Do you ever get "type-cast" as a cook who makes one dish so well that people only think of that dish when they think of you? Here's my own example...then please think about this in terms of yourself.
We frequently have family gatherings that are done potluck style. One of my relatives typically hosts these gatherings and assigns out responsibility for which type of dish we are to bring. Once, a year or so ago, I brought a salad that everyone really liked. Nothing exciting or very labor-intensive - just had strawberries, toasted almonds and red onions with a bottled poppyseed dressing. (I was extremely busy with work and stuff going on at home at that time so was looking for a "throw-together" dish to bring. 99% of the time I make my own salad dressing. Bottled dressing makes me shudder.) Everyone raved and raved about it. I even gave out the recipe to several of my relatives.
So now, whenever there is a family gathering, that salad is specifically requested....so I feel compelled to bring it....and frustrated because it requires absolutely no culinary skill to make. My mother-in-law even hinted that she hoped I was making "my strawberry salad" for the backyard party we had this past weekend. I did not.
My husband asked me why I wasn't making the salad and my response was that I do not want to continue to be defined by that salad. I don't like making the same thing all the time. I figure, they now have the recipe - they can make the salad to their hearts' content.
What about you - are you "type-cast" by a certain dish? Do you try to break free, or grudgingly comply?
sometimes there are (esp) family dynamics. you can have friend-gathering dynamics too, but really mostly it's family.
understand that so-and-so has been the pecan pie go-to for years. no one would dream of being able to cook bland, dried out turkey like grandma. nobody could ever do that exactly the right way. let alone differently. hush now.
sometimes people are "type-cast" or pigeonholed because it keeps them nice and visible and safe. their shu mai potato salad is not the star main dish but it will collect its due praises and we can get along to business. i'm usually the relative that brings along the maple-raisin-dark-rum-glazed-fresh-locally-raised ham that isn't quite as tender and processed as the smithfield variety-- so why does everyone still insist on it? we'd have people riot if we didn't bring it, but you gotta let other people, esp the host, make their main dish or trademark starter--it's not even really ABOUT the food at all, it's about the group being together. you need consistency for that, a little wackiness is great to remember later, but mostly its the consistency that will win out. so what if people think of you as "darlene with the salad, with the not-dead stuff in it"-- you're still thought of fondly, right? people associate you with a nice taste in their mouth. i agree with others that you should fulfill expectations by providing a well-cooked/prepared, beautiful version of your "secret recipe" each get-together, and bring along each time or every other time a "new recipe" people will be eager to try out (especially in conjunction with your "trademark" dish). whether anyone says it in front of grandma or not, you'll get a reputation for good food and inventiveness.
think about it. it's not about how good of a cook you are, it's about seniority and family rank. fulfill your role with grace. respect your elders. wait your turn. all that other stuff. you will miss them when they're gone, when it is up to you to decide what family food traditions to toss and which ones to preserve. *sigh.* trust me, you'd sell your soul to be able to make your salad for them, one more time-- they loved it, even if you thought it was cruddy and thought that you'd moved beyond it.
make the dang salad for them now while you can. make them happy. how can they complain when you bring an additional item? life is short and freaking cruel. you can "grudgingly comply" at the SAME TIME as "breaking free." make the easy old recipe and bring along your new passion as well. everyone will be happy. especially, most importantly, you. folks can choose to nibble from the familiar or cannonball jump into the unfamiliar, or both. who doesn't want to make EVERYONE happy?
join a cooking/food related group if you need your dish to star every once in a while. play and invent in your own kitchen, among friends. you'll come off badly if you try to dominate in your own family, amongst your elders. relax because it really isn't about your culinary skills at all. make the old recipe the very best you can, with pride. it's yours, after all. take seconds and compliment grandma on her turkey. regret nothing. :)
I have been type-cast for bread and potato salad. I agree that's it's a great compliment the first few times, but gets stale after a while.
A couple of misadventures ended these type-castings. Once I made dough ahead of time and cooked it at my Mothers. I set the timer for 15 minutes figuring I'd leave it if it needed more time. I was away from the kitchen and my sister removed it when the buzzer sounded. When I returned, I decided that trying to cook it more would ruin it. It was pretty doughy and they don't ask for bread anymore. I sometimes bring it and make sure it's top quality.
With the potato salad, I subbed Ranch dressing because I was out of mayo. Bad move, but they don't ask for potato salad anymore.
Recently, I congratulated someone that was type-cast for trifle for breaking away and making a cake, even though others playfully expressed disappointment. She seemed grateful for the support.
