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You KNOW it sucked

You're generally a good cook.
You have people over.
Somewhere along the line, things go to he!! in a handbasket and your meal doesn't turn out anywhere close to what you expected.
You KNOW it sucked.
Your guests thank you for a wonderful meal.
What do you say? Thank you and move on?

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  1. In the situation you describe, "oh, you are most welcome. It was so great to have you over this evening."

    1. The classic advise comes from Julia Child herself: No apologies! No excuses!

      I'm sure she was right. It's just so hard when you want to offer your best but come up short. OTOH, there's more to social relationships than food. And permission for your friends to make mistakes may be permission for us to make mistakes too… And vice versa. ;> Focusing on what's wrong rather than what's right may not be doing them a favor either.

      Maybe that's something to think about for a new start in a New Year. Happy New Year, everyone!

      5 Replies
      1. re: rainey

        You mention Julia Child, and what a good example she sets for us in accepting calamity. I remember once when she made Apple Charlotte, where you build a wall with bread slices around the outside of a dish, fill it with more bread and lots of fruit, let it "jell" in the refrigerator, and then turn it out to applause. Well, when she turned hers out, it all fell apart and I think some of it even went on the floor and she just calmly said, "Oh, hell".

        1. re: Querencia

          I remember the old JC shows from Boston and I saw that.

          LOVE that woman and never more than when I read "As Always, Julia" and "My Life in France". What a genuine person!

        2. re: rainey

          Interesting how people find Julia Child admirable

          Personally, she has huge airs about her of the old-school, distasteful 'colonialist' mindset

          I'm not saying I'm surprised, though, as people hold Winston Churchill, of all people, in such high esteem as well

          Being sour and stodgy ≠ admirable personality, outlook on life

          1. re: ameotoko

            Are you serious?

            I'm thinking you never saw a lot of "The French Chef" episodes. She was about as real as you can get. And if you read the books that contain her correspondence you just get that confirmed.

            She grew up in a pretty affluent pre-WWII family so there are probably traces of formality that don't translate well to a more contemporary and relaxed way of living, but read the books with an open mind and I think you'll see something very different.

            1. re: rainey

              Yeah, I'm serious

              It's nothing to do with formality a more 'relaxed way of living'. I refer to the old colonial vestiges of stodgy, blunt behaviour often taken as 'real' found in people of such a a place and time

              Like I said, she commands undeserved respect for this 'realness' - to me, ugliness - as does Winston Churchill

              I'm glad I neither come from a background that sees value in such personalities/behaviour, nor from the unfortunate time that made such people proud for being so...unpalatable

        3. Depends on the guests.

          I have a number of friends who I could easily say "ugh! This awful. What do you say I call for pizza?" And we would all laugh.

          However in cases with people I don't know well I would say thank you and move on. My dad always said "never apologize, never explain" for cases such as the one you described. It just makes the situation worst.

          The only exception would be if I felt the food was indelible as opposed to just not meeting my expectations. It one of the reasons I only make tried and true dishes for people I don't know well. That is not the time for me try out a complicated new dish!

          1. Assuming you want them to accept future invitations, proactively announce and apologize that the dish came out poorly, so they know you know. If they think you think your lousy dinner was good, they won't be keen to dine at your home again.

            1 Reply
            1. re: greygarious

              Agreed. You don't have to wheedle or anything, but if you know them well enough to have them at your house, surely you know them well enough to acknowledge an error. It shows that you are a considerate host. That "never explain, never apologize" stuff applies more to farting on the subway in front of a bunch of strangers you'll leave behind at the next stop.

            2. I regret to say the meal came out less than I had expected....Thanks for coming and I hope you do not decline any future invitations for a similar evening for good company and a meal that will equally suck or be even worse.


              1. Don't know whether to believe you or your guests. You don't tell us what the menu was, but it does sound like you may have gone full bore for a sit down meal, a la holiday?

                The point I'm heading for is that EVERYONE here who seriously cooks suffers "flavor blackout" by the time they get the meal on the table and can sit down with their guests.
                If this was the case with your meal that "sucked," I would tend to believe your friends and not you!

                But whether the reality is that the meal was delicious and your taste buds sucked, or your friends were lying to make you feel good, the bottom line is.... NO APOLOGIES! Don't mention it and just move on. And even if your meal was bad, your guests could taste the love you put into it.


                10 Replies
                1. re: Caroline1

                  That makes me think. Even if the food isn't up to the standards we set ourselves, it may be new to someone else and the novelty could be a pleasure we've underestimated. It may be served in an environment that's warm and comfortable, certainly different than home or a restaurant. They may simply enjoy having something made *for* them.

                  Why spoil those aspects by downplaying their appreciation? And if it wasn't stellar, why not let them be kind and display their grace? If we're gracious about the misstep they may afford us a future opportunity to do better. And, if not them, someone else will. ;>

                  1. re: rainey

                    Nail on the head. I cook so often I am usually so grateful to have someone, ANYONE cook for me, and always exude my appreciation, even if I know I could have made it better....

