Sally and Learning to Eat

Today’s food story is by Sally of Sal’s Kitchen. Sally is from the UK and used to be a fussy eater but that all changed with a year in France …

Food is one of my favourite things in life – I’m constantly hungry to discover new cuisines, have a go at making different things, and share meals with the people I love. But it’s taken me a pretty long time to get to this point, and until just a few years ago I was one of the fussiest people I knew.

Sally from Sal's Kitchen

Sally – Sal’s Kitchen

I’ve always enjoyed my grub but I used to find eating out exhausting, because I was always worried about whether I would find something I liked on the menu. Even if I did spot something I wanted to eat, I would scrutinise the description and weary the waiting staff with a list of things I wanted left out. And when the food arrived, I would spend five minutes picking things off before starting to eat. Even at nineteen, I had the eating habits of a child.

This didn’t change at all until I went to Paris for a year as part of my university degree. Plunged abruptly into a city bursting with fascinating cuisines and knowledgeable foodies, it was inevitable that something would change. For a start, the French have no patience with fussy eaters. There is rarely such a thing as a children’s menu, because even very little kids are expected to eat ‘grown-up’ food without protesting, and woe betide the diner who dares to request a change to the menu, because the chef might just come and chuck you out himself. You are expected to trust in the knowledge and skill of food experts and accept what they have decided you will like.

To start with, of course, I didn’t like this at all. At my place of work there was a fantastic subsidised restaurant for staff, where my colleagues regularly tucked into three course lunches, often washed down with wine. The hungry diner keen to revel in his good fortune could select a meal from four or five hot counters with various dishes of the day, including several fresh fish options, a steak counter (with different cuts cooked to order), a pizzeria and a sandwich bar, as well as individual stations entirely devoted to salad, crudités, cheese, patisseries and fresh fruit. For the first couple of weeks, I confined myself to things I recognised from the salad bar, but gradually I started to find the mouth-watering aromas wafting from the more interesting stations irresistible. The problem was that often, the descriptions were mystifying to me – the French so love their food that they have a whole other subset of their language devoted to it. I had no opportunity to study the menu and certainly no chance of asking that the dishes be modified on my account.

But then I had a bit of a breakthrough moment, because it dawned on me that if the gorgeous scents wafting from the kitchens were making my mouth water, I’d probably like the taste too. So I started following my nose, picking dishes based on what smelled best and trusting the chef’s choice as to what went with what. I found that even if I didn’t like the taste of an ingredient by itself, a really good chef can be trusted to serve up almost anything (I will admit that I tried, and failed to be convinced by, liver and tongue) in a manner that makes it taste fantastic.

Tabboule - Sal's Kitchen

Tabboule – Sal’s Kitchen

The flavours and ingredients that I discovered were just a little bit mind-blowing, for someone previously happy to subsist on a very limited diet – there was a fantastic mix of cuisines, and I started to taste dishes from Africa, Greece, Thailand, Morocco and Spain, as well as the rich and varied regional cuisines of France itself. Outside of work, I had the opportunity to explore the amazing restaurants that Paris has to offer, and I began to get excited about trying new things and placing my trust in fantastic chefs. I don’t think it would be too much of an exaggeration to describe this as life-changing, since food went on to take up a very important role in my life.

Unfortunately I didn’t have access to my own kitchen out in Paris, but once I got back, I was desperate to start cooking some of these dishes myself. I bought a pile of recipe books and tucked in. My mum is a great cook, able to recreate a favourite dish from a restaurant or make up something new and exciting, and she inspired me to take a relaxed approach to cooking – I still like to follow recipes, especially if I have something specific in mind which I want to create, but I’m not afraid to swap ingredients or change the process a bit, and I do like to come up with my own stuff too. Finding out that cooking can be flexible and creative made me realise that it’s a lot less intimidating than expensive restaurants would have you believe.

