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.
I think being known as a very good cook must be a bit like being very beautiful or handsome ( I hasten to add I do not know either condition from personal experience!)
Folks assume all sorts of things about you that are not so...you are intimidating simply by being who you are. How lonely that must be...
Having said that, I am not sure I would have the guts to cook for Alton Brown or Nigella Lawson if they happened to be in town!
I once worked for a woman's magazine and the head of the food department who was a local celebrity and often appeared on TV was quite candid. She admitted that lots of folks wouldn't invite her without doing the grovelling bit and apologizing in advance for every bite. She said it made her a very nervous guest and she ended up inevitably spilling stuff. It made everyone feel better!
I'm so glad you posted this. I love to cook and consider myself an amateur foodie. However, I have a dear friend who, along with her husband, used to own a local restaurant. She has worked as an executive chef and still does catering. I've been completely intimidated about inviting them to dinner. I have no problem bringing dishes to gatherings at their house (when it's appropriate/requested) and they've always been well received. For some reason, I've just not felt comfortable inviting them for a full meal at my place.
Thanks to this post, I'll be remedying that soon.
re: Ima Wurdibitsch
Cook something you are experienced with, especially if it is something in the comfort food domain that you can do a lot of in advance. Include something you have brought to them that has been well-received. Splurge a little on something to start, whether it be the drink or the wine, a little amuse-bouche of something tasty -- anything from a roasted nut to smoked salmon to a shrimp or scallop or oyster or something cheesy/puffy. A good start makes everything that follows seem better.
I've experienced both sides.
The first time I cooked for a good friend (excellent amateur) and his best friend (regionally well known chef) I was all nerves and worried sick. The salmon actually flew off out of the oven when I pulled the rack out with too much force! My friend helped sooth my nerves and the chef was gracious,complimentary and we had a great time. Getting a tad tippsy didn't hurt. I have always remembered him saying that everything tastes better when someone cooks it for you.
I love to cook and experiment with ingredients and techniques. I've become pretty good over time. Usually nothing fancy and fairly casual - but have found friends can be intimidated. I think so many of them really don't cook frequently enough to develop ease in the kitchen. Eating in the home for many is a catch as catch can situation,leaving them unaccustomed to having a complete meal that is ready to go.
I love food, but I love my friends more. I try to put them at ease - and always mention that everything tastes better when someone cooks it for you!
Well, given the fear, I'll bet your friend has read some of the less than kind and gracious threads here on Chowhound-- you know, the ones that express dismay over what people serve, what people bring and don't bring to a part, how people invite or respond to an invite.... A minefield. You're a good friend, if you provide comfort-- and do not take it as an insult.
Given how many threads here contain information about how they can't be friends with people who are picky eaters or have bad eating habits, I can see where your friends are made uncomfortable cooking for you.
You don't have to state overtly that you are judging their cooking. All you have to do is talk about food in a manner which suggests you are selective or care a lot about food. This conveys the idea that you scrutinize all food including that which your friends prepare.
The best way to handle it is to not discuss your foodie concerns in front of non-foodie friends. If you cool it on the food talk, they'll forget that its of paramount interest to you and stop apologizing, though it may take some time for the concern to pass.
Yup. I inadvertantly intimidated my in laws just by sharing my enthusiasm. For example if they liked something I made I would launch into an explanation of how I changed the recipe or used some special ingredient... of course I was just being me, but it hasn't hurt me to tone it down a little either.
I hate the term "Foodie" and would hope that non of my friends would refer to me in that way.
Firstly, I never discuss my love of food and eating with my non-foodie friends. I have some friends who are into sailing. I hate boats with a passion and therefore their boat adventures are of little interest to me. We have other common interests, which are the basis of our discussions. If they ask me about food, then I answer, but I would not bore them about the ins and outs of my latest recipe.
It is the same with religion. One of my sisters is a keen church goer, but wouldn't dream of preaching to atheists.
This is why I avoid some "foodies" as they seem to have a slightly superior view of their hobby.
nobody in my circle calls themselves a foodie either. :)
i get double-barreled by this, because not only do i cook well, but i work professionally as a sommelier. whenever i am invited anyplace people feel obligated to apologize upfront that their food won't be as good as mine and i am always happy to tell them how nice it is to be invited and enjoy somebody else's food!
we stopped for wine with another couple to bring to a dinner. i'd already gotten mine, but this other couple accepted the invite at the last minute. after we left the shop she told me she was "terrified" to pick a bottle because i was "quiet"! i assured her it was only to let her make up her own mind, lol.
sometimes i feel self-conscious and weirdly hurt, but i am extremely gracious and always send a thank-you note. :)
I have friends who don't like classical music. But they taught me the enjoyment of the Blues and the result was a trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi about 15 years later.
I do not apologize to my neighbors the rocket scientists for not being conversant in alloys, fuels, or celestial navigation. Yet we will spend hours discussing the space program and critiquing the current science fantasy movies.
I was taught as a young child to say please, thank you, yes sir, no mam, and except what you are offered graciously. The only person that I can remember to have apologized for her effort was Dear Daughter, because she believes I am a great cook and she didn't measure up. She couldn't have been more mistaken as I found it awesome and told her so.
A nice juicy roast pork with 2 sides. Looking forward to many more of her meals.
most my non-foodie friends don't do this to me because they are blissfully unaware of how awful some of their cooking is.
the one time i got busted was when i wouldn't try the dip that a friend made for a fruit platter. the dip was some sort of sweetened, artificially colored glop. i happily ate the fruit but wouldn't try the dip. friend got pissed, but, as all friends do, forgave me.
still i wouldn't put that neon-colored stuff in my mouth. . . .
I haven't had this situation come up ... but I am also a girl who still loves her fish sticks (not just any fish stick, I do have standards ;) My mother's cooking is really uneven ... I just kind of work around it. It can be excellent, and it can really devolve, which usually begins with some 'bargain' picked up at Sam's. She isn't really offended by food left on the plate, luckily. And I do always take leftovers home to the dogs so nothing is wasted.
I can tell you how I handled a somewhat parallel situation with a friend who was extremely low maintenance. Once I was getting ready and she started making snarky comments about how high maintenance I was, which I suspected were stemming from insecurity. In reality, I am medium maintenance. I just came right out and said, Have I ever mentioned that you are low maintenance? She said no, and I said, That's right, and I never will.
It never came up again.