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When did you discover you were a Chowhound?

One night in 1966, I was desperately searching for something to eat in Palo Alto. I made a mental inventory of the places on University and on El Camino, and all I could come up with was Jack-in-the-Box and Denny's. At the time, Jack was an enormous figure that was perched on a huge black spring attached to the top of a cube that sold bad hamburgers. I couldn't go in. Denny's was a well-lit wasteland. I couldn't go in there either. I didn't want a pizza. I didn't want a hamburger. What I really wanted was an empanada like I had last weekend in Santa Monica, for a couple of bucks, in an Argentinian hole in the wall with opera flyers on the bulletin board; but I didn't know it at the time. So I went hungry. I was a sophomore, after all.

When did it occur to you that you couldn't take the bad food that so many people settle for? Was is a particular meal (or as in my case, a non-meal) or an individual who opened your eyes?

Some years before the above incident, I had my first taste of good fresh french bread, in a little neighborhood in Sao Paulo Brazil. I was 13, newly arrived from Ohio, and a new friend showed me around, starting with the bakery down the block. We each bought a couple of dinner rolls, and munched them as we explored. I knew this was something special, and I loved it.

When did you know?

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  1. I had hedonistic hot chocolate (read: thick and luxurious and silky) in Spain in high school. After that, I never ventured near Nestle Quik ever again.

    It's all been downhill from there.

    1. Hours in the library pouring over used cookbooks while my mom ran errands in town!

      1. Around my 6th birthday, I actually bothered to notice my mom soaking the chicken in buttermilk before dredging them in Old Bay dusted panko breadcrumbs and frying them in lard. I thought, "Maybe THAT'S why it tastes so good. I've got to remember that."

        1 Reply
        1. re: monkeyrotica

          When I was a kid in the sixties, my hippie mom was cooking curries - thai and indian, escargot and all sorts of goodies when everyone else's mom was cooking meatloaf and potatoes (which mine made too, as a special treat!). anyhow, having been exposed to good, interesting food early on, i have been a chowhound since then - and so have my siblings.

        2. Long ago and far away, when I was half my present weight, my grammar school teacher wrote on the blackboard:

          I eat to live.
          I live to eat.

          She said, "One of these is correct. Which one is it?"

          I remember thinking, "Oh. I know what I should say, but it's the other sentence that's true."

          1. I grew up in a military family, moving from place to place. Fortunately my parents were the type that didn't want to ever live in the U.S. So, as a kid I was exposed to a whole bunch of different foods and would even refuse to eat "normal" foods for a spell.

            My mom is the one who really did it to me. She worked as a tour guide in Italy and had Lasagne somewhere in Florence or something. For almost fifteen years she would talk obsessively about it, stopping at nothing to replicate what she had.

            That's worked onto me, I'll travel no small amount of distance or time to get a meal that I want. The more obscure, weird, or uniquely local I do it.

            This is a big subject for me.

            1. Almost impossible to recall the precise moment. I remember fantasizing about meeting the kids I read about in books, and making friends with them by introducing them to my favorite foods - like for instance making pancakes for Heidi and the little invalid Clara, or Christopher Robin and Pooh. My favorite chapter in any book for a long time was one in LM Alcott's "Jo's Boys", the sequel to "Little Men", called "Patty Pans", in which the girl Daisy is given a complete working child-sized kitchen. My own cooking education came in fits and starts, but I always had a thing for interesting or unusual food.

              It's funny how we've all unquestioningly accepted the notion that our Chowhoundishness is something innate that we've DISCOVERED in ourselves, as opposed to something we've BECOME. Sorta like all the gay people I know. And I'm in complete agreement.

              1. I have also "known" ever since I was a child: can I add "Bread and Jam for Francis" as one of the top all time chow children's books. I was an extremely skinny child, but I always noticed food. I was the type that would eat a lot just for others to comment on how big an appetite I had. --
                My mom and I lived in downtown NYC, and she would periodically take me out for Indian, Chinese, Korean, etc. Most of her family is in the food business, she has occasionally worked as a caterer. My dad's side is the type of Italian family that talks about what we'll have for lunch and dinner after breakfast.

