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Are Chowhounds Born, or Made?

Were you that kid wolfing down sashimi before you learned your times table?

Or was there some defining moment or influence that piqued your interest in and appreciation for food?

Mine: going to college, missing mom's food, hating dorm food, and wanting to gain some kind of control over what was in what I ate and what it tasted like. Food became both an issue and an interest.

Anyone else?

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  1. I was born to 2 foodies and exposed to many different dining experiences all over the place. I took to it at an early age. My sister on the other hand, we used to say about her, that the only thing she would eat was white food. It is nature not nuture.

    1. In my case: made. I developed into a Chowhound/Foodie/whatever term you prefer. I was food phobic and it took many years but thank goodness, I am now among those who delight in good food and will try (just about) anything. Although I still hate okra.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jillp

        haha we should start another thread: "Who likes okra and why on earth???"

        1. re: jillp

          Same as you, except I'm a supertaster so there is still lot's of stuff that is too bitter for me or tastes uncomfortable to me - yes, uncomfortable...it's physical in many cases. But otherwise I was phobic and grew and am slowly growing into an adventurous eater (my husband and ChrisVR have a lot to do with this, too).

        2. I grew up in a tiny town in Northern Michigan where it was impossible to experience ethnic or high quality food. Once, on a family trip through the South when I was 12, I tasted real Memphis BBQ. From the moment of that very first bite, I have been a relentless Chowhound ever since.

          1. my mother was a fine cook. Beef stew, sauteed potatoes. Fine. Then after college I had a roommate who was a cook. She sauteed pork w/ cabbage, made salmon mousse. My attention piqued. Since them I've been on the trail of good taste, including in my own kitchen.

            1. I grew up in Singapore. It was normal to love and seek out delicious food.

              1. I had to grow into it. Apparently, I had a few food allergies when I was very young, and even when I got a little older, I couldn't handle strong flavors very well, like chiles, vinegars, eggs, and Mom's amazing spaghetti sauce. That nonsense is behind me now, thank goodness.

                (Wow, all those opportunities to enjoy that sauce--missed! Must visit Mom soon.)

                1. made. you must be raised into it or seek it out. i don't believe the people that complain that they're chowhounds but their kids are not. I keep repeating that kids in India do not go around asking for hamburger helper or mac n'cheese. if your children like that stuff it's b/c they've eaten it before!
                  my mom never bought any junk food, told me mcd's was unhealthy, and either cooked or brought take out ethnic food home. i still remember the first time i was at a party looking for real food and discovered doritos. i didn't understand them at all.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: fara

                    yes but i'm wondering... what gets people to WANT to seek it out? i can defintely understand those like yourself who grew up in a very food-conscious environment (me too), but what about those (like Jeff Next Door, below) who grew up around just the opposite?

                    1. re: fara

                      And I still don't believe you have enough experience with that situation to even remotely understand what you're talking about. You keep repeating it - but you're still wrong. (The kid in India might only eat white rice with a sweetener on it.)

                      1. re: fara

                        You've got to admit that exposure (advertising) and peer pressure within the society is a factor, especially for kids. Even growing up with parents that never took us to fast food places, and were great cooks and chowhounds, I still remember wanting a Big Mac - and that was in the 60's, long before the advertising hit the levels it's at today.

                        I remember when I joined the service and was stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi. I was exposed to fried catfish, and lots of shrimp - but I craved the BK outside gate 3. I swear, that the whopper there was something special - for one, they actually really grilled these things over that moving conveyor system, and you saw your patty being taken off the conveyor and put on your bun. Nowadays, you see them pull a patty out of a warmer drawer. I think that fast food has really gone down hill - but then again, it could just be a faulty memory - it was always that bad, and I just figured it out when I learned enough to understand the difference. I've been back to that BK since, and it's the same awful stuff they serve everywhere else.

                        As far as the OP's q, I think that like all other human endeavors, you're born with a certain amount, and you develop the rest. While mom & dad can push you in the right direction, developing the rest is mostly about your own work - applying analytical thinking and understanding the why's and wherefore's of all the wonderful things that go down your gullet.

