I’ve Never Tried Fish Sauce but I Know I Don’t like It

“How do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?”

That is the question that millions of parents have asked to millions of finicky children. I have posed the same question to my children many times, my daughter in particular. The other day, my daughter, who likes both chicken and cheese, refused to try my fantastic homemade chicken quesadillas. I know that if she would have just taken the tiniest little bite that she would have loved them, but she somehow convinced herself that they were disgusting. It is futile to attempt to explain to a 4 year old that she has no way of knowing whether she likes something without ever tasting it.

I, on the other hand, at 38 years of age have the experience and knowledge that allows me to know that I won’t like something without ever having tasted it. Take fish sauce for example. Fish sauce is made by fermenting raw fish in a barrel with some salt. I often eat fish and enjoy it, but I am not what you would call a seafood lover. Generally I like fresh fish, cooked with a few herbs or some seasoning. I don’t like the smell of fish that has been lying around for a while. Given that I don’t like fish that has been sitting around for a while, I know that I definitely would not like raw fish that was crammed in a barrel and left out in the hot sun to ferment for a month.

My favourite chef, Michael Smith, likes using fish sauce in some of his recipes. He says even though it sounds odd, that I should trust him; fish sauce adds lots of “savoury flavour”. I love almost every recipe that I have seen on his shows, but in this case I trust my own instincts more than I trust Michael Smith. I have never tried fish sauce and I have absolutely no intensions of ever doing so. I do know I don’t like some things even if I have never tried them.

Why Don’t Veal and Lamb Evoke the Same Outrage as Baby Seals?

A little over a week ago, professional hockey commentator and human controversy generator, Don Cherry, caused a stir when he expressed his outrage on hearing that his partner, Ron McClain had eaten a seal burger for lunch at Mallard Cottage in St. John’s. Cherry called McClain a “barbarian” for eating a “little baby seal”. After the immediate backlash from Newfoundland, a place close to the former coach’s heart, he clarified that he has no problem with eating seal; just that he found it odd to be eating seal for lunch.

It was interesting is that Cherry didn’t just talk of seals, he talked of baby seals, the image of which has long been used as an emotional appeal against the seal hunt. The picture of the newborn white coat seal was the focal point of the single most successful animal rights campaign ever, which resulted in an outright ban on the harvesting of white coasts in the 1970s.

Those in favour of the seal hunt often rail against the continuing myth that baby seals are still hunted, but to be fair, it is more of a gross exaggeration than a myth. Seals usually molt their coats after three weeks or so, after which it is fair game to kill them. Many anti-seal hunting camp use this as justification for their continuing to state hunters are still killing baby seals. I’m not going to attempt to classify whether a 3 week old seal should be more accurately described as a toddler, an infant, or simply in the spring of its life, but it is fair to say that three weeks is a very young seal

What I find baffling is that so many people who were so appalled at the notion of eating a baby seal, as opposed to an adult one, have absolutely no problem eating lamb, veal, or pub style chicken wings. Seals are no doubt cute, but nothing is as adorable as a little baby lamb. A crying lamb actually sounds a little like a crying baby, but when have you ever heard anyone suggest that you should boycott a restaurant that serves baby sheep?

Whether you are someone against the killing of young animals, or just young, cute animals, either way the serving of lamb on menus should be sparking a little outrage. Perhaps a lot of people who support animal rights just really like the taste of lamb. Maybe if they tried a seal burger they wouldn’t be quite so outraged over the seal hunt.


A Modest Proposal for Interrupting Waiters

Why is it that even in the fanciest restaurants servers feel the need to interrupt conversations or ask you questions when you obviously have your mouth full? How is this supposed to enhance the dining experience of your customers? Pretty much every member of civilized society has taught since childhood not to talk with your mouth open and not to interrupt others while they are talking. Yet many high end restaurants essentially teach their employees to walk up their customers and both interrupt their conversations and pressure them into talking with their mouths full.

