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What would you have done?

I decided to host a party early in the summer and invite a group of friends that we spend lots time time with because our kids are friends. The kid relationships are the prime reason we have gotten to know each other, so the parents constitute a motley group if there ever was one. I decided to cook a nice buffet meal after a week or more of planning. Everything turned out the way I wanted, and I was sure that I had covered my bases regarding the different preferences of all of my guests. Some of course, hate seafood, some love it, some don't eat grilled veggies, etc. You know the drill.

There were five main coures to choose from, and one of them was Shrimp Creole. It was the only dish that was a little spicy because I had added smoked red pepper flakes to it. Not hot, just a little heat. Well, one of the mothers immediately started yelling "THE SHRIMP IS REALLY, REALLY HOT!" over and over, in a loud voice (it wasn't -- even my DH was able to eat it and he can't eat hot food). She managed to scare most of the teenagers away from it, and finally one of them tried it and ended up telling the rest of her friends that it was fine -- but not before most had eaten everything else, leaving the shrimp to stand in the steamer tray, uneaten.

What would you have done? I was too busy, unfortunately, to make a joking comment about how she was really exaggerating. It would never occur to me to start whining and complaining loudly over someone else's food. What would you have done?

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  1. With a glint in your eye and a knowing smile, one might tell that guest (loud enough for the teens to hear): "Well, we've also got some really tame and bland items for older palates and young children. Let me see if i can find something more suited to your taste." -- (p.s. - no offense meant to older palates here on Chowhound ;-)

    1. This has happened to me before as being part-Indian I have a tendency to put chilies in all my food. On one ocassion I had a guest whining about the fire in her mouth from an ancho-chipotle chocolate mousse I made. It actually was too much heat for her as there were tears in her eyes, but I used some gentle pressure and humor to try and get the other guests to just try it. And once I had a few takers, the rest new that the food was fine.

      This tactic works especially well if there are men in the crowd as they tend to respond ideally when you question their cojones when it comes to tolerating spice.

      15 Replies
      1. re: JungMann

        I live in a family with a very very low tolerance for heat while my wife and I like some heat sometimes. My mother is always the one to chime in that something is hot and then the rest of the family follows suit and doesn't touch it. I really think it all has to do with our own personal tolerance for heat. My wife and I often look at each other like my mom is crazy when she says something is hot as we don't even taste the heat. She's stated before that a mild salsa was too hot. Just recognize that some people have basically zero tolerance to heat and for them the shrimp were really really hot. To her they were apparently hot enough to warn other people.

        1. re: Rick

          Rick, I agree with you that some people just can't eat spicy foods. My sister is one of them. She thinks Taco Bell nachos (the glorified tortilla chips and nacho cheese in a dixie cup variety) are super, super spicy. But I think that the OP's guest was rude. She could've been a more tactful in her response to the food. She should've let the other guests make their own judgments about the food instead of loudly proclaiming hers.

          To the OP: Since this lady is part of your extended social network, I wouldn't necessarily ban her from your future get-togethers. But I would certainly make a point to pull her aside the next time she's at one of your events to walk her through the menu and tell her all the long details of each and every seasoning in every dish since she seems to have both a sensitivity to spicy foods and to politeness at parties. That's my very passive-aggressive way of telling her to be a good sport.

          1. re: misswills

            Oh, I love your suggestion. Great idea. She will probably be here again in the coming months, and I have no intention of serving white bread.

            1. re: misswills

              Yes, I do agree that she could have been more tactful in her approach. Just trying to help the OP understand what could cause someone to do that. To some people spicy food is downright offensive. I'm certainly not one of those people!

              1. re: Rick

                If you knew how much planning and effort was involved to come up with the menu, you would be amazed. It is hard for me to believe that anyone could have been offended. Most people thought I had the party catered and I worked very hard to make sure that there was something for everyone. She even asked if it was catered, and when I told her that I had cooked everything, she was really surprised. She knew I was the cook before she tried any of it. I just thought it was rude for her to declare that the food was so hot that no one who heard her would eat it. However, as all of the posters here have pointed out, there are different tolerances for heat, so perhaps she was just overwhelmed when she tasted it. Maybe one of those little red pepper flakes got stuck in her craw!

                1. re: RGC1982

                  If someone proclaimed a particular buffet dish to be too hot, I'd be first in line for it!

                  1. re: mojoeater

                    obviously it wasn't hot enough if she could still speak...
                    and I'm second in line!

