Sunday May 27, 2012
Parents of picky eaters, take heart. As a BraveTot, I hated pretty much everything. From the usual childhood vegetable-enemies to an extensive list of innocuous foods including eggs, honey, rhubarb and butter. Above all, I hated bananas.
I’m told that even as a baby I wouldn’t eat them, clamping my mouth shut as soon as the Choo Choo Train arrived at the station. As I got older, just listening to someone peel a banana churned my stomach. The stem breaking with a wet crack, followed by the fleshy sound of skin peeling away was the soundtrack of my nightmares.
My little brother would chase me around the house with an overripe banana and I couldn’t have run faster if he’d had a dead rat. Once he threw a bit of that stringy inner flesh at me and it wrapped around my wrist. I fell down screaming in abject terror until my mom rescued me (no, I will not disclose my age at the time of this incident). What that poor woman put up with.
This banana phobia, among myriad food aversions, persisted beyond high school. You might wonder how such a notoriously picky eater wound up in culinary school. Short answer: chocolate.
Long answer: somewhere in childhood, I started to define myself by what I refused to eat, which eventually evolved into a passion for the foods I did. In culinary school, I found myself for the first time surrounded by people who cared about food as much as I did. But they defined themselves instead by what they would eat. Suddenly, I felt self conscious about my food choices, seeing them as limitations rather than preferences.
Almost overnight, I became the sort of person who would eat anything.
I began to learn about food rather than simply reacting to it. I learned the difference between not liking a food and not liking a preparation. Between categorical and qualitative dislike. I liked rhubarb poached, not stewed. I disliked honey from the plastic bear, but loved it unfiltered with chunks of comb. I liked chestnuts without equivocation: canned or fresh, roasted with salt or boiled with sugar, and most especially in Mont Blanc.
Eventually it came down to bananas. I wanted to say that I categorically hated them, but I felt the need to atone for twenty years (20!) of banana discrimination. I had to try.
I started with banana truffles, bitter dark chocolate helping to deaden the horror of banana infused cream in my mouth. Later, I managed a few spoonfuls of banana mousse, then a profiterole filled with banana custard. Eventually, I graduated to actual pieces of bananas (sauteed in butter til melting, drowned in rum and outnumbered by vanilla ice cream 10:1, but still). When some of my classmates discovered my banana recovery plan, they realized my obvious misfortune.
I’d never had a banana split.
They hustled me into a car and up 9G to a diner in Rhinebeck and ordered a round of banana splits for all of us. Somewhere between spoonfuls of Neapolitan ice cream, a pint of hot fudge, and friends who didn’t mock my strange aversion, I found room in my heart for bananas.
In the intervening years, my love for bananas has approached Coocoo for Cocoa Puffs territory. Bananas show up on my menus with an admittedly alarming frequency. Judge me, I don’t care. Bananas and I have a lot of lost time to make up for and I won’t apologize for putting a shot of banana liquor in banana ice cream then pairing it with banana brulee.
Also pictured: pistachio gianduja and chocolate sprinkles, in honor of my besprinkled Food & Wine debut.
24 comments and counting
May 28, 2012 · 12:18 AM
Culinary school has that effect on everyone who’s going to end up doing something with food. I was a vegetarian and a vegan for the three years before i enrolled in culinary school and on the second week we were on wild game and I felt like I was green and nauseous for a month. Now I’m happily consuming many an animal without regret.
I’m going to have to have you make me some banana desert cause its still something I eat every so often but just don’t get what the big deal is. It just tastes so bannany lol banana split is good just skip the banana
beautiful photos lovely article and wicked best new pastry chef write up I guess you can kick that pastry girl bull$#!* out the door…. finally… hahaha
much love -Kimberly
· Kimberly (unrivaledkitch) · http://unrivaledkitch.com
May 28, 2012 · 12:34 AM
I hated bananas with a similar fervor as a kid. The only bananas I would eat were in banana bread. As an adult, I’ll happily eat bananas, plain (as long as they’re not too green) and in a variety of recipes…but I still don’t care for bananas in smoothies or banana splits.
