When I put out the call for Food You Don’t Know What to Do With, one of my dear readers (who also happens to be a dear friend), submitted the following:
Cheez Whiz. Two E’s, two Z’s. That is all.
Cheez Whiz. You know, the toxically orange cheese-esque product that comes in an aerosol can.
He was, I think, both teasing me (he knows I am probably not the target culinary demographic for Whiz), and also, maybe just a little bit serious. Or, not serious, exactly, because this person knows very well what to do with Cheez Whiz (same thing you do with whipped cream, right? Open mouth, depress nozzle, swallow.), but sincere in his affection for this particular novelty foodstuff.
My uncle is a celebrated chef and restauranteur in the Hudson Valley region of New York State. His food is exceptional, sophisticated and refined. His newest restaurant has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and in 2007, he and his team beat Bobby Flay at his own game (Battle Cowboy Ribeye!) on Iron Chef America. He is part of the culinary elite and yet, sitting on the bar next to bottles of top-shelf bourbon and wines that cost more than my graduate school tuition, is a can of Spam.
He used to say this was meant to keep him humble, to remind him of the kind of food he ate as a poor kid growing up in a family of twelve.
My dad loved Spam, too. And things like fried bologna and Beefaroni and other low-end treats. I am going to admit right now to a certain foodie snobbery on my part–a snobbery my Cheez Whiz-suggesting friend is well aware of–but I am also going to promise that if, when I next randomly draw a foodstuff from the comment pool, Cheez Whiz happens to pop up, I am not going to reach my hand back into the Blue Mixing Bowl of Happiness and Possibility and re-draw something else, something worthier, something “better.” No. I am going to do it a solid and write about it with the same reverence and attention I might apply to oysters or tofu or artichokes.
Why? Well, for one thing, this project is about helping people approach ingredients they are having trouble with. It’s meant to be helpful, not judgmental. Unless I am allergic to it (hint: I’m not), I am open to cooking or working with pretty much any ingredient. It’s all for you, people. I’m doing this for you!
Of course, there is a less selfless reason, too: I love a cooking challenge. (Though I’m sure I wouldn’t have survived ten minutes under the lights at Kitchen Stadium!) I also want to continue to challenge my palate. No, I don’t think I like Cheez Whiz. Or Jello. Or Popsicles. (My children can not wrap their brains around this one.) And maybe I will continue to live my life with those dislikes firmly in place. That’s fine if it happens that way.
But I tell my kids all the time that sometimes it takes many, many bites of a thing before we really know how we feel about it. And sometimes we can hate something for a very long time (watermelon) and then, one day (during pregnancy), take a reluctant bite and find it to be positively ambrosial. Our tastes utterly changed.
I want to remain open to the possibility of that moment.
So Cheez Whiz? Yeah, sure. Bring it.
Did you ever do a culinary 180? What food did you once hate/love that you now love/hate?