                  2. re: RGC1982

                    She's probably one of those people who isn't used to chilies and can't tolerate the heat... shouting it out was pretty rude, but now you know about her preference - if you have her over again, just warn her not to eat the shrimp because it's spicy, and then she won't need to make a fuss over it!
                    I have a very low tolerance for heat in my food - I'm fine with ginger or pepper (I love them!) but 'hot' food sets my ear canals on fire from the inside, and it's a most unpleasant sensation.

                    1. re: RGC1982

                      Some people just don't have social grace.

                      Whether or not the dish was too hot, she is one of those people.

                      Nothing you can do about it... but sigh and move on.

                      But I wouldn't do anything special for her next time.

                      1. re: RGC1982

                        hmmm...maybe she felt a bit jealous that you could pull off cooking all that food so she (unconsciously?) was trying to put you down?

                        1. re: excuse me miss

                          There was nothing unconscious about that behavior.

                      2. re: misswills

                        i agree about keeping her in the circle. when she's over again you can holler across the buffet that she should be ok with the mac and cheese and crudites since it's not at all spicy...

                        1. re: misswills

                          If she was like this in this case, what next? I would have jokingly told her to quit being such a wuss and get over it... if she couldn't take that and the chiles, then she's sailing along the edge of my earth...

                      3. re: JungMann

                        JungMann give us the ancho chipolte chocolate mousse recipe please....

                        None of our friends have the cojones to eat the food we make we do our best to make things unspicy but people who come over now know what to expect - I always have one bland dish for the potato people but I guess you do have to nip that behavior and that goes for any kind of reaction whether someone thinks a dish has too much pumpkin in it (as if) or whatever - it all comes back to how an overreaction can ruin the mood at a party and in your case the shrimp dish you made was well thought out and not cheap to put together.


                      4. Pour a glass of ice water over her head.

                        What? Too much?

                        OK then, just hand her a glass of ice water then.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: PeterL

                          A waitress at a Mexican restaurant once told me that ice water makes it worse. She recommended bread to dissipate the effects of too-spicy food. Don't know if it works because I've never had to test it, but I've always wondered about it. Anyone know?

                          1. re: marcia

                            Bread works better. Dairy is best. Drink milk or eat a hunk of cheese or spoon of ice cream/cottage cheese/yogurt.

                            1. re: marcia

                              water just dilutes the capsicum and spreads it around your mouth. Capsicum (the stuff that makes it spicy hot) is fat-soluble, not water soluble. So the best thing is bread with butter! (although yes, plain bread IS better than water...)

                              My Mexican friends taught me that trick when I lived there. Then when I got back I used to bet my friends that I could eat jalapenos whole without drinking anything (yes, those were college days and I'm sure there was alcohol involved somehow...).....but I never said anything about eating bread with it!!

                              1. re: janetofreno

                                I thought it binds to carbohydrate chains, as well. I had no tolerance for spice as a kid, so when my father trained me to eat Indian food like a proper desi, the table would be covered in lassis, naans and desserts for me to dissipate the heat on my measly rogan josh. One gulab jamun for every two bites of "spicy" rogan josh made me very fat by the time I was able to tolerate heat.

                              2. re: marcia

                                Yeah but a piece of bread over her head don't have the same impact as a glass of ice water.

                            2. It seems like it could have been some sort of immediate reaction to the heat. She has no tolerance for spicy foods and just blurted something out because she was shocked to find that the dish was spicy. Plus, sometimes I think it's hard to gauge how much spice you can handle when compared to the rest of the population. My mom says she can't handle spicy food at all but I've seen her eat some moderately spicy foods with little difficulty. For other people, not handling spicy food means even the littlest bit of heat is too much.

                              1. She might have gotten hold of a bit with more pepper flake stuck to it. I love spicy foods (really spicy), but there is something about red pepper flakes that always seem hotter to me. I generally substitute cayenne because I hate getting the "hot bite".

                                Obviously, she should have known better than to make such a fuss, but don't worry too much about it. There is no inoculation against idiocy.

                                1. Well, if she does her Roman Candle trick another time, you'll know it doesn't matter what you do, she'll always have a drama.

                                  1. what i would have done was (in front of everyone) say "oh, i'm sorry, i didn't think i made it too hot", take a forkful and eat it, then say "hmm, it's not that hot to me. maybe you happened to get a chunk of pepper", give some to DH "honey, you're more sensitive to spice than i am, take a bite and check for me please". DH responds that it's not hot. then confirm to your guest "you must have just gotten a big chunk of pepper in your bite. the shrimp is safe everyone!"

