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I Am Not A Restaurant Reviewer...And I Won't Play One in Your Home

Like most CH'ers I love eating well, I enjoy cooking and baking, and I am good at it. I especially enjoy baking for other people and it makes me happy when they enjoy my baking. Here's my problem.

When you invite me to your home for dinner, I accept the invitation because I like you. I enjoy your company and spending time with you is a pleasant way to pass the evening. I don't really care if you're a great cook. I will happily eat what you serve me and thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness in asking me over. If I don't like what you made I will not let you know it. If I have to have a snack at home later, that's my problem.

So why do you have to make a fuss over my being a good cook and your cooking likely not being good enough to serve to me? You're probably a perfectly fine cook. I never criticize your cooking and, for all you know, I really look forward to your famous specialty. Steve makes the best Texas BBQ. Jaime makes heavenly deviled eggs. You get the picture.

Please stop stroking my ego like that. My ego doesn't need it and frankly, it's really embarrassing. I like eating with you and you're making me uncomfortable.

I find that the above scenario happens far more often than I would like. Do you get in this situation and how do you handle it?

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  1. Why do so many people have a problem accepting any type of compliments?

    People must know you are a good cook, and some are intimidated. If they do try and cook for you, they are wanting validation that are "up to your standards". It's human nature to want acceptance.

    How do I handle it? I graciously say THANK YOU, and move on.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Honeychan

      It isn't so much a problem accepting compliments. I'm human. I like receiving approval. I just don't feel that validating me must come at the cost of denigrating yourself. iI I am good you are not necessarily worse. It's the other person putting themselves down that makes me uncomfortable.

      1. re: rockycat

        Then the real problem seems to be hardwired into lots of people's DNA! *LOL* I wish I had the answer, but perhaps it's from years and years of self-doubt in general. Not being rich enough, thin enough, pretty enough, not a good enough cook. True self-confidence (not bravado that's used to cover said self-doubt) is a rare thing to find. Such a shame, too.

        1. re: Honeychan

          well, I don't know that its just a lack of self-confidence...just that its hard when you KNOW someone is a great cook and/or a very good judge of food....Its human nature to want to be liked...

          People just need to understand that sometimes its not just about the food...and that can be a hard thing for chowhounds to get :-) Today I learned a CH friend of mind was in town, and had no plans for tonight. We aren't big Christmas people and I know he isn't even Christian, but I knew I would enjoy his company and figured he would appreciate an invitation. So I invited him to turkey dinner...I hadn't planned anything fancy because it was just family...and I'm not one to go all out. After I extended the invitation and he accepted, then I had a moment of nervousness where I realized that my dinner was pretty simple: standard turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing. No fancy side dishes and a few "semi-homemade" shortcuts. Then I realized it didn't matter. A decent home-cooked meal on a holiday when many restaurants are closed is always good, even if it isn't great. Not everyone's expectations are as high as most chowhounds....and that applies to other chowhounds as well!

          1. re: janetofreno

            That made me chuckle. A few months ago a CH and his family were going to spend the weekend with us. (Wound up getting postponed cause of H1N1 on their side). I was pretty cool about the food even though he's an amazing cook. He's also really, really kind :) But one day I realized 'omg, I have Safeway brand light mayo in my fridge. What WILL he think of me?'

        2. re: rockycat

          This happens often in Chinese households. My cooking is not any good so please indulge me. The correct response is Oh you are just too humble this is better than anything I can do. It's a social dance, you dance and move on.

      2. I have a friend who's a really exceptional cook AND entertainer. Everything seems perfect and effortless ('course it's NOT effortless but feels like that). She's had long time "friends" who say "oh, we don't invite you over because you put the rest of us to shame." I think one of the reasons she likes me is that I don't do that dance. Okay, she's better than I'll probably ever be. Hip hip hurray. Love it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: c oliver

          M.F.K.Fisher had the same problem as your friend.

        2. My experience is that most people who invite me to dinner think they're the world's greatest cook and have NO idea. Except for family gourmands who Get It and know how to use it, most dinners I've had to endure have been totally forgetable. Of course I would never say anything to the cook/host... just be pleased that s/he thought enough of me to send an invitation. But then I don't expect everyone to devote all the time and effort I do to produce a fabulous meal. I do love it when it happens, though.

          1. I think it comes from self doubt. My partner and I are complete opposites regarding how we were brought up. Everything I did was wonderful, everything he did or did not do was never good enough. We are both excellent cooks and every so often, he just has to denigrate his cooking. He does this usually after I made a great meal the day before.