What is even odder than the fact that this practice is so common is that it has so many apologists. Many seemingly intelligent people have attempted to justify these rude intrusions by suggesting that the alternative to interrupting would be to ignore or neglect the diners. That is absurd.

If a server wanted to know if the customer required some assistance, he or she would simply need to walk by the table and make eye contact. A customer who required assistance would need only raise a hand or speak to the waiter. If you walk up to a table, and all of the diners are busy cramming food in their mouths, chances are they are pretty happy with their food.

Any experienced server, or even a halfway intelligent inexperienced server for that matter, should be able to tell if a customer requires assistance without having to barge in on their conversation. For example, if a customer’s glass is empty, he may need another drink. If a customer has barely touched the dish while the rest of his or her dining companions have almost finished, there may be some problem with the food. The same would also be true if a customer is holding up his tenderloin in the air and staring at it or holding it in front of the face of one of his dining companions.

I have a suggestion for high end restaurants. When the customers are seated, the server should explain that the restaurant’s policy is to not interrupt conversations or as questions when the customer is eating, and that the server will pass by from time to time and make eye contact and nod and it is up to the customer to signal whether assistance is needed. At that point the customers will either tell the server how happy they are with that policy or they will say that they are perfectly ok with being interrupted and don’t mind talking with their mouths full.

Moritaka Aogami Super Steel Nakiri

I like reading reviews of kitchen knives, but somewhat paradoxically I find most of them to be of little value. The problem is that when it comes down to it, a kitchen knife is a rather simple object; a piece of steel with a handle. The best topics for reviews are things like food, movies, and books, which are often complex and, more importantly, subjective. Two highly respected film critics, such as Siskel and Ebert, can have wildly different opinions on the quality of a particular movie. The same goes for books and restaurants. A knive’s shape, weight, and the type of steel can all be objectively measured, so there cannot be a great deal of serious debate on the fundamental quality of a knife. So with that disclaimer out of the way, I will now write a knife review. Take from it what you will.

For my first ever knife review, I will of course start with the knife that is pictured on the first page of this website, the Moritaka Hamono Aogami super steel nakiri. Aogami super steel is a high carbon steel that is extremely hard, which means it can take and hold an extremely acute cutting edge. On the downside, because it is so hard, it is also delicate, and can easily chip or even be cracked off if the user is too rough with it. And because it is carbon steel, it will rust if left wet for any amount of time.

Before choosing to buy a knife like this, you first need to decide if you really want a carbon steel knife. Most people would probably prefer a rugged but high quality European style chef knife that you can hack meat off a bone with and then throw in the dishwasher. A carbon steel Japanese knife is best suited to those who want an extremely sharp knife for making precision cuts on vegetables or boneless meats and who are willing to hand wash and immediately dry it every time they use it.

If you decide that you want a Japanese carbon steel knife you have many types of carbon steel to choose from; White (Shirogami) 1 or  2, Blue (Aogami) 1 or 2, or Blue (Aogami) super steel. Of these steels, the Aogami super steel is the hardest and also tends to be the most expensive. If you are going to spend the money on this type of knife, you might as well spend a little more and go with the super steel. Moritaka has options in both Blue #2 and the super steel.

If you decide you want an Aogami super steel knife, you then need to decide what knife maker you want to go with. For Aogami super steel knives, Takeda is widely considered the leader, and is priced accordingly. Moritaka knives, though very expensive in their own right, are still significantly cheaper than Takeda. If Takeda knives are in fact better, and that is very much up to debate, the differences would likely be imperceptible to the average home chef.

Aside from being inexpensive as far as very expensive knives go, Moritaka Hamono is both one of the most interesting and admirable companies you will ever find. Moritaka started out producing samurai swords over 700 years ago before applying their blade making skills to knives once people starting using knives to cut meat and vegetables instead of other people. It is also the most refreshingly earnest company you will ever come across.