                      2. In my case, I was definitely "made". I grew up on canned vegetables and my mother's dry, overcooked pork chops. We were relieved when she discovered shake and bake! Now I'm always dragging my wife to try some new restaurant from Chowhound or someplace, and she complains that I never cook the same dish twice.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: The Jeff Next Door

                          Jeff, what made you bridge the gap between canned vegetables and your chowhound self today?

                          1. re: amandine

                            It was a slow transformation. When I first graduated from college and moved into my own apartment, I wanted to eat better than frozen dinners, and couldn't afford to eat out often, so I decided I'd better learn to cook. I started with a lot of the things I remembered from childhood -- tuna noodle casserole with canned tuna, things like that -- but as I got into it I found it was fun to try new things. I was also darned curious about some of the things I saw when I went to market, and wondering "What does one DO with THAT?".

                            I think that set the stage, but the big breakthrough came when, a year later, I moved to New York City. Everything was so different than small town New Hampshire that one more life experiment (what I would eat) seemed trivial.

                            1. re: The Jeff Next Door

                              i totally agree! there's nothing like a visit to an asian market with those rows and rows of mysteriously labeled colorful little jars to get a cook thinking... :)

                        2. Born. I have two brothers, one has little interest in food, the other eats tons of junk and is very overweight. I'm the only one of the three who obsesses about good eating. I used to argue with my mother that she raised two sons who could barely boil an egg but she made me learn to cook as a young child. She said she couldn't stop me from making messes in the kitchen when she was out so she taught me to be useful as soon as I could see over a counter. I don't recall a time when I couldn't make rice or mix mein (noodle) dough from scratch.

                          It helped that we ate good meals at home, almost everything made by my mother. I took this to be the norm until I was an adult when I discovered that not everyone was raised this way.

                          1. I was def. born into a family of food explorers. my husband on the other hand was born into a family of can-openers and after 23 years of married life made (quite willingly)his way into chowhound-dom.

                            1. Italian grandparents, and Italians eat just about everything. So I learned to like just about everything except tripe.

                              I think chowhounds are made!

                              Miami is a good place to try new foods -- you can find all kinds of stuff.

                              I work with a group of people from all over the world. When we have potluck lunches the food is a treat. Most of us are women and want to show off our ethnic specialties.
                              Pumpkin soup and dirty rice from Haiti. Curry goat from Jamaica. Lentils from Pakistan. Curried yogurt sauce from India. Lumpia and pancet from the Philipines. Collard greens, home made mac and cheese, short ribs. And, what do they ask me to bring? Lasagna!

                              1. I am a made chowhound too; growing up on jello, cream soup dishes and hamburger casseroles was the impetus to eat something that actually tasted good! I evolved my own tastes and branched out to other ethnic cuisines to expand my palate. Now I am always on the prowl for some wonderful delicacy, or attempting to make some new ethnic dish or try an unusual spice. Thankfully I have an equally adventurous husband who will try anything I make at home, and good friends who love to go out to dinner with me.

                                1. Born. You don't have a lot of control over what you eat when you were little, but there's something within you that caused you to branch out when you had the chance. The born non-foodies (I like the term foodie) continue to eat the bad stuff and also would cook that way for themselves.

                                  1. Part heredity, part environment..I was lucky to have both, being born to crazed Russian/Rumanian foodies and growing up in Manhattan

                                    1. I can't answer this question, and I've thought about it a lot.

                                      I was raised by a mother and father who knew next to nothing about good food. Sometimes I look back and wonder what the heck my mom was thinking - staples on the dinner table (when my mom would bother to 'cook') were chunks of fried bologna w/ ketchup, Minute Rice, pasta in *warmed up tomato juice*, mac and cheese, and Hamburger Helper.

                                      My mother was/is not an adventurous eater, and to this day if we go out the restaurant needs to have chicken-fingers-and-fries on the menu. My father has a more open mind for food, and his horizons have happily expanded as I have led the way.

                                      Growing up, somehow I knew there had to be more to food. I can probably credit an ex-boyfriend for that; he introduced me to several ethnic dishes that I count among my favorite things to eat today. It triggered an excitement about my next meal, rather than the dread I had felt previously.