            "This is goinig to be now where near as good as what you made" and "I hope it is edible". Oh, for crying out loud!! "edible"??

            I just laugh and tell him it is wonderful and it always is.

            If a friend does it, well, they are allowed their self doubt but I refuse to agree with them! If I like it, I'll tell them it is terrific. If I don't like it, I wouldn't tell them that either. That just seems rude to me. But, if it is a pushy kind of "it is horrible and you absolutely have to agree with me" or a "I can't compare to you so you will never be invited over" kind of thing, then I will probably let them have their way. I've had it happen before and we eventually parted ways as friends (moves and other changes) so I've never really gotten past that point.

            I'm weird, I have a strange sense of allowing room for others to just be. If their behaviour upsets me, I just kind of let it happen. I'm not sure why I'm that way, I just am. I tend to view things and people as "this is how it is" and "so and so is just that way, they need to feel insufficient". Can't really explain it, it just doesn't get to me too much.

            Have you considered trying something like "I've heard such good things about your casseroles" or another compliment that shows interest? Just a thought.

            1. I'm a better cook than some people; some people are better cooks than me. In each person's kitchen, I try to keep things on an even keel by trying to learn something from each and by being willing to show something to each as appropriate.

              A riend called for some help this afternoon. Some time back she had had a very expensive dinner of a steak with a grape reduction sauce. She said that the staff had told her that the sauce was just reduced grapes. So we tried it together: she blended and then strained (out the seeds and some of the skin) a quantity of local small dark delicious grapes: I reduced the juice on high heat and had her try it. Not right. So I did what I would have done anyway - added salt, black pepper, and some honey and, off the heat, stirred in very cold cubes of butter. That was it: my friend said that we got it right. We both learned how to make a new sauce.

              1. When you excel at anything, be it cooking, pole vaulting or playing the cello, people feel a need to identify as well as a need to compare or experiment in self-imaging. Nothing you can do about it. It's just the way people are. I'm also an excellent cook, and I've had people tell me I'll never be invited to their house for dinner because they can't "cook like that." I've had others smilingly tell me they're available to occupy a chair at my table on a moment's notice. All sorts of different reactions. When the woman told me I'd never be invited to her house because she can't cook like me, I was very tempted to tell her that if she did, it would make going to dinner at her house just like staying home and where's the fun in that, but I was sure she would miss the point. Bottom line is you just have to try to deal with things gracefully one occasion at a time. Good luck! '-)

                1. I get it a whole lot. The worse part is some people will NOT invite us over for irrational fears. One family actually hired a caterer so their cooking wouldn’t come under scrutiny. And yes it gets bothersome at times, serve me a piece of bread if you want to – I am there to socialize with friends not give a critique?

                  My wife gets asked all the time, do you ever cook for ‘him’? Does he criticize everything your make? Foolishness if you ask me.

                  The toughest part is when a host/hostess ask me to critique the food? I live in the world of honesty so don’t ask me if you don’t want a critique, because some of these people just want me to gush over their food while others truly want to know if they can improve.

                  We have twice a month gatherings at my house where several other chefs and I bang out a large multi-course dinner (this is fun for us). We usually invite a couple of non-chef couples to enjoy the food. The first time a new couple joins us I tell them a secret, you can always tell who made the dish by the critique that we give it. They usually smile and say “wow you guys are really critical of each other – huh?” And I say no the exact opposite the harshest critique of any dish “always” comes from the person who made it.

                  1. While I am certainly a talented cook, I wouldn't ever call myself "excellent", as so many CHs here apparently do. I have been, however, called an excellent cook by others, and I tend to disagree. I am a self-critical (and self-reflective) individual who may strive for excellence, but in most cases, I don't feel I've reached that point -- gratin not crispy enough, veggies tad too much bite, sauce missing 'x' .... things that perhaps only I notice, but nevertheless...

                    OTOH, I know men who are envious of my man who is fed well (I cook dinner basically every day), and women who are jealous of the time I have to prepare Real Meals as opposed to just nuking frozen dinners.

                    A friend of ours has no problem whipping up 9 dishes for 20 people -- a task that would freak the living daylights out of me. AND his food is delicious. Mind you, he only really excels in his own cuisine (Chinese), whereas I cook a variety of cuisines, but if I had to compare myself, just with regard to the amount of food he can prep and the number of people he feeds, I'm probably the lesser cook.