                                    1. Five courses for a "motley crew". Major kudos to you and jfood thinks shrimp creole is a major statement with this cast as a "nice job". Jfood also has an issue with too spicey, in fact he cannot buy anything but "mild" salsa in a jar. Sohe understands that OMG spice hitting the tongue.

                                      But the most that "screamer" should have done after eating the shrimp was do a major suck air, grab a piece of cheese or dairy to calm her tongue and then approach you and mention quietly that the shrimp had some heat. Then you could have tasted again in front of her and mention that it was as desired and that her piece may have had some pepper flakes in the shrimp folds. You would tell her there were other, less spicey alternatives and offer them up.

                                      But now that the scream occurred your best course of action was a calm walk to the shrimp, take a taste and merely say that there is a little spice in the shrimp but it's absolutely delicisious and then IMMEDIATELY offer some to other guests on a plate. In other words take the offensive with the shrimp in hand as an allie versus attacking the screamer. Once you get the tsunami moving in the positive direction of the shrimp is delicious versus the shrimp is spicey, your job is done. You should also offer the screamer a plate of other stuff.

                                      After coaching travel teams for 20 seasons, jfood has dealt with kid's friends/teammates parents for years. They will challenge your patience like nothing else. Learn to deflect the situation by bringing a positive into play.

                                      1. Of course, one of the problems with handling this kind of attack is that it is so unexpected that your normal social poise and common sense don't have a chance to kick in.

                                        I still say, watch out for this one; she'll have a new drama every time.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: yayadave

                                          Indeed... sounds like this drama queen will be back. Be sure to have some nice boring tuna casserole or mac and cheese for her. Honestly, anyone who thinks they have a low tolerance for heat and then dishes themselves up Shrimp Creole gets what she deserves!

                                          1. re: yayadave

                                            yayadave is right. I was brought up to have nice manners and when someone behaves as rudely as your guest does, I simply am speechless and usually do nothing. By the time I have recovered from the rudeness, I am then mad at myself for not doing/saying anything. But, my good manners got in my own way!
                                            My SIL is like that; rude almost to a fault with her backhanded comments. We just don't know how to react because we are so taken aback by what comes out of her mouth.
                                            Do watch out for this one; there will be another drama is right!

                                          2. This reminds me of my family members who live in Minnesota. They can't stand hot food, and there is an old joke about how Minnesotans think ketchup is just a little too spicy he he he

                                            1. What would I have done?

                                              Smile. Be the gracious hostess.
                                              Vow to never invite her over again.

                                              1. oh dear, drama queen, eh?

                                                I like to think that I would have been all southern charm with the "ooooooh, are you one of those people with the super sensitive palates that find ketchup too spicy? I made some bland items for the less adventurous folks over here and they're soft too <big smile>"

                                                Though, knowing my husband knows me as well as he does, I am fairly confident he would have stepped in with "oh, the shrimp are spicy? perfect!" and elbowed her out of the way, while steering me firmly in the opposite direction.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: orangewasabi

                                                  Ah yes, the old southern charm. "Bless your heart," I would've said, while patting her on the back.

                                                2. The rest of my friends and hubby would have already had some on their plates (we all love food and have a bit of something on our plates to see what we really want when we go back) and would have tasted it immediately. I would have told her not to feel like she has to eat; there are so many more options; more shrimp for us!
                                                  (That is after cooling her off with the garden hose! :) )

                                                  1. It sounds like you went above and beyond in trying to create a buffet with something for everybody and your guest was lucky to be there. I don't really have any advice for you more than what has already been offered but, this guest was definitely rude. If she did not care for something, the least she could have done was to be discreet about it. Maybe you could try signs next time with stars for the heat level; one star for bland, three stars for some heat and so on!

                                                    1. I'd give her another chance. Perhaps there was other things going on and it was the straw that broke the camels back.
                                                      If she pulls the same sort of stunt again, I'd not invite her back.

                                                      I'd probably also go on the offensive with her. Sarcastically (But in a jovial way) point to all the non spicy stuff she can eat. Tease her a bit about her outburst. Perhaps she'll get the point about how inappropriate her behaviour was. If she doesn't learn, well, you know what to do with people who can't take a joke, right??