I was pretty picky as a kid, too, and it was learning how to cook, and then learning to love cooking, once I was married that led me to broaden my palate.
· bethany actually · http://bethanyactually.com
May 28, 2012 · 9:10 AM
What a great post. A lot of blogs I read mention that they were fussy when they were younger – as I was. I think once you start to realise you can take control of what you discover and eat, you find a whole new pleasure in food, and turn from a fusspot into an advocate. Great post!
· thelittleloaf · http://thelittleloaf.wordpress.com
May 28, 2012 · 10:39 AM
Ah brothers! Gotta love them! I love your “coming of age” banana tale. I have a son who will only eat green bananas. Go figure.
· saltandserenity · http://www.saltandserenity
May 28, 2012 · 10:42 AM
@Kimberly, I’m easing in to the term. At CIA, I felt like everyone else had a much more sophisticated palate than I did, but looking back I’m sure that everyone was going through their own evolution too. Interesting that you went through that too. The ice cream is insanely banana-y, but you learned to love dead animals, so who knows….
@bethany, I am so comforted to know this! Most people looked at me like I was insane not to like the Almighty Banana. Even now, I’m a little weak on raw banana. I need smear of peanut butter or a layer of brulee to give it an extra bit of flavor/texture…
@thelittleloaf, I wonder how big of a trend this is? Picky eaters grow up to be passionate eaters? I’m gonna ask around on twitter, see what people say…
@saltandserenity, only green bananas! I shudder to think...
May 28, 2012 · 11:37 AM
I was mostly picky about ethnic food as a kid, but that’s excusable, so many foreign spices and textures! I went through an 11-year vegetarian stint which I kicked while in pastry school. I didn’t like bacon at all until recently and am gradually getting into seafood (still usually can’t abide the texture of lobster, shrimp, etc.)
Anyway, yay bananas!
· anna · http://verysmallanna.com
May 28, 2012 · 11:44 AM
For me it’s green bell peppers. I can not write those words without wincing just a little bit. So for years I hated anything associated with them; if it was green and it was a pepper it got picked out.
Fast forward to moving to Colorado where poblanos, jalapenos and serranos rule…not that I didn’t pick my fair share but one day had an amazing dish that I didn’t know had poblano AND jalapeno in it and I was enlightened and in love.
Unlike your bananas I still hate green bell peppers; I’m just grateful you turned the tide. This is a perfect and fun version of a banana split and it doesn’t hurt your story made me laugh. I have brothers and yes, I’ve been chased with a green pepper!
· Barb · http://www.creative-culinary.com
May 28, 2012 · 12:23 PM
I feel the same way about grapes. I hate looking at them, I don’t want to touch them, let alone eat them. Have any recipes that’ll change my mind?
· Rebecca · http://www.adustingofsugar.com
May 28, 2012 · 2:49 PM
I don’t even know why I didn’t like the foods that I refused to eat as a kid but now I pretty much eat and cook anything! I’ve only JUST BEGUN my exploration. Great post!
· Gabriela · http://ourearthland.blogspot.ca/
May 28, 2012 · 4:30 PM
@mousey, I say don’t sweat it. Kids seem to like being able to take a stand somewhere, but find other ways to do so as they get older. Some keep taking a stand with food and wind up like us. xoxo I miss your face!
@anna, shellfish are the one food group that I consistently have trouble with; like you, due to texture. I’ve recently started warming up to oysters due to the amazing chef at an izakaya in town. I can’t say what he does to them, I’m guessing yuzu and rice vinegar because the flavor is so bright, but they’re dream. I’m going to see if he can cure me of my aversion to shrimp too…
@Barb, I am so glad I’m not the only person who ran in fear of produce. I’m glad you’ve at least warmed up to some types of peppers! Green bell peppers aren’t all that great anyway, you’re not missing much.
@Rebecca, speaking of food aversions: I hate cooked grapes! I love them fresh, especially concord, but once any heat is applied to them at all, they give me the heebie jeebies. Is it the texture that bothers you?