Though its knives are as long lasting as anything on the market, the Moritaka website actually has a page that shows how its knives will wear over time under heavy use. For the average home cook, the knives will last several lifetimes, but the people at Moritaka want to make clear that if you use this knife every day in a restaurant and sharpen it frequently, it will wear down over time. The website shows what the knife could like after 8 and 15 years of heavy use and regular sharpening. The knife that they show on the website is one used at the “local lunch centre”.

Speaking from personal experience, I bought my Moritaka nakiri knife almost a year ago and use it almost every day. Though I hone it every time I use it, I have not given it a proper re-sharpening with the stones and it can still shred receipt paper. Except making a few sample cuts on receipt paper in a knife store, the Moritaka is the only carbon steel knife I have really used, so I can hardly say that it is any better or worse than its competitors. I can only say that from personal experience I feel like I have gotten great value for the money I paid for the knife.

What Happened to the Food Network?

Am I the only one who has noticed a sharp deterioration at the Food Network in Canada? When I first subscribed to the show, there were all kinds of useful and enjoyable shows with chefs like Jamie Oliver and Michael Smith explaining how an average home cook can prepare a simple and tasty meal. Recently though,  the channel has been showing nothing but reality competition shows like Chopped, Chopped Canada, Cutthroat Kitchen, an endless succession of Guy Fierri shows, and something called ‘You gotta eat here”, which has the feel of paid programming dressed up as a TV show.

I generally dislike reality TV cooking shows. When I cook, I am generally not doing so with someone yelling at me or telling me I have to make a main course in 20 minutes using only green jello powder, veal, and mangos. I want someone to show me how to cook something that is delicious yet not overly complicated and perhaps provide a few helpful tips. For some reason, I appear to be in the minority. Most people who subscribe to cooking channels apparently just want to watch strangers compete to prepare meals under extremely stressful conditions. While I don’t get to watch the American version of the Food Network, it is obvious that the same obsession with reality completion shows exists south of the border.

For me, these shows represent the complete opposite of everything I enjoy about cooking. For me, cooking is something that is relaxing. I like experimenting, finding a way to use up some leftovers, and getting my young children to help out with the pouring and the stirring. Watching people frantically scamper around madly trying to throw together a meal with randomly selected ingredients make cooking look like a traumatic experience.

I would be fine with all of these reality shows if the Food Network still aired Chef Michael’s Kitchen. Chef Michael’s Kitchen was the best cooking show I have ever watched. Most people in the US and the UK have never heard of him, but his show had the practicality of Jamie Oliver but with a much more relaxed pace. His show is still listed on the Food Network’s show, but there hasn’t been a new episode since 2013. He does still appear occasionally as one of the celebrity judges on one of the reality shows.

I like to eat and I like to cook. The reason I watch cooking and food related shows is because I want to eat better and cook better. I would have thought that I would have been representative of the target market for a network totally focused on food, but it appears I am mistaken.

Pretension Is the Enemy of Great Cooking

I like cooking. I like eating. I like trying new things. I also find this recent nose to tail culinary trend to be repulsive and absurd. If I am going to spend my hard earned money at an overpriced fancy restaurant, I am not going to be spending it on any noses or tails. When I go to a restaurant, I want to be impressed by what I eat; I am not looking to impress others with what I am eating.

The fact is that 90% of those who pay through the nose to eat noses are doing so not because they truly enjoy it, but to show others how sophisticated they are. The taste of the food is secondary to the prestige that comes from eating it, much like the enjoyment that one gets from the use of a Louis Vuitton handbag pales in comparison to the satisfaction one gets from letting the rest of the world know that you have a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Valuing image over substance is perfecting fine for things like handbags, perfume, and wine, but there is something distasteful about it when applied to food. Food is not a luxury item; it is something every human being needs to survive. The purpose of great cooking is to take something that everyone has to do out of necessity and turn it into something exciting and enjoyable.

The faddish trend to treat cooking and dining as a way to broadcast one’s sophistication of one of the motivations behind this website. I believe that people should be adventurous and creative with how they eat, but they should do so for their own enjoyment of the food, and not because of how they wish others to view them. Pretension has no place in the world of cooking.