                When did I come out? In college, like most people...I couldn't believe people called the dining hall "good" or that our dining halls were considered the best in the country. I learned to cook Thaifried rice from my roomate and didn't care that the whole floor complained about the fish sauce. I tried to get off meal plan Asap b/c I knew I could feed myself better.

                5 Replies
                  1. re: Curiosa

                    Now I'm going to have to re-read it... Thanks for the great memory.

                    1. re: Siobhan

                      Bread and Jam for Frances totally sealed the deal for me as well.
                      I remember thinking her lunch set up with the thermos of soup, and the salt and pepper shakers was the coolest. She was one lucky Badger:)(She was a Badger, right?)

                      1. re: anna banana

                        Definitely LOVE B&J for Frances!! (I think badger too) Childhood did it to me (mom great cook). Eating with friends in college & after (traveling abroad) confirmed it, learning to cook along the way also. Associated eating/cooking with good times! :)

                        1. re: anna banana

                          Oh my! A friend of mine at work always said I reminded her of Frances' friend Alfred (?) who was the one with the little salt and pepper shakers since I would bring tiny containers of condiments for whatever I was eating, and if I forgot something, would just forgo that food entirely as not worth it. I knew I was food obsessed when my sister read that book and wanted bread and jam, and I read it and demanded a hard-boiled egg with a tiny salt and pepper shaker in my lunch. I am thrilled to see my neice responding to the book in the same way.

                  2. When everyone was crying about taking an assignment in Industrial L.A. (Right by Little Tokyo, Chinatown east and west (SGV) and East Los Angeles) and I stayed there for 6 years (the average was one year also due to a VERY demanding client) :)


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dommy

                      OH YEAH!!! You're a lucky dude working over there.

                      When I first moved to LA five years ago that's where I wanted to live. All my friends, who were from Calabasas, thought I was crazy.

                      Now I've managed to make my gf a big fan of that area, so I get down there when I can.

                      I love it.

                    2. From traveling -- when I plan a trip I spend just as much time researching the places I want to eat in as what I want to see. I think I had an 'aha' moment in Japan when I realised that going far out of my way for great food is so worth it! Now I accept it and admit that I want to go to Thailand just for the food and Queens is the best borough in NYC because of the great chow.

                      1. I cannot recall exactly at what age but I do remember reading Grimm's Fairy Tales and coming across the story "Clever Gretel".

                        It opened my eyes to the wonders of food:

                        "So she plucked two nice fat birds, and got them all ready for roasting on a spit, and, towards supper time, she put them in front of a good hot fire to cook. She stood there, turning the spit to roast them evenly and, as they began to get brown, they smelt delicious."

                        I swear, I read those lines over and over again until I could almost taste those danged birds...

                        I have been hooked since :)

                        1. Great thread :-)

                          My father's a chowhound, and cooked fabulous meals that were utterly wasted on us kids. (I remember turning up my nose at .... Quebecois pork pie; beef stirfried with broccoli; roast goose; beef tenderloin with stilton sauce. Criminal.)

                          But I also remember that when I was about ten, my dad and I developed a Saturday morning habit of driving to a nearby deli and buying a mess of greasy, thin-sliced genoa salami. On the way home, we'd eat *the whole bag*.

                          I loved that.

                          1. Starting at seven, I would steal a quarter from my father's change to buy a slice on the way home from school.....When caught, I was unrepentant.

                            1. So, who wants to go get some empanadas? Pupusas? Anybody heading to the Indio Tamale Festival?

                              I drive about 25 miles out of my way last night to check out a Salvadorean pizza place that makes great tamales. It was worth it: fragrant, soft, moist, messy. My attitudes haven't changed much, but my options are infinitely better.

                              1. ....when my heretofore bland-cooking English mother started baking the English country bread her uncle had made during her childhood. The aroma was enough to drive us all mad! It was so satisfying to her that she began searching out ethnic recipes from the fellows on Dad's soccer team. We began eating real homestyle Italian, German, Dutch....what a treat! Fewer and fewer Campbell's soup cans in the cupboard as Mom turned our tastebuds in new directions. Then Julia Child started appearing on fledgling PBS and soon Dad was whipping out omelettes on the weekends. Bland English cooking faded away in our household.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: toodie jane

                                  Am very curious about that bread. More detail, please! Got a recipe?