@Gabriela, how wonderful! It’s amazing, in the beginning, when you realize how many food firsts you get to enjoy as an adult. Most of us don’t remember the first time we had X or Y, we just remember always loving or always hating it. It’s really fun to experience firsts as a grown up.
May 28, 2012 · 10:13 PM
If any of you ever get to a locale where bananas grow naturally, you’ve got to try the other varieties, tree-ripened! Standard grocery store bananas are always picked under-ripe so the sugars never fully develop – therefore, deeper and more distinctive flavors are never allowed to develop. RIPE apple bananas or silk figs or cuban reds, are amazingly flavorful, and not just flat sugar. Give them a try if you get the opportunity!
PS, that wrist wrap story was hilarious!
May 29, 2012 · 11:03 AM
I’ve never thought of it before, but there could be a connection! I was so picky as a kid that I didn’t even eat cheese. Now I will literally try anything, and have cravings for things like brussel sprouts.
· Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table · http://www.sprint2thetable.com
May 29, 2012 · 11:16 AM
@junglegirl, trying other varieties of bananas has been a major food goal. I always imagine grocery store bananas are to bananas what Red Delicious are to apples. Where does one find other types of bananas? I guess I’ll just have to go travel to some tropical location. Where’re you at JungleGirl? Need some house guests?
@Laura, I have gotten so much feedback on twitter and FB about picky eaters turning into major food snobs. I am convinced there’s some sort of connection. I think it would make a good study of some sort…
May 29, 2012 · 12:24 PM
Hah, my brother, the current chef, was the brattiest, pickiest eater in his youth.
I’m weird about bananas. I might eat one straight from the peel, but only very particular stage of ripeness [not too much, maybe one brown speck]. But bruleed? Steeped in your INCREDIBLE banana ice cream? etc? Yes. Yes please. That dish up there looks amazing!
· emily | nomnivorous · http://www.nomnivorous.com
May 30, 2012 · 10:44 AM
eating a ripe and speckled banana, or even one that is all yellow, gives me the serious jibblies. gotta have a decent amount of green on top. ripe ones are ok in baked goods (obviously) or smoothies ( with a serious dose of lemon or lime to take the edge off of that awful sweetness).
May 30, 2012 · 3:26 PM
@emily, thanks for providing more evidence for my picky-eater-chef theory! I almost never chow down on a raw banana, I need a bit of brulee or a smear of peanut butter or something to see me through.
@mallowsota, worse jibblies than that painting in Strong Sad’s room?
May 30, 2012 · 7:51 PM
I too have a minor banana aversion, I will only purchase them when they are lovely mix of lite yellow and lite green and further more will only eat them when they are like that. Once they are “properly” ripe, I find them REPULSIVE and usually throw them in the freezer where they wait until Thanksgiving and Chirstmas. This particular affliction of mine has cause many the arguments with my husband who wont eat bananas util they are of the stage that I find nasty. But even funnier is Plantains, he LOVES them green as can be and is always asking me to cook some for him, I will purposely “forget” that I have gotten them until the skins are spotty and browned.
May 31, 2012 · 10:12 AM
@Jesyca, that’s too funny. At least he can gobble up the bananas once they reach your danger zone! When they still have that slight green blush, I can’t handle them. Their texture is just too firm for me. But I don’t like any spots either, just perfectly yellow. And probably with some peanut butter.
@cyndy, I’ve seen those! I think I never gave them a ton of consideration, imagining them something like a gimmick but probably with the same flavor. Shame on me! I’ll pick some up next time I see ‘em.
Jun 03, 2012 · 3:59 PM
I’m glad to hear that the students you met at the CIA were more interested in expanding their taste buds, I’ll never forget the girl in my pastry class who said “I don’t do strawberries” or my classmates who thought I was strange because I wanted to try all the different foods available while I was there.
Jun 03, 2012 · 9:43 PM
@salty, I know exactly where he’s coming from! I’m glad to brighten your day. Cheers!
@Sipa, woah! What a strange group! I’m sure some people couldn’t imagine my problem with bananas, but I’ve never heard of someone who didn’t like strawberries. That’s crazy!