                                      My only sibling, however, reacted completely differently to our upbringing - he has no interest in food and when he eats, it must be very simple and familiar or he will go hungry (and god forbid the food on his plate -touches- each other)

                                      So, I guess that makes us born?

                                      1. this one really made me think too. i think i was a made chowhound. grew up on traditional chinese cuisine mixed in with north american canned/frozen goods and fast food influences. i can't say i had any real appreciation for good food. my mom is more adventurous than i with many foods, my dad less so.

                                        i remember trying indian, middle-eastern, japanese when i was young and didn't like them much. i can't remember at what point my perspective changed.

                                        now i am practically food obsessed. the introduction of the food channel to tv probably helped a lot. and i forced myself to eat (and now really enjoy) some of the ethnic dishes i hated as a child.

                                        1. to recap:

                                          Born: 6
                                          Made: 9

                                          (one person said both)

                                          Pretty close... born or made...anyone else care to pitch in?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: amandine

                                            Both. As I said in this thread, I believe chowhounding is an art. Some artists are born with the gift; others can cultivate it and become very good. Some folks just don't have it, no matter how hard they work at it.


                                          2. Born: both sides of my family (mom and dad) were in the restaurant biz (and both said never to work in one, ever). Culturally a big importance placed on food. One uncle still owns a place.

                                            Definately did some foodie things that I thought were normal as a kid, like taking a detour off US 101 to go to Castroville and get artichokes on the way to SF. Having to go to only a certain store to get one product otherwise the dish would suck. 4 or 5 uncles/family friends coming to the house with just caught fish because my Mom was the only who knew how to cook that fish. Big "newspaper and crab" parties during crab season. Sort of took this for granted and didn't really care, until I went to college.

                                            Before college my Mom use to have to nag me and my brothers to come and eat and stop watching TV or sleeping. After a year away I came home and was sleeping face first on a sofa when my Mom did her normal "get up and eat I cooked dinner" speech. Apparently I got up right away and ate everything without talking much.

                                            Later on my Mom asked me if I was okay because I just got up and ate. I told her that the food was so bad at college that I sometimes didn't have an appettite. She smiled because I think I finally appreciated her cooking for the first time. Later when I moved to an apartment she started sending me cookbooks and cookware and I realized I better learn how to cook or find decent food or I'd starve. In that sense, made...with a head start.

                                            1. At 16 I had a house account at many places in L.A., blowing every penny I could get my hands on in order to take in the culturally significant food era of the late 70's - 80's. Michaels, L'Ermitage, Ma Maison, Le Dome, Spago, La Toque, Rangoon Racquet Club, L'escoffier, etc. I still hate myself for not taking a job with Patrick Terrail when I had the chance, Wolfgang Puck was one of his chefs. Amazing time. Today, I am just a foodie realtor, but back then? An out of control born to be a Chowhound freak!

                                              1. born to a mother that would eat cheese popcorn with coke for dinner. mind you she would cook eggs for her kids. father who was in medical school who was a very healthy eater but not too adventrous.

                                                now I cook for my parents & they enjoy it. not sure how I got here...

                                                1. My mom was a typical early-'70s single working mom, harried and lonely, bringing up her little boy on pot roast, spaghetti with meat sauce, "chilli" made with ketchip, canned red beans, hamburger and spaghetti (I refer to this stuff as "Good Housekeeping" cuisine), plenty of green beans and salad, instant oatmeal and grapefruit for breakfast, that sort of thing. Healthy, nutritious, wholesome, tasty enough.

                                                  On the other hand, my paternal grandparents were food geniuses. Papa grew every vegetable the known to Western man on his extensive, multi-acre backyard garden, and Mama Johnson was perhaps one of the finest Southern cooks ever to grace a kitchen. A typical dinner spread for three would include dozens of individual dishes, everything perfectly seasoned and never over-cooked. She was a master of the pressure cooker, I think she owned 2 of them. Of course there were always lots of left-overs, meaning she really only cooked 2 days a week. Their basement walls were lined with canned goods, bushel baskets of potatoes and sweet potatoes, a huge freezer full of veggies, etc. They were brilliant.

                                                  Then, a few years later, I moved to San Francisco. That sealed the deal.