                                2. I don't know when I wasn't, if ever. it has always been about the food. One of my earliest food memories is going "across the line" into Agua Prieta for dinner in Mexico. Then later what ever our Jaanese housekeepr in Japan cooked up I was all for it. My grandmother, greatgrandmother and mother were all great southern and southwestern cooks. What is funny is my sister wasn't a CH. We swore she would not eat anything that was not white and even some of those foods were suspect to her.

                                  1. To be honest, if I go by the definition in the Chowhound FAQ, I'm probably more of a foodie than a Chowhound. If a new place opens within a mile-radius of me, then of course I'll try it out immediately, but beyond that distance, I have no problem waiting for critics (or Chowhound posters) to say, "Come here, this place is great!", before I trek out there.

                                    1. For my twelfth birthday, my parents took me to Windows on the World for dinner, where I had escargot for the first time. Game over.

                                      1. Well, I gotta share this one...Grew up in afirst generation Italian Family in Little Italy, ( NYC )....went to boot camp in 1966....first day in the chow line guy asks me " Eggs ? " and I answer " Sure ! ".....then he says " Hominy ? "...to which I say " Three . "....next he says " No, Hominy ? "..and I say " whatta ya deaf ? ". It was then I discovered that there were other foods besides the italian and Chinese repetoirs...I have been on a journey ever since.
                                        P.S. I really did not like the Grits, but they were alot better than the powdered eggs. :)

                                        1. at first, I was going to say when I stayed up until 3 am at age sixteen with my girlfriend gossiping not about boys but about the great meals we had had in our lives.

                                          but then I remembered how I used to obsessively bake pies and cookies from my Martha Stewart baking book in middle school

                                          but it was probably when I was 2 years old on vacation with my parents in Key West and I discovered shrimp. my parents told me they couldn't peel them fast enough!

                                          1. After my brother took me to all the best restaurants in NYC, thanks bro!

                                            1. What an interesting question! I was so painfully (and I mean that literally) unable to appreciate food; I was lactose intolerant long before that problem was commonly recognized. I was afraid of so many things because they actually made me sick.

                                              I lucked out; I married the Excellent Mister P who is a born and bred (Craig Claiborne did a piece on his dad in his series about dining across America) Chowhound, and I have friends who are Chowhounds. Bit by bit I realized that even if I couldn't eat some of the things other people ate, what I was able to eat had better be good. And then, bit by bit, I was able to eat more things. Thank goodness.

                                              1. My Dad was not a cook. He specialized more in the consumption department than production. Nevertheless, he had this great talent of adding a last minute ingredient to some food and making it almost into a different dish. I remember as a kid, once in a while he would slip Chinese tea into Kimchi Jiggye (Stew), and it would taste utterly different. At our favorite Chinese restaurant on 90th and Bway (long gone), they had reserved a special sauce for him with soy sauce, scallions and fresh shredded ginger, which he would use on various dishes. Another thing he liked to do was wait until all the dishes were consumed at a Chinese meal and then gather the left over sauces and stock, pour it over his rice and eat the concoction.

                                                When my dad had dinner with friends or business colleagues, he was the one who ordered the dishes and played the host role. Fast forward several decades later and I realized I was playing the exact same role -- I loved socializing over meals, and I realized I had to order for the table -- I just could not tolerate bad ordering. I think Chowhounding is in the genes...

                                                1. I grew up eating my mother's "saw dust" pork chops and shake and bake chicken. I started cooking a little after I was on my own.
                                                  Then, I took a trip to France at the age of 26. My wife and I had dinner a Jean Bardet (forgive me if it's spelled wrong) a 3 Michelin star restaurant in Tours, on our 1 year anniversary. At the end of the 3+ hour meal, it clicked. This is how food is supposed to be. I haven't been the same since. Several years later I became a professional cook and love every minute of it.

                                                  1. Thanks for the awesome thread, Well Seasoned.

                                                    I realized I was a CH when the librarians told me they wanted to come to my house for a meal, because they saw all the cookbooks I took out.