                    Bottom line is -- if people snarf down your food like there's no tomorrow.... it's probably good.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: linguafood

                      Exactly! We had some neighbors over recently for dinner. Basically the women don't enjoy cooking and therefore aren't good at it and the men DON'T cook so I'm always confident with THIS group. One of the men put an arm around my shoulders as they were leaving and said he always enjoys dinner at our house so much. I fix "different" things. Snarf indeed :)

                      1. re: c oliver

                        c oliver,

                        Something similar happened to me once when I had some friends over for dinner.One of the guests said to the group,"Thanks for dinner,Robin always cooks such homey food doesn't she?".I hope she meant it to be a compliment because I took it as one :-)

                        1. re: Robinez

                          So long as it's not Robin looks so homey.

                    2. This exact thing happened to me just last night. I had a casual get-together with some friends - everyone brought something, my son made great pizzas, I made a few things - it was all very simple stuff. One friend kept saying how she'd love to have us over sometime but she's so nervous cooking for me, and then she went on to ask me what I like to eat and that she's really going to have to figure something very special out. Yikes. It was REALLY making me feel uncomfortable. I tried to assure her that I am the easiest dinner guest in the world - I like everything and am happy just to have someone else cook for me. This went on and on. Now I'm really feeling queasy and when they do eventually invite us over it's going to be really awkward. I never want anyone feeling stressed about having us for dinner - I really don't judge. Ever.

                      I take that last comment back. If I'm paying for a meal in a restaurant, yes, I do judge - especially if it's an expensive one. At someone's home - never.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Nyleve

                        I like the last part of your comment; I'm exactly the same.. If I'm in a restaurant, I automatically critique the food, I can't help it..and don't let the server or manager ask what I thought of the food. I've been known to be kinda harsh but if I weren't into food, I'd probably eat it without knowing better.....

                        I cook because it's my profession, my hobby and because I enjoy challenging myself. My friends, family & clients enjoy my food but if I'm invited to a meal someplace, I eat what I'm given...if I don't like it, I push it to the side of my plate but won't say a word unless someone asks me what I think, like RetiredChef (above) don't ask me if you don't really want to know. My people know that I can be as happy with good bread & cheese or a gourmet meal and they don't need to try to impress me.

                      2. Anyone who prepares a meal for others is always concerned about how their guests enjoy it. Either they are incredibly insecure or are intimidated by your presence (I think the latter). Why does this make you uncomfortable? What does their motivation matter? Take the compliment, enjoy your meal and the good company and get on with it.

                        1. I've a friend who went to cooking school and worked in restaurants as a pastry chef for quite a while. I'd had her over to my house dozens of times for dinner. After a few years she invited me to her house for dinner. She admitted to me that cooking for me was nerve wracking because she wasn't sure if her cooking would "measure up" to the "fabulous meals" she'd had at my house. I was really stunned when she told me!

                          Actually, now that I think about it I think I felt the same way about cooking for her, in a small way.

                          FYI her cooking really was fabulous!

                          1. Not to come across as a pretentious ass, because I'm not - I've spent a lot of time cooking and reading recipe and cooking books, and I have a reasonable knack for cooking (I'm certainly no professional by any means, but what I do cook and bake, I make quite well), so when people say comments like that to me, I tend to be in agreement: I do cook better than most of the people I know (who aren't foodies or who have silly self-imposed food restrictions for reasons outside of health or religion), and I would probably prefer to cook for them than to have them cook for me.

                            I take it as the compliment that it's intended, and likely the truth. There's no shame in recognizing that you're stronger than most people in a certain area, or having others recognize that fact. For example, I would never dare to bake for my best friend, as the likelihood of anything I make even approaching the quality of her desserts is small at best.

                            Even though their heart is in the right place, there's not much worse than someone who absolutely cannot cook who insists on feeding everyone all the same. I have another good friend who is ghastly in the kitchen for the most part and who is well-aware of this fact and has no real desire to try to change it. Despite that, she absolutely insists on cooking for us often. It's too bad, because she has so many other amazing talents that she could focus on sharing with us instead.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: vorpal

                              Honestly, though, I think it's a little easier to say people should share talents other than cooking than it is to practice. I think we treat food differently than anything else, for better or worse. It feels hurtful and like a violation of hospitality not to be able to provide food for people who come into our homes. For me this is true even if I find people's tastes incomprehensible. We have friends that I inherited through my husband who are extremely difficult eaters-between the two of them, they don't eat beans, seafood, meat with the bone in, fresh tomatoes, avocados, lamb, bananas, onions unless cooked to unrecognizability, 6 or 7 different pasta shapes, rosemary, or any spice starting with the letter c (the last one is the most difficult for me to wrap my brain around). At the beginning, I tried making recipes using ingredients that I knew they like but I was unfamiliar with, and it was always a total flop because I hated it and didn't test it well enough ahead or know what it was supposed to taste like. I know they're the difficult eaters, but I always felt like such a jerk for not providing what they wanted when they came into my home. It doesn't matter than I'm a good student or a good swimmer-it feels inhospitable when you can't feed people.