                                                      1. Seems like I'm in the minority here, but actually, I think you did the right and mature thing, which was to be a gracious hostess, disregard the outburst, and let others point out that the shrimp was fine. Sure, the woman was rude, but that doesn't make it acceptable to be snarky or rude back, or to belittle her in front of the other guests (I am not saying that's what you wanted to do, but it does seem that others think it would be appropriate). Since this group gets together regularly, if this woman is prone to hysterics or rude outbursts, or if she's weird about food, the others will figure that out pretty soon. It's regrettable that a lot of your gumbo went uneaten. I am sure it was tasty, and it's clear that you felt offended. But actually, a lot of kids have a pretty low tolerance for even a little heat, so maybe - and no offense is meant here - just maybe - they might not have eaten that much anyway. I'm no doormat, but I think sometimes it's best to bite one's tongue and not let annoying people get under one's skin too much. (Though rolling your eyes may be unavoidable.)

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: 2m8ohed

                                                          Thank you for the kind comments. I understand the point about kids' palates, and I only do because we moved here to Dallas from New Jersey, The Texas kids like hot food, and live on medium and hot salsa, jalapenos, chipotle, etc. They grow up eating Tex Mex. About the only mild condiment they consume is (yuck!) yellow mustard - but that's another topic. I used to joke that Texans would put jalapeno in their toothpaste if they could. I guess that's one of the reasons I was so surprised by my guest's reaction. BTW, your palate changes over time once you start eating the local favorites. I can now tolerate much hotter food.

                                                          1. re: RGC1982

                                                            I'm the younger fun uncle to 4 nieces and they absolutely love it when you goad them into trying something hot (even if it's not). These are girly girls at heart, but still aspire to the urban or skater/surfer ideal.. But they have to be somewhat familar with the basic dish. They know shrimp, for example, and they know Mexican. So if you tell them it's a Mexican shrimp dish that's too hot for them, they want to try it. If, on the other hand, you tell them it's a spicy Cambodian shrimp dish, they'll run for the door.

                                                            Next time offer some dishes like cheese pizza and give them the opportunity to add their own heat... peppers, sauces, etc. See if you can get them to play off each other. Who cares what the parents think, right? And you shouldn;t either. The cost of being a good host is sometimes you have to endure a few bad apples who have probably never put themselves out there to make sure others have a great experience. Brush them off but show them the courtesy they missed. It's all you can do.

                                                            1. re: tastyjon

                                                              My aunt behaves this way a lot.

                                                              One time she did it in a restaurant; the food wasn't even the slightest bit spicy. The waiter brought over a lovely little dish of sorbets for us all to share. I thought that was adorable, plus she shut up long enough to eat it. Next time someone does that at my house, I'm going to offer something like that.

                                                          2. re: 2m8ohed

                                                            i agree with you completely -- i thought she handled the rude guest with grace. at the end of the day, there's no reason to be defensive about the food one's worked so hard to prepare. the only think i would have differently is pulled her aside or called her the following day to let her know that i was hurt and angry that her outburst deterred the other guests from trying the shrimp creole.

                                                          3. Hmmmm...what would I have done?

                                                            Probably rolled my eyes, then gossiped about the drama queen later to my husband, as us two lucky folks got to reap the benefits of all of the leftover creole shrimp.

                                                            1. A very long time ago, I learned a trick from a gracious and elegant lady who was a mistress of social situations. She counselled that when anything like this occurs simply act as if your tormentor was being HILARIOUSLY funny on purpose. For example, you might have gone up to the Shrimp Wimp, with a big smile on your face, and laughingly compliment her on what a card/hoot/laugh riot she is with her funny remarks about the Creole. If she still has the guts/cojones/temerity to insist on her point (trust me, few do!) just laugh again and point out how you always count on her sense of humour to enliven a get-together to another member of the party. You would be amazed how well this works to defuse awkward situations and how little damage the Heat Avoiding Missile can do after your charming round of compliments on her wit.

                                                              1. Your guest was rude. I would have let everyone know...
                                                                I am sure that your buffet was awesome. The trick to eating at a buffet, is to start with only a bite of each. If that would have happened to me with one of my guests... I would have proved that she is the food Monkey and insisted on every one trying a bite of the dish in question and let the games begin...
                                                                Brian the Food Dude

                                                                1. Would have gone over and set her hair on fire, saying, "HOT? HOT? What about this for HOT?"

                                                                  Obviously we can't act on our imaginations; but you can remember the image next you're with that guest or any other who treats you so rudely.