                  2. re: Caroline1

                    "Flavor blackout" is a great phrase. It describes exactly how I feel when I've spent several hours on something and am finally tasting it. In most cases I've been around those flavors and aromas for so long and it's just not very enjoyable.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      It was to be a simple family style beef stew. Nothing fancy. It all started out with the browning of the meat. Freaking grease splattering everywhere. Totally annoying. I could not get the right sear. Mostly OVER browned. Then the fond started to get too dark ~ afraid it was too close to the burnt line. Finished searing second batch in another dutch oven. Pretty much the same issue. Stew was bland and boring. Meat was dry and chewy. Then the smashed cauliflower was totally ruined by an uber bitter hot garlic clove (yes I removed the little pip). It was awful. I couldn't serve it and pretended it didn't exist. Back up - spatzle. Basically a sticky, gooey mess. Apple galette. I could not get that dang puff pastry to roll out. Plenty of flour, but couldn't keep it from sticking to the wax paper. Will not use Trader Joes puff pastry again. It does not perform like Pepperidge Farm. I suppose the galette tasted fine, it as just a PITA to put together ~ which was witnessed by all. The ice cream, wine and guests were great.

                      1. re: Scoutmaster

                        The butterless Pepperidge Farm may be easier for you to roll out (not in mu experience) but I'll bet your guests appreciated the flavor of the TJ version, which uses butter. Sounds like you thawed it too much before working with it.

                        1. re: Scoutmaster

                          Well, if it really was awful, I guess you'd just about *have* to say something. Make a joke out of it to keep it light or say just once something like: you're being kind. I wanted you to have better. I hope you'll give me another opportunity when I'm on my game. I enjoy your company so much and want the food to be the equal of the guests.

                          Then let yourself off the hook and maybe have a laugh over a drink before they leave so it's not the note anybody ends on.

                          Really, don't run yourself down about it. Everybody has off days over all kinds of things. Even your guests so if they prefer to treat it like a wonderful experience, let them.

                          1. re: rainey

                            rainey - i need you to be a ghost writer in my head! what elegant composure you exhibit in this post!

                            1. re: alegramarcel

                              That was very kind! How nice of you to say that!

                          2. re: Scoutmaster

                            Well, here's a tip (I'm sure you already know!): Across the board, ALL stews taste better the next day.... or the day after that.... coq au vin, beef Burguignon, Irish lamb stew, doesn't matter what, they are ALWAYS better when aged... And then you never have to cook them in front of anyone if you don't want to!

                            Now, go look in the mirror, smile at yourself, and say, "I am a GREAT person!" and put it to rest.

                            1. re: Scoutmaster

                              Great wine, ice cream, and guests make everything better!

                          3. Always.

                            Never let guests know you're disappointed. Julia Child always used to say, never apologize for a misstep in your cooking. Let your guests believe you intended it that way.

                            Most people in polite society will be thankful for your time, effort and company anyway, even if you serve them frozen pizza ;)

                            1. No matter what others say about it, I beat myself up.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: PotatoHouse

                                Yup! That happens too. ;> But it could make guests uncomfortable so we don't need to show it.

                              2. Despite how much we cook, there's always the few times when it just doesn't turn out (which could range from the "not as good as I could've done" to the downright disaster).
                                The type of guests can determine what your reaction is; if they are old pals or family who KNOW you are normally a great cook, then it's easier to shrug it off because you already have a solid reputation. OTOH, if they are folk new to your cooking, then it's natural to want to let them know that what you're serving is not up to your normal standards.
                                My daughter had some new friends over for her 15th birthday and she wanted an eggnog cheesecake. Having made any number of complicated desserts from scratch (including a sans rival), I dug out a recipe I'd never done before and proceeded, certain of my success.
                                It was a mess; I'd overcooked the crumb crust, somehow underbeated the filling, and in following the recipe to "let it cool x minutes before covering and putting it in the fridge to set", I didn't notice that some part of it was still somewhat warm. This resulted in condensation forming inside the plastic wrap, which dripped all over the cake. When I pulled it out several hours later, it was a solid, soggy mess with a burnt crust.
                                I informed the kids that I'd never made this recipe before and that they were my guinea pigs, and we lit the candles, sang the song, and while handing out VERY small slices, I said once that it wasn't the greatest cheesecake I ever made, and left it at that.
                                The kids had a good time (most left the crust) and had a good time playing a game that my daughter got as a gift, and the party wasn't ruined.
                                And when I think of all the literally hundreds of times I've cooked and/or baked and had it turn out as a flaming success, I figure I'm due for a periodic reminder that I'm human.
                                ......and I will TEST OUT THE RECIPE FIRST!!! :]

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Michelly

                                  Haha, yes, for "occasions" I try to make the grand finale (dessert) the day ahead! Lots of cakes, pies, etc store perfectly well for a day, and actually if frosting is involved I FREEZE the cake, frost it in the morning (yes, frozen! no crumb layer needed), and voila! perfect by serving time! Plus If I majorly screw up, I can re-do the next day! Ha!