                                                    I thought every healthy 21-year old male borrowed cookbooks, went fooding and discussed meals with their friends.

                                                    1. Playing "Julia Child" in the kitchen with Mom while she cooked.

                                                      1. When I moved to college I met my boyfriend. His cooking was so out of this world, I couldn't believe it. On our 2nd or 3rd date he whipped up Chicken a l'Orange in half an hour. I still can't believe how quickly he can make anything, even if he's never made it before. My family now says I'm a picky eater, but I just contend that I want my food to taste good if I'm going to eat it! I'll still try anything, but I don't want to waste my tastebuds on something I don't like.

                                                        1. When I went to Devon Ave in Chicago to buy Indian bread and spices. On the way back I hit Chinatown to purchase baby bok choy and chinese pears and apples. I live in northwest Indiana so it's a couple of hours total driving time. But it's worth it, especially the view of the city skyline when driving along Lake Michigan.

                                                          1. It never occurred to me that I could be anything else.

                                                            1. Probably in seventh grade, when I demanded a crepe pan for my birthday. Next year, it was a chafing dish, and when the other kids were playing touch football in the street after school, I was setting crepes on fire in the kitchen.

                                                              1. When I was younger, I used to read The Boxcar Children book series. The author always chronicled the children's meals, which they often cooked themeslves, probably to highlight the kids' independence. The writing was pretty drab, as I recall, but I would read them just so I could find out what they would eat next.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Quik

                                                                  oh my gosh, i used to love those books and especially the cooking parts!

                                                                  1. re: themirthmobile

                                                                    you know i had totally forgot about that, that might have been when i discovered my inner chowhound, i loved those parts!

                                                                2. I come from Europeans who cooked alot and well. Being dragged to "cafe" on Saturdays meant visiting "old people" and trying to behave while the adults talked for an hour or two. The reward was when the "cafe" (coffee) was actually served along with incredible home-made pastries! I used to ask for the empty Dr. Oetker packets that the baking soda or whatever was in- they were my version of baseball cards- great pastry pictures and recipes on the back. The big news when someone came back from Europe was not what they saw, or souvenirs, it was whether they had the really good dill and parsley (but a variety whose root was almost parsnip like) seeds and would they share. Then a trip alone at age 12 that took me along with Austrian family friends to Corsica, Florence, Venice, and Vienna- the whole bread thing, the cheeses, the seafood markets, the little shops with it seemed hundreds of different types of cured meats hanging from the ceiling, the fresh goat cheese (like a super fresh ricotta) the maker brought door to door every day and was eaten with some raw sugar for breakfast.....Then the cookbook obscession- what 13 year old's greatest desire is to join a cookbook club? The baked Alaska I made with a little girl I was baby-sitting. The adults had never even heard of it, and thought I was a bit odd. Interesting topic.

                                                                  1. At first, it started with PBS cooking shows, Yan Can Cook, Cajun Guy, The Frugal Gourmet (mainly because my dad was too cheap to buy cable). Once I could read, I would gather several books at the dinner table every night that were earmarked with the best food parts of each book. I would read about food while eating food. I first realized I was a chowhound when I noticed that I was the only kid I knew who did that, and I was almost embarassed, like I was caught masturbating or something.
                                                                    I officially came out after college (where I had learned to read about food while watching food network while eating), when I had a writing degree and no clue what to do. I went to culinary school and even though I enjoyed cooking, I liked eating better, and decided to become a food writer. I hate eating out fast food unless it's a hole in the wall ethnic place or something with fresh ingredients. I will drive any amount of time in any direction for any food I am craving (7 hours to Nebraska for the best smoked barbeque EVER is the longest) and I go through food phases (last month it was elotes with dinner every night, before that it was Ethiopian restaurants).
                                                                    I got it so bad, this thread made me hungry.
                                                                    God, I love this.

                                                                    1. My first job out of college was in the culinary wasteland of Woodland Hills, CA. Within the first month... I had made 5 finds or so, the other employees - whom I got hooked on Ceviche, Caldos, Grape Leaves, & other dishes - gave me the impression that I was abnormally enthusiastic about food finds... that is when I first realized I was different than the mainstream.