                                                  1. In my case I can't separate the two. My mother loved cooking, and was an accomplished small town cook, so I grew up eating lamb chops, veal, etc. Her father had been a professional sausage maker trained in the old country. Later she managed a family restaurant. My dad had lived in Asia and liked all kinds of foods. My mother insisted that they eat out once a week.

                                                    But at the same time, I always ate all sorts of things and was always happy to eat something new and different. I always have thought about and paid attention to food, but in my family that seemed pretty normal. Only when grew older did I learn that most people aren't food obsessed.


                                                    1. I think as with most things it's a combination of nature & nurture, but I can clearly remember my first foodie moment. I was about three years old and my aunt was about to make me a peanut butter sandwich, when she asked me the fateful question: would I like the peanut butter spread thick or thin? The very idea that I could, by an exercise of my will, affect the character of what would appear on my plate was revelatory and stays with me to this day, 50+ years later! (My answer, by the way, was "thick").

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: BobB

                                                        I agree! Something along the lines of "born" to be "made" into a CH. I was recently trying to figure this out... Here are some of my first "ah ha!" foodie moments:

                                                        One of my mom's favorite stories of me was when I was fed solid food (eggplant) for the first time and she said that my face went from puzzlement to wonder to wanting more!

                                                        Like BobB, when I was about 4 or 5, I had an aunt who, in my case, was preparing me oatmeal. My mother always added cocoa to mine, but she had run out. So my aunt made mine plain, which I remember scared me for some reason. I was afraid that I wouldn't like it, but when she put a lot of sugar and condensed milk so that the oatmeal was runnier and sweeter than I was used to (up until that time, my mom had always prepared my oatmeal with only a little bit of sugar and condensed milk and was SO thick, I actually didn't enjoy eating it). I remember that it tasted nice and sweet and not at all dense - it was delicious even without the cocoa! I had NO idea that food can be changed and modified into something that could suit my taste! Chocolate oatmeal (champorado) is still one of my favorite breakfasts ever! Dessert in the morning!

                                                        My mother is Filipino, which means she's one of those who overcooks everything, from meat to veggies. My father was Chinese, which means that most foods were cooked to perfection (haha!) by preserving the crispness in veggies, to the moistness in means and seafoods. I remember that I always prefered eating my dad's steak (medium rare to rare) as opposed to my mom's (DEAD-well done) when I was still too young to have my very own piece. Even today, my mother will cook corn on the cob for TWENTY minutes. When I was in high school, I had read somewhere that corn should be cooked for something like 5 minutes and since I was by that time, helping my mom cook dinner, I cooked the corn for the 5 minutes and you know what? My mom was raving about how sweet and delicious the corn was (I'm sure she just thought that she bought a good batch) but I told her I cooked it for only 5 minutes and she still told me that it wasn't long enough! <sigh!>

                                                        My 2 best friends growing up were Indian and Yugoslavian (Croatian) and I LOVED eating dinner at their houses even though S, who is Indian, would always apologize about her mom's bad cooking but I LOVED it! There is a snack that looks like noodles (kinda like packaged ramen noodles broken into pieces) that I would just love to eat again...

                                                        My father, who was a retired firefighter, was usually the cook on his shift because he loved to cook and was great at it! He was the one who really taught me how to cook, gave me tips on how to shop, cut veggies, clean & crack crab, etc. It was also his sister who taught me to always try a new food at least 2 times before determining if I liked it or not. Actually, when she used to babysit me, I was not allowed to turn down food without trying it. I used to think she was so mean but now I credit her for "expanding" my palate at such a young age.

                                                        I was also the kid that babysitters dream of having because I ate anything and everything! My mom would always hear, "oooh! Foodrat is so good! She eats everything not like her cousins who are so picky!" To this day, everybody still remembers that! I'm still the one who loves liver (fried in bacon grease, of course!) and chicken feet!

                                                      2. I think I was born one. I hated canned string beans as a kid, still do. Hated canned peas, still do. Love the fresh ones, though. I also remember telling my parents that Riuinite smelled like puke, and a few years ago, I smelled it again; still smells like vomit!

                                                        That said, eating my mom and grandma's homemade bread, sauces, etc.--and then eating Ragu on spaghetti at friends' houses--made me appreciate cooking and food as a skill AND talent.

