I'm a Foodie, But You're Still My Friend
This weekend my family and another couple were dinner guests at a friend's house. My friends all know that the Spouse and I are foodies but we choose our friends based on who we like, not how they cook. Before dinner I was subjected to an impromptu "Name the Mystery Ingredient" challenge and a series of apologies from the host about the quality of the meal and how he's intimidated by cooking for us. I felt like I was being put on the spot simply for accepting a dinner invitation.
I have NEVER publicly commented on a friend's cooking, other than to compliment it or ask for a recipe. I do not "rate," "review," or give feedback on a meal when I am a guest in someone's home. In other words, we don't give anyone a reason to feel intimidated by having us over. Besides, we're here for the company, not the meal.
Do your non-foodie friends ever do that to you? How do you handle it gracefully? This has happened before - fortunately infrequently - but it always makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Anyone else have a similar experience?
Well at least they are not so intimidated that they don't invite you! Accept that some friends are neurotic on this issue and don't let it bother you too much. I also will definitely downplay my food interest to certain people (inlaws). I would rather they feel comfortable having me over and feel that I enjoy their food.
This particular friend, however, sounds like he might have been looking for your approval this time. So in that case I might make a big fuss (even if I don't feel that way about the actual food) because that's what my friend seems to need.
Brush it off. As julesrules notes, they still invited you and that's excellent. I cook a lot and usually when there's food at home being eaten with us and our friends its at our home. I hear a lot of similar "I'm sure this is nothing like what you'd make" or "I know you'll hate this, but...." and similar things and I tell them, honestly, that I'm thrilled to eat anything anyone else wants to make for me. I tell them that I do almost all of the cooking and its a real treat to have someone cook for me and I'm sure that I'm going to like it.
It sounds like your friends were just nervous, not rude. It sounds like you were only a bit put off, not offended. Makes sense to me. I'd highlight the parts you do like (being with people, having someone else cook and so on) and change the topic :)
I've had it happen both when dining at a friends' home and when dining in restaurants. Once dined at the home of a friend & his wife. The wife knew I worked in the restaurant industry and was freaked out. Made sure my compliments started when we arrived by stating how good things smelled & how I was looking forward to a home cooked meal since I'd been out of town for the past week. Seemed to make her more comfortable. No matter how the food is, I try to be a gracious guest & thankful that they were nice enough to include me in the gathering.
Sometimes find myself in awkward positions when dining out with friends, too. They look at me like aren't you going to do an analysis of the service? the menu? the decor? the food? Nope. I'm off work!
I was friends in high school in the midwest with someone who, after we lost contact, emerged as a very well-respected chef on the west coast over a decade later. We reconnected, and I was invited for a very casual but fun and delicious dinner. So I extended an invitation back. I am and was a pretty good amateur cook, and at the time I sorta specialized in Chinese. So I put a dinner together, but I was nervous, and did some stupid things, like substituting an expensive steak for the cheap chuck I usually marinated for some skewers, which therefor instead of tenderizing turned mushy. Yes, it ended up tasting pretty good, but I was apologetic and defensive about my errors. My guest could not have been nicer, ate my food with enthusiasm, and honestly or not gave me praise. I most remember one comment, "You know, other than (world famous chef), you are the first person in so long to invite me over for dinner." Very gracious.
I used to work in a restaurant and the chef was a CIA grad. He did amazing things in the kitchen. A bunch of folks from work when on a beach vacation weekend together and my friend cooked for "the chef". I think she made pork barbecue and maybe cole slaw - something basic. She said she was so nervous to cook for him but later he thanked her and said that no one EVER cooks for him and so it's such a treat not to have to feed everyone all the time. He rarely gets to relax and eat.
I have friends who are light years ahead of me with their cooking, and other friends where perhaps I am more accomplished and they sometimes exhibit the insecurities you describe. In my experience, the best way to put them at ease is to ask if there is enough left over for a second helping.