                                2. I think it best not to apologize because then the focus of the conversation shifts to the dinner and the guests try to make the host feel better and the vibe of the dinner gets serious and boring. I served the worst dinner of my life on NY(in my defence it was sprung on me the morning of and had to bring Ito a rental house for 25) , i hated every minute of dinner but live and learn.

                                  1. It's narcissistic to insist on your personal opinion that your food sucked.

                                    If your guests enjoyed it (or were simply trying to be polite), you suck it up and move on.

                                    And I say that as someone who teared up at the occasion of a rib dinner for 8 recently, where my ribs did not turn out they way I wanted them to be.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      Hard as it is for us foodies to realize, the company and good times are much more the focus of any get-together than the food. If everyone had a good time, that's all that matters.

                                      (For the record, this^ was not easy to admit, but there it is).

                                    2. Whatever you do, don't use it as an opportunity to insult your guests! I remember once in college, a group of us were invited over to dinner by a fellow student (who had the reputation of having a somewhat prickly personality). She served some sort of chicken with prunes over couscous, which didn't turn out terribly well (the couscous was wet and mushy, the sauce overly sweet and gloppy, etc.).

                                      Still, we guests politely thanked her and complimented her cooking. She was visibly irritated by how things had turned out, but instead of laughing it off or deflecting our compliments gracefully, she said something along the lines of "well, I'm not surprised YOU liked it, since you know nothing about good cooking." Suffice it to say, she was NEVER invited to eat at my table, despite many hints at an invitation after she got to know us all better and caught wind of my reputation as a good cook.

                                      I've run into her a few times since graduation and I'm sorry to say that her personality doesn't seem to have improved much. Shocking, right? ;)

                                      1. Just my .02....

                                        I really love to cook and am always seeking improvement. When I have an audience, I use it as an opportunity to get honest feedback and specific critique to know how the dish can be approved. (Keeping in mind the personal preference will alter their judgement - for example - if someone doesn't like green olives they're not going to like the dish.)

                                        I usually don't settle for, "oh, it's perfect!" I ask for specific feedback. Like - it's too salty or I don't like the texture or whatever.

                                        I take the notes, then improve it next time. Eventually, the recipes end up on my blog with specific details. :)

                                        I rarely cook to impress, but when I do I use only recipes that I've tested well and know exactly how to get them perfect.

                                        And, the only way to truly tell if your guests like it is to look at how much they eat. Do they clean their plate? Do they ask for seconds or a to-go box? That's how you *really* know. :)

                                        Also, sometimes when cooking dinner, I ask people what they'd like. If there's something they've had before that they really liked, they'll request it again.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: JetLaggedChef

                                          Or you could do what a couple did to us once.
                                          Our first time meeting them. A couple who had invited them invited us as was the plan. It was a sort of 'get to know new people' concept.
                                          There were four couples.
                                          Our hostess greeted us and her husband offered us a drink. We all sat in their lovely living room waiting for 'apps' or something.
                                          The hosts disappeared into the kitchen. After about twenty minutes one of the guests ventured into the kitchen and saw the couple driving away!
                                          The two couples who knew the hosts.....sort of, explained that the 'hostess' would sometimes do this when her food wasn't turning out the way she liked it.
                                          My wife and I left after I snuck you more quick glass of very good wine. I was going to take the bottle but that didn't happen.
                                          We sort of lost touch with the couple who had invited us.
                                          In retrospect I can understand why the 'hosts' had to keep inviting 'new people'. They kept running out of the people who never knew if they were going to get fed or not.

                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                            Let me get this straight -- the hosts left the house? Were they picking up food, or were they just going to disappear until their guests left?

                                            I find that hard to believe, frankly.

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              True or not, that is freakin' hysterical! I just howled so loud I think I woke up half the neighborhood! :)

                                        2. I once made a boxed pizza (Chef boy ardee?) and put too many toppings on it. It came out like mush but tasted great. A friends husband named it Cup of Pizza and we ate it all in bowls! That was the '80's...probably munchies.

                                          1. Think of it this way . They didnt have to cook the dinner or pay for dinner but they got to eat dinner and enjoy your company for free . Enjoying dinner means more than enjoying the food .. A few laughs , nice company etc mean more to some people than perfection .
                                            Recently a friend was telling me all week how she was looking forward to a dinner at a friends house . It turned out not to be one of the cooks best efforts .and she was shocked . But she still enjoyed the company and the effort and if she gets invited again , she will certainly accept the invitation . .

                                            1. I vote "Thank-you and move on".

                                              I May laugh (ashamedly) and and discus ways to fix the dish(es)/dinner after the fact with a good friend (or here on Chowhound).

                                              1. you say thank you and move on. it's like when you wear fake or borrowed jewelry and get a compliment on the piece. you don't say "it's not mine" or "oh, it's fake". you smile beatifically and say 'thanks'. same with a rancid meal.

                                                ps - you do invite them back, though, when your food is as you wish it to be...