Eat’n Out!: A Whole World of Food

Published 5:47 pm Saturday, July 29, 2023

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Column Written by Robert Duke

We all know that everyone’s tastes are different. We like different colors, different smells, and different tastes for sure. As my kids grew up, I tried to teach them just how different people’s tastes were and could often show them just how different and individual they were from just what their likes and dislikes were. I would ask them to describe what smells good from what smells bad or maybe “what is it about spinach that you don’t like?” They could not say.

We know what we like and don’t like of course, but we have a very difficult time communicating why. I mean for instance, what does a banana taste like? Exactly how is it different from chicken? Most every one of us knows but there are just no words to say it in any language with which I am familiar. We just simply don’t have a vocabulary capable of describing a taste, color, or smell. There is no common reference for these things. What chicken tastes like to me is likely very different for what it tastes like to you. We often try to describe things by placing them in a category like sweet, savory, salty, tart, spicey and others. However, even these things may be far different to each of us. I can only tell you what I like and what I don’t like.

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I have seen peoples from the world eating some things that were revolting to me but they seem to revel in the flavors. I think a lot of it has to do with what you grew up with in your particular circumstance. I know that as a kid my mom had to make me eat turnip greens, liver, butter beans, Brussel sprouts, and more. Now, with the exception of liver which I cannot stand, I love and eat these things all the time and by choice.

I have a fondness for some combination of flavors sometimes that I, again, can’t describe but together the tastes make something altogether new and delicious.

For instance, the combination of flavors in a southern pear salad are something special where standing alone each of the ingredients is just okay. The parts are simple. Canned pear halves on a bed of lettuce topped with Duke’s mayo and shredded cheddar cheese and maybe a sprinkle of black pepper. The sharper the cheddar, the better. This combination of ingredients makes something altogether new and different, and I love it. Some people say that combination is weird but generally when they taste it, they like it.

Some of the combinations I like are a little weird sounding, but the combinations are something I sometimes crave. For instance, I like sliced white onion and extra sharp cheddar cheese. I can’t resist eating some when both are present while I am cooking something. How about chocolate and peanut butter? Or maybe a “Little Debbie” cookie and some “Nutella” hazelnut chocolate?

Putting combinations of foods and spices together to create something new is nothing new and is part of what cooking is all about. Otherwise, we would just eat each thing individually and never think about it. To me, cooking is a true art. It can be as complicated as you wish or totally easy. Chefs go through huge training regimens to not only learn how to create these combinations but also go through complicated ways to combine them with folding, heating, melting, burning, cooling, smashing, broiling, frying, boiling, steaming, and a host of other ways and means. They spend a huge amount of time worrying about “presentation” which is the way food looks when it is served. Is that as important to you as taste?

Complicated sauces and the layering of flavors are a science. Even with all my practice cooking and eating, I can’t do those things very well but I can certainly appreciate the effort that goes into it and enjoy the experience of food as well as the taste. Some combinations have been refined after centuries of practice in the kitchen.

I firmly believe meals should be an experience. When we lived in Italy, going out to a meal was an event. It was a series of courses enjoyed with family and friends almost anywhere. We could get a word class meal in a 4 table Trattoria or an outdoor restaurant on a cliff overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean. Experiencing food is a way of life in Italy. We would spend hours enjoying a course, sampling the food and preparation, and then sipping on wine waiting on the next course to be prepared and served. I can think of few better ways to enjoy quality time with family and friends.

A good example of presentation other than just the way it is “plated” or displayed on a plate, is a Japanese style Teppanyaki Steakhouse. Your family or party comes into the restaurant and are escorted to a table which is really just a huge griddle. Sometimes you are asked to join other people at their table to make efficient use of the tables. Americans are funny about that but almost always end up enjoying sharing their meal experience with others.

Guests sit on three sides of the griddle and a chef comes in and prepares the food you have ordered right in front of you and actually puts it on your plate as it is done. They usually put on quite a show. For instance, they might stack round pieces of a sliced onion into an onion volcano, add a flammable sauce, light it and guests ooh and ah while it burns like a volcano. The chefs are usually very skilled with their knives and other equipment and really show their art while slicing veggies or butterflying a bunch of shrimps. Kids seem to really enjoy this show as well as most adults and the experience really seems to add to the taste and enjoyment of the entire meal. Does it make the food taste better? Probably not but I like it better.

I cant bring you the experience of those meals shared overlooking the bluffs of the Italian Amalfi coast but I do think you should add it to your bucket list of things to do. There are outstanding Italian restaurants that serve authentic fare, even in Alabama.

There is also a great selection of Teppanyaki Steakhouses around from which to choose. There are two right in Tuscaloosa I regularly visit when Eat’n Out! Go out and experience a world class meal and enjoy it all!