One of the most gonad-achingly painful cliches heard on cookery shows (after the word ‘moist’) is the expression “I don’t usually like….”. Programmes such as Come Dine With Me and Market Kitchen abound with contestants and guests gingerly prodding at a plate of liver, or goat’s cheese, or faggots, their faces polychromatic with a mixture of fear and revulsion, their arse cheeks clenched and jaw set in preparation for whichever gastrointestinal reflex befalls them. What usually follows the moment of no return is a look of mild surprise, followed by one of genuine enjoyment. Turns out gherkins aren’t so bad after all.
As a cook it is always pleasant to be the instigator of such surprises – a gentle ego massage for the apprehensive provender provider. But the more I see this the more it occurs to me how self-restricting we are in our eating habits. We convince ourselves that, for one reason or another, we hate something, and that is that. More often than not it is down to one bad experience – the school meal that made you chunder, the roulade with a pube in it. But our palates are constantly evolving. My friend Sam is a self-declared fish hater, yet on many occasions I’ve heard the words “I don’t usually like fish, but…” spill out of his mouth. It’s my reckoning that he probably once ate a piece of spoiled fish and now thinks that is what all fish tastes like.
Of course, we all have things that we just can’t stomach, no matter how hard we try. I’m not the biggest fan of kidney. In the name of the evolving palate theory I’ll eat it every now and then (I do actually want to like it), but it still tastes like piss to me. The most important thing is that we don’t write off an ingredient just because we think we don’t like it. Rather like that beautiful moment when a piece of music suddenly makes sense, the discovery that an ingredient we didn’t like is actually quite delicious is almost life-affirming.
What do you really hate and why? Have you ever changed your mind about any food?