                                                                      1. My mother is an awesome coook and always turned out these wonderful meals. i don't think she ever made anything that wasn't totally delicious, so i didn't start cooking meals until i was older, because hers were so good, why bother?

                                                                        but i started baking desserts when i was about 5, cookies to start, and a few cakes, and as i got older experimenting and making up recipes for these wild desserts and candies. Borrowing peoples cookbooks and taking cookbooks out of the library. Everyone used to call me picky, but i just know what i like and want all my experiences with food to be good ones.

                                                                        1. I must have been about six. My mother was a bad cook, in the 1950s semi-homemade mode. I hated her food. My grandmother and my mother's aunt were good cooks, and I began to go to Aunt Tillie's to help her (she was the housekeeper at the rectory for our parish)after school when I started first grade and I set myself the task of learning how to cook so I could make meals at home that I would enjoy. Much of Tillie's food was very heavy, in a German-American old style way, but by watching and listening to her talk to the butcher and the produce man I learned about meat, what cuts could do what, how to buy and prep vegetables, and so on. I found out very quickly that by learning how she cooked and asking questions, I could figure out how I would like to adjust the food to my taste. I never had any hesitation about trying out my own concoctions; I just always knew that food could be better than my mother's, and as soon as I was physically able to I took over the meals at home (my mother worked as a waitress in the evenings; when I got home she handed over the newest baby and left for work; by the time my father was home from work I had dinner on the table). By the time I was eight I was cooking dinner every night. There were lots of trials and errors, but I got better and by the time I got to high school and home ec class I was ready for the science and new things to try. I didn't learn about wine or ethnic cuisine until much later, and I really didn't come into my own as a cook until I read Julia Child some years later, but it started then.

                                                                          I still make some of Tillie's recipes, but I have lightened them and modernized them in some cases. Her training in frugal and respectful cooking, in the proper use of ingredients, in planning ahead and sharing one's food, in cooking well and eating well as an honorable and worthwhile endeavor, has marked me for good. Most important, I never will willingly eat bad food ever again.

                                                                          1. I knew when I was not tall enough to reach the counter tops in the kitchen. I wanted to watch my mom cook...in the worst way. She was always kicking me out of the kitchen. I used to love to look at the pictures in cookbooks...before I could read.

                                                                            1. It was some sort of cultural awareness day in--I kid you not--1st grade. We had a guest speaker who brought some goodies to class for us to try. We could either have some sort of candy or a simple sushi roll (just rice and nori). I opted for the roll and the rest was history. I promptly went home to my computer and googled the word chowhound! (ok, now I'm kidding)

                                                                              On a serious note, I think it was more of a gradual process than that. I still remember daydreaming about a McDonald's commercial I had seen when I was 4 years old. Then there was the time I begged my mom to make her chicken in gravy because I had just started reading C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and I had mistakenly thought that Turkish Delights were actually made of turkey. Also, years of eating the experimental cooking of four older sisters while both mom and dad were away at work was both a curse and a blessing.

                                                                              Probably the most defining moments, though, were when I had two separate sleep-overs at two different friends' houses. One mom fed us macaroni and franks, while the other mom left us a plate of plain ol' spaghetti and some margarine on the kitchen counter to share. I knew then that not everyone ate well. I had a lot of respect for food after that.

                                                                              But it wasn't until the last 10 years or so that I truly became a Chowhound in the true sense of the word. I must admit, it was the old la.eats newsgroup that got me mixed up in this crazy world of insatiable lust for food porn. My endless search for something new and something different eventually led me to chowhound.com where I quickly realized that I had barely scratched the surface!

                                                                              1. Food was functional for me. I stuck with my favorites and rarely tried anything new. Why should I when I already know what I like, right? My parents cooked and baked all the time, but for me, meals were just another task to be done every day.

                                                                                Then one night, having dinner at China Jade with my parents (I was in grad school), I was disenchanted with the same old choices; Chicken Chow Mein, S&S Pork, so decided to try something new. At the time, I regarded this restaurant as “fancy” and “authentic”. You could still order off a menu, and received a real cookie on a doily with your check.