I had some friends that, when they lived here, would always ask me to make my aunt Edna's escalloped asparagus. I went to visit them after they'd moved out of town, and they had bought stuff and wanted me to make escalloped asparagus. But they had bought fresh asparagus, and the eggs weren't boiled yet, and it took half the night. (Fresh asparagus is wasted in escalloped asparagus; it's the only way I know of to make the canned stuff edible, but if it's fresh I want it as unadorned as possible, personally.)
I'm lucky with my family because I'm seven and a half hours away, so when I go down there for Christmas dinner, I get there just in time for a drink before time to eat, and I can't really bring anything in the car that far. But it used to be, in college, whenever I was there over the weekend I'd get rousted out of bed at what seemed to me an unacceptable hour (actually probably around 8:30 a.m.) every morning to make biscuits.
My MIL asks me to bring aps to parties, because we're always on time. The BIL who is always late brings dessert. This is fine with me, and I've made many different dishes over the years. Most have been pretty good. Once, though, in a veg phase I made some mushroom pate. Brown and moist and slippery, it wasn't pretty just laying there in the bowl. (I know one should never make something "new" for a party, but...) Not only was it ugly, but it didn't taste good. Not bad, just boring. As soon as I got home from the party, I tossed out the recipe. Guess what my MIL always asks for. It's been three years! I've brought vastly better aps since then! But, no, she only remembers the mushroom pate.
I have 2 dishes that I am asked for regularly.. In fact, Mater Beige often rings and just tells me "I told them you;d bring your potato salad"..
What IS it with potato salad?? It's not rocket science, man... and many of my fellow aussie hounds say the same.. they're always asked for "their" potato salad.
Granted, that before I made "my" salad the first time, my family's idea of potato salad was overcooked potatoes with Mater Beige's mayo (A can of sweetened condensed mil and 1/2 the quantity of white vinegar shaken together in a Tupperware Shaker)
BUT... it's a freaking SNACK to make "mine".. no flair required.... In fact, I dumbed down the original recipe, as my family are definitely NOT Chowhounds!!!
But, like the dutiful daughter that I am, I make it with monotonous regularity, and justify it by telling myself that at least I am contributing in some small way, to the "chowing" of my family.
In other circles I am known as "death by chocolate cake girl".. which, at least, requires some flair..
In different groups, I have been type-cast for years. I'm lucky that they all like different things. Taco salad, a yummy chocolate cake, potato soup, biscuits and gravy - all southern comfort foods. I don't mind at all. If I want to do something different, I make what they want and give something extra. No matter what, there aren't any leftovers and that's a good indication that people really liked your food.
Since one of your specialties is biscuits and gravy, you've be lucky to ever make it out of my house, much less get to make something different. There is not much better in the world than good biscuits and gravy.
I also think your approach is right on; if people truly love something you make, be happy about it and make something in addition if you want to flex the kitchen skills. That way everyone is happy!
We don't have any family in the state to get together with for holiday meals but do belong to a dining group that cooks and dines together. The hosts make up the menu and assign recipes to those attending the meal. I have noticed that some people do get type cast by the way they cook. So and so is not real good with mains so lets give him/her dessert he/she is pretty good at that. In another group in a previous life there was one person you had to assign dessert to becuase no matter what you assigned her to do she showed up with some sort of dessert. After having a dinner with 2 desserts and no mains we all learned very quickly what we needed to do.
My DH is very picky, so I guess my MIL thought I couldn't cook well, because he ate so few things. I became her "just bring corn" person. I'd offer to do more, but she'd shoot me down. If I pressed too hard, she would say "pick up some bread." OUCH! I am a very good cook, regardless of my DH, and I had two young daughters that ate like normal humans. When my youngest started raving about how well I cooked my MIL started asking me what I wanted to bring, instead of just corn.
Okay - now I am venting! One year I brought a big bowl of mashed potatoes for a Thanksgiving dinner. They had been made the night before, so I warmed them in the micro, with some extra butter, etc. They came out very well. She really liked them and kept asking for my secret - there was none! The next year she told me to bring corn, and I said what about the mashed potatoes? She said that my SIL had made some the previous year that were so good that she had to have those. Hmpf! I said I had brought them and she told me I must be mistaken! I'll tell you what . . . I did NOT bring corn!
Those damn ribs!
I've always said that I cook, but don't BBQ (said with a bit of a sneer). Ironically, a few years ago I got roped into BBQ ribs for a wedding party. I got the ribs, made my sauce, and trundled out my little-used but big gas grill. People liked the stuff so much I keep getting asked to do the same. To make it easier and to discourage such interest, I switched to browning/searing fiollowed by braising in huge pots on an outdoor stove with huge burners. Still no go--I still get requests to do what I could train a reasonably intellegent chimpanzee to do.