                                                        My only non-Chowy taste thing is that I can't tolerate raw onions. Would that I could, though.

                                                        1. I think they're only born. But CH's need to be "activatd." In that respect, there's no making, just discovery.


                                                          1. i say made. i grew up thinking spaghetti with ragu was italian food, had never tasted any other asian cuisine except chinese (what can i say, it was a small town in texas), among other food travesties. 8 years in the SF bay area changed all that and i've been food obsessed ever since.

                                                            1. I can't decide. I know as a child my Mother was a terrific cook and baked pies and cookies, but her cooking was not inventive. My Father was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, who never ate a piece of lettuce in his life, so she catered to him. I do remember we had a neighbor who loved to cook and my first experience outside my Mother's kitchen were through her. She made her own BBQ suace for spare ribs and spaghetti suace from tomatoes and fresh herbs. It was the beginning of a life long persuit to find food that tastes good. I moved to New Orleans several years ago and this city is lousey with good restaurants. Then Katrina came and there wasn't a restaurant open in the entire area. But that didn't last for long. The chef's who were here in those early weeks after the storm pitched in and fed the first responders and anyone else who needed a meal, before the Red Cross and Fema. There was one restaurant that gave away 60'000 meals in those weeks following the hurricane. As power came back and water became potable one by one they started to open. If anything has made a full recovery it is our restaurants and I have followed there openings with such delight. I am not only a bona fide chowhound after this, but a semi expert on the dining scene around town. Come to New Orleans, you will be blown away by our food.

                                                              1. I think both. My mother is a fantastic cook. When I was a child it was an interest for her but now she is a fully trained chef, so yes.
                                                                It's funny though, because my sister and I have such different tastes, she's very picky about seafood and vegetables, but still better than most people.
                                                                And so, even though I eat every kind of food ever and she is picky, we are both EXTREMELY particular about the quality of our food. We both prefer to eat at very good restaurants and have nice dining experiences, rather than just... some terrible chain or the same place everyone other young person does. In that way I would tend to say born, I think.

                                                                  1. I was definitely born: my mom is a great cook, she always sought out interesting restaurants and made all sorts of different kinds of food when I was little. However, she was made: her mom makes the same things over and over again (bless her heart), she has only garlic salt, dried parsley and cayenne pepper in her cabinet, and turns up her nose at anything that could be called "gourmet." I've asked my mom about her transformation, and she said that a lot of it was because of the Time Life Foods of the World series in the 70s. They started coming out, and she started buying them (she still has them all), and getting interested in different kinds of food, and then started subscribing to Bon Appetit (she still has all of those too). It helped that she lived in Berkeley and was surrounded by all sorts of great restaurants and food sources.

                                                                    1. Hi. I grew into being a 'hound. My mom raised me and we ate the typical stuff and she also went through some phases of wanting to eat the same thing all the time....Buffalo wings were huge to her in the mid 1980's...with homemade bleu cheese dressing. At the time I despised chicken on a bone. I think I became a chowhound after venturing to NYC a few times a year and I always found myself on a quest not to do the usual thing...but to do it like a native so it begins with eating "what they eat". Now (I live in CT) whenever I go to NYC it's always a new food tour for me...I never want to "see a show" but I'd rather eat my way through town.
                                                                      I became an adventurous eater...but wasn't raised to be one.

                                                                      1. Can't they be both like the late Earl Warren? Now who's being naive...

                                                                        1. I vote with the made. My mom was not a good cook. I went through a period when I was about 5 or 6 and I would only eat pop tarts for breakfast and wagon wheel pasta with ketchup for dinner. When I asked her how she could let me eat that she said she thought it was better than my eating nothing. My mom worked full-time from the time I was 9 until after I left home. She had a policy of us going out for dinner every single Sat. and Sun. even if it was just hambugers or pizza. I was eating Thai food, Chinese, Mexican, Mongolian BBQ, Japanese, Italian, etc. by the time I was 10 and I think that made me into a Chowhound. Unfortunately, I married a guy from the Midwest whose mother cooked meat and potatoes 7 nights a week. He will eat all kinds of food now, but our first date we went out for Thai food and he had never had it before!