                                                                                This night, I tried the Mongolian Beef. It was wonderful! I’m sure my affinity for good food had been on low simmer within me for awhile, and that Mongolian Beef turned it up to full boil. I remember sitting there thinking “I’m all grown up now! There is a _huge_ world of wonderful food out there!”

                                                                                McDonald’s stock must have tanked the next day!

                                                                                I went back a few more times before the Buffet hotplates came out and ruined their ambience (and quality), but I remember that as the moment when food became real to me.

                                                                                1. 'Chowhound' is a new term - there was no term for food respect when I was born. I can't remember when I didn't like food - and the stranger or more different than the fried meat and rice we had on our daily table the better. At age 7, I discovered my mother's unused Joy of Cooking and realized that there was an entire universe of unknown flavors - and I hope I live long enough to taste them all (beyond the Joy!).

                                                                                  Had it not been a bad thing to be a 'cook' going up - I'd likely be in another position!

                                                                                  1. I was born into it. My maternal great grandmother owned a restaurant on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. My maternal great-grandmother owned a dry goods store in what is now the Ukraine and her son, my paternal grandfather, was a kosher butcher in Philadelphia. I don't remember not going to the market with my mom to pick produce, meats and dry goods. My first cookbook was a gift for my 7th birthday when we moved to a very non-foodie part of Central Florida - a kiddie book but it helped me with my cooking math and gave me recipes that I could make for the new friends I made that summer. I graduated to Mr. Food that Chanukah. Living in Central Florida Suburbs, we couldn't do our shopping any more based on the specialty stores - what few were there when we moved there, closed until there weren't any - so I learned with my mom how to cook using what we could get at Publix and that didn't use to mean much. When a sushi restaurant opened, we found it and I got to try my first octopus sushi at 10. I had been eating fried chicken sushi rolls at home and mom and dad would have salmon, but now we could get it with sushi-grade fishes and have a variety! When I learned Spanish in high school, my parents figured I could help translate and we started going to local Mexican restaurants. When my parents got more comfortable in their surroundings, I branched out with them. A trip to the Orlando Science Center meant fun for me, but also a great Vietnamese meal and a supply trek to Dong A market for supplies. A trip to the Saturn dealer in Altamonte meant eating at the Aladdin Cafe and getting supplies of sumac and tahini. Going back to Philly meant checking on old haunts but also stocking up on what we couldn't get in Central Florida - Jack's Sunday Brunch, Nifty Fifty's, tastycakes and soft pretzels for me, cheese steaks in addition to everything else for my parents. Finding a cheese steak place in a nearby FL city meant my parents could finally relax in their new home.

                                                                                    1. When I was about eight years old, my parents took our normal train trip to New Olreans for shopping and dinner afterwards. We went to Antoine's and I had my jacket and my tie. The food, and servie, were beyond anything that I had ever experienced. I realized that life *could* be better with great food. Unfortunately, Antoine's has not held up their standard all that well, but I knew that I had experienced something beyond my sphere of knowledge. Of course, the term "chowhound" would not be coined for many decades.


                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                        Mom did her best, but her cooking was uninspired. I was 10 before I tasted a raw onion on a hamburger, and I think that kind of woke me up to what food could really taste like. As a high school student trapped in the library for study hall, instead of doing my homework I was devouring (so to speak) the Time-Life Foods of the World series, and copying recipes I thought I wanted to try. Our neighbors were also an influence -- the woman next door had years and years of Gourmet magazine in binders in the den -- as their babysitter, I couldnt get those kids into bed fast enough, so that I could pull out a random volume and pore over the recipes and pictures. Another neighbor, 2nd generation Italian, would invite me to come over and watch her little boys while she cooked -- I hold her responsible for my first taste of fresh pasta, mushrooms and risotto (a truly "exotic" dish in 1969!) She and I are still in touch, and now swap recipes and inspiration. Her boys, now adults with little kids of their own, also love to cook and one is a chef who wants to open a restaurant and use his mother's recipes.

                                                                                      2. I knew when after every meal I was served as a child i critiqued it in a very serious tone. Something along the lines of "That was good but the beans were too salty". LOL....my mother used to pitch a fit.