Fortunately, I get to cook a lot for friends and do get lots of requests for other dishes that require some skill and pizzazz.
re: Sam Fujisaka
Never fails - at Christmas Eve - the whole family looks for my potato salad. It's a real complicated recipe, too - baking potatoes (I kid you not), Hellman's, red onion, pickles- maybe sliced hard-boiled egg on top. That's it - the potato salad my family would kill me for if I didn't bring it.
If I want to bring something else, I have to bring it in addition to the main event.
I was in the same situation. I became known for something similar--a mixed green salad, of all things. But to my dear friend who invites me to all her family gatherings (and while she loves to cook, she's not exactly a foodie or chowhound. I mean, she loves Rachel Ray), my salad was a masterpiece. It was the mother of all green salads, a meal in itself, nothing delicate about it, and I put in a lot of ingredients. And of course, I had to include my home made croutons. But it was always a lot of work, first going to 2 or 3 different farmers markets/stores to buy the freshest ingredients, and then 2 hours (no joke) slicing/dicing etc making it perfect. Last Thanksgiving I begged to make something else, and I made a huge roasted vegetable/antipasto platter. It was beautiful, everyone enjoyed it, but I still got asked "did you bring your salad?" I think this year I'll ask to make something else again. Maybe I can find something *new* to do with sweet potatoes!
Pretty much everyone that knows me only a little bit knows me only for a dish or two -- only my best friends know that there are lot more things that are only so-so. I've tried all kind of stuff that was only "eh" that gets supplanted by a "back-up dish" for get togethers at my house. Take this past weekend, I had some good friends over and I tried a Ecuadorian fanesca. Seemed like it would go well with my tired & true fajita platter, but it only rated an "eh". The fajitas will probably end up as a request if some of the friends have me over to a shared dish thing...
When it comes to family they'll rarely ask me to bring things like paella, as they know it ain't cheap. They will ask for orozo salad, which is almost as much work, but far less costly. I am lucky in that most of the in-laws don't impose financially. One b-i-l is even so good as to offer to do shopping ahead of time, though he lives about 3 hours away.
I am mostly flattered whenever I get asked make anything -- ego and cooking are hard for most folks to separate.
It takes many get togethers, shared diners, returned invites to get a full sense of most peoples culinary limits/adventurousness
Oh yes, we used to go to parties where everyone was majorly disappointed if I didn't bring my "Cocktail Weenies of Death". Forget my more high-brow recipes, the weenies were the thing. Oh well, at least it was cheap and easy to bring and it's very flattering to have everyone stop what they are doing and demand, "Did you bring weenies oh please say you brought weenies and where are they?!" the second you walk in the door. It got boring, but how insulted can I be when the dish is cleaned out within about half an hour of our arrival?
I did a pulled pork thing once and have a friend who insists that I make it over and over. I did make it again, and since I'd used slightly different cut of meat, and didn't cook it quite as long, it "wasn't the same". That's where I stopped making it.
It hasn't been a real problem, and some people complain about something every time you see them.
I'd decide if I wanted to (a) do what I want and forget the salad (b) do what I want and throw a salad together (c) give up, do the salad. In my case, I'd probably do the salad because my family is not especially into fine food in general, and the few who are get invited over separately anyway.
Not doing the salad at least gives everyone a conversation point, although if it was my family, they probably wouldn't understand your "artistic" reasons for not doing it.
I have been stuck with the label, "Blue Cheese Dressing Girl". (UG) I do in fact make a mean but very simple blue cheese dressing but attending a dinner party where everyone is making something and what they want from me is dressing makes me feel like the little kid at the party. Just like when my Mom would have me make my special "California Dip", (onion soup mix and sour cream) for parties when I was 10. I try and protest, "But but I can make something else" but then I get to hear how sad everyone will be if my dressing is not there! Oh well, at my parties I don't serve it!
Especially when it comes to a family gathering, I'd personally make the salad and know I could stop thinking about what to bring to such a thing. lawgirl3278 is on target, though, make something else in addition because otherwise you'll be answering questions from everyone the whole gathering about why you didn't make the salad.
Hi lawgirl and ccbweb - I edited my original post because I wasn't looking for a specific response to my situation. I've decided how I will handle this going forward. I was mostly trying to open a dialog about the topic of being known for one particular dish. Thanks, however, for your responses.