                              Over the years, we've worked it out-I came up with a rotation consisting mostly of braised chicken tacos (with her world famous pico de gallo, usually consisting mostly of off-season tomatoes, which doesn't bother her since she doesn't eat fresh tomates), homemade spaghetti sauce, and steak with bacon green beans and roasted potatoes, and she (sorry, we're all sexist bastards-the women cook and the men clean up. Then in my house, I go back after they leave and correct the cleanup) makes canned spaghetti sauce or turkey breast and green bean casserole. I think no one is ever really 100% happy with the food being served, but everyone has made peace with it. Okay, I might cry a little over the lack of dark meat turkey.

                              I just think it's better in a lot of cases not to look at cooking as an accomplishment, but more an act of warmth. There are so, so many things worse than being fed by someone who can't cook.

                              1. re: ErnieD

                                There are certainly a lot of people that feel that way, although I'm not among them. I really can't believe that, given their restrictions, you still attempt to cook for your friends. There's no way I would even consider accommodating so many. If someone is that restricted, let them do the cooking, or find other activities you can do together. The fact that it took you years to work this out makes it seem like entirely too much fuss, effort, and stress was devoted to developing this routine, and friendships should not be so complicated, IMO, nor should food be so tedious. It sucks the fun out of both, when a simple adjustment to other activities would avoid it all and be more fruitful and fun.

                                Incidentally, another reason I prefer to cook is that there are a small number of unfortunately prevalent chemicals I must avoid due to a severe autoimmune disorder, and invariably, no matter how hard someone tries (and insists that they'll be fine), they end up accidentally including one or more of them in their cooking. I have often not found out until it's too late, which usually results in hours of payment after the fact. Honestly, I wish people would just *not* insist on feeding me: I hate the disappointment in my host's eyes when I turn down offer after offer of food and drink because they're not likely to be safe for me to consume. Thankfully, almost all but a small handful of people are fine with it, but those few that don't get it really just don't get it, no matter how many times we go over the same routine. It's not necessary to feed me, and when my restrictions complicate things, I'd really rather you didn't. It's too inconvenient for you and too risky for me, and I wish that people would just accept that and let it be.

                                I really don't understand the obsession people have with having to share food when there are so many other things to share. I absolutely adore food - it's my favourite thing - but it's not necessary for me to share that with people who don't appreciate it, or appreciate it on a completely alternate level than I.

                                1. re: vorpal

                                  In general, friends may be easy to come by, but these are friends who date back to middle school in a different state (for my husband) which is much harder to replicate. (For c olver, I'm 32, husband is 37. I don't know whether to be flattered or offended, but I'm leaning toward the former). You clearly have some medical issues, and I think that is a perfectly valid reason to want to cook for your guests at home. If you don't have medical issues, though, I think eating or cooking a few meals that might not be at the top of your list is a pretty small price to pay. Especially for people that one or both of you genuinely care about.

                                  1. re: ErnieD

                                    I'm not denying that; I'm just of the mindset that if someone has so many self-imposed food restrictions, they're probably not really foodies in the first place (note: I admit I could be wrong), and the effort required to accommodate their restrictions probably won't be worth its weight in appreciation for doing so. In cases like that, why share food when there are so many other wonderful things to share in life?

                                    1. re: vorpal

                                      Because sometimes you just want to play poker and it's easier to eat at someone's house before doing that ;). And because sometimes feeding someone food is kind of friendship-affirming in a way that eating together at at a restaurant might not always be.

                                      And I don't necessarily think they would call themselves foodies. I guess I probably wouldn't call myself one eaither. I can cook exactly what I want with pretty much 100% accuracy, but cooking for anyone else is a tightrope dance that I sometimes fail at. Even for my husband, and I pretty much know what he likes.

                                    2. re: ErnieD

                                      Definitely flattering :) People are more important than food. Always.