procuring my approval of her “blood pudding” as blood sausages are also known.
Even before the event she began extolling their virtues and fervently anticipated my sampling of them. When the moment of truth arrived I will never forget the pressure. As I placed a forkful of the sausage into my mouth, she sat there, intensely peering at me, bringing all of her senses to bear, hyper-vigilantly awaiting the first discernible sign from me as to my opinion.
And now ladies and gentlemen, this year’s winner for best actor in a repulsive food situation goes to (envelope crackling) Chef Mark R. Vogel! (Audience cheers!)
What else could I do?????? My revulsion for her horrid sausages was only outmatched by her dire need for my approbation of them. Was I to insult my host and create an air of tension for the rest of the night by opining that her blood sausages tasted like a different part of the pig’s anatomy? Of course not.
Even a diplomatic appraisal of the food would have painfully smitten her and caused disharmony to the bonhomous atmosphere. Therefore, I reached into the bowels of my psyche and with all the personal discipline I could muster, ignored the vile sensations erupting from my mouth, and produced one of my best feigned performances of gastronomic pleasure.
Naturally, we all want people to enjoy our food and drink. We want our guests to be pleased, our efforts appreciated, and our perceived successes validated. It’s also natural for most people to feel at least a modicum of disappointment when their offerings are rebuffed. Of course this reaction varies from person to person. Some of us are more sensitive than others. But no matter who the host is, and no matter how delicately you put it, expressing your disapproval of their victuals is usually not conducive to a congenial miasma.
So in light of all this allow me to suggest the following. At your next dinner party, don’t even bother to ask your guests if they like the food. You might as well ask your local car dealership if they truly perform all those tasks in those heftily priced service packages. You’re merely going to receive the “correct” answer.
So I’d forgo putting your guests on the spot. Unless you plan to stare them down, meticulously analyzing their reaction for disingenuousness. If that’s the case, then I’m afraid you have a bigger problem than you’re cooking. Ooops. Sorry. That wasn’t what you wanted to hear.
Chef Mark R. Vogel