Table Setting - Sal's Kitchen

Table Setting – Sal’s Kitchen

I started my blog, www.salskitchen.blogspot.co.uk, in February 2012, as a way of sharing my new discoveries. Although I don’t particularly go in for ‘easy’ recipes (and I have a particular dislike for the sort of recipes that are made easy by cutting out anything different or interesting in them) I do try and make my recipes as accessible as possible, by giving step-by-step instructions and background information on new ingredients. I suppose in a way I’m writing recipes for my fussy nineteen year-old-self, trying to convince her that food and cooking doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating, and that food can be great fun if you approach it with a sense of adventure and abandon. I also try and write for those young people usually targeted by awful ‘cheap and cheerful’ student cookbooks, which tell you to buy the cheapest cuts of meat and use nothing on them except salt and pepper, because with a bit of thought, cooking doesn’t have to be expensive either. Combining writing and cooking, which are two of my favourite things, has been a great adventure for me. One of the things I’d love to do in the future is write a cookery book, not just to tell people how to get a meal on the table, but to pass on my discoveries about food and perhaps inspire a love of cooking like the one that has brought me so much pleasure. Watch this space!

Sally
Blog – Sal’s Kitchen
Twitter – @Sal_Godfrey
Ebook – Delicious

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What do you think?

  1. I am raising two picky eaters and am married to one. It is a difficult journey, and I so appreciate your story. Hiding or disguising the ingredient is the best way to go….thank you so much. Now my wish to visit Paris is that much more intense.
    Minnie recently posted … Minnie’s sweet fresh cheese dessert CupsMy Profile

    • Picky eating is exhausting – whether you’re the cook or the eater! But it does get easier, and I’ve gradually won my fiance around to plenty of things he never used to like. I agree with you that disguising some ingredients can be the best way to go – of course you should tell them what they’re eating, but I think it’s fine to do that AFTER they’ve tried it and discovered that actually, when they keep an open mind, they do quite like the flavours! Visit my blog for recipes and let me know what you like the sound of – I’d recommend the Cauliflower Cheese Risotto for picky eaters :)
      Sal Godfrey recently posted … Spaghetti Bolognese – the indulgent versionMy Profile

  2. Great story! It’s impossible to be in Paris and not eat well – maybe not every meal, but almost every one! What a great way to learn to enjoy new foods. Really fun read – thanks.
    john recently posted … Summer White Bean and Quinoa SaladMy Profile

  3. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to remove things from my meal or ask the kitchen to leave something off my plate, I tend to limit myself to meals I know I’ll enjoy. What we Brits know as our staple foods. It sounds like I could have done with a little of Sal’s education. Bring on the smells. x
    David Prosser recently posted … Top TennersMy Profile

  4. Sally, this is a great story. I am a dietitian nutritionist and work with parents of picky eaters. I enjoyed reading your story on how you expanded your food palate. Looking back, is there anything you’d recommend to parents of picky eaters to help them with picky children? Looking forward to checking out your blog!

    • Thanks for stopping by Trina – I can’t wait to see what Sally has to say in response to your query :-)

    • Hi Trina! The way you approach food, and your preconceptions, makes a massive difference. Having dealt with some fussy eaters myself, I’ve found that if I don’t tell them what the food is, they’re much more likely to enjoy it, even if it’s something they don’t think they like! For parents, I’d suggest hiding the actual ingredient by blending it so that you get the flavours but you can’t spot the vegetables (or whatever). However, I also think it’s a question of patience with picky kids – just keep trying as their tastes develop.
      Sal Godfrey recently posted … Cauliflower Cheese RisottoMy Profile

      • Food Stories says:

        Great tips, Sal :-)

      • I agree with being patient and continuing to offer new offers paired with familiar foods kids enjoy. Your Cauliflower Cheese Risotto looks great although I’m not a proponent on hiding foods. Everyone should know what they are eating although labeling food as good-for-you can be a big turn off to anyone. I’d serve your risotto and share what is in it. I bet it smells great, which is a wonderful way to help encourage someone, as you discovered in Paris, to try new foods.

  5. Boy can I relate to her attitude change with her French experience. What is there not to like about the French cuisine, especially the simple peasant dishes. I’m with you are easy and assessable recipes. That is my mantra as well. :-)
    Susan Cooper recently posted … Pretzel Pecan Candy Treats: RecipeMy Profile

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