I love to eat. But I’m not a foodie. My palate is pretty specific- I’m still a picky eater, like I was when I was 7. Vegetables? No thanks. Seafood or shellfish? Uh, no. Thanks for offering.
I’d say that I am a level-20 picky eater- a grandmaster. I’m like a food ninja- you could be sitting right next to me and you’d never even notice I wasn’t eating half of what you are. That’s me- silent but deadly. No, wait- wrong expression…
The best part of being a picky eater is growing up and going pro. I did my time as an amateur. I sat at the dinner table for an extra hour with my cold fish sticks while my brothers were watching Wonder Woman in the living room. (Ah, Wonder Woman!)
Once I made it to adulthood, those longs sessions in kitchen Purgatory were distant memories. Good riddance! I am 100% in control of what food goes onto my plate. I’m not an idiot (at least not for my food choices!) I look for smart ways to workaround my food quirks: I take a multivitamin, I take a fiber supplement, etc. I’m not going to get scurvy.
I also consider myself to be a good guest. I understand that my narrow tastes are my issue- not yours. I’ve always been able to very selectively eat around the yucky stuff. I never draw attention to the fact that I might not like half of what’s in front of me. Again, just consider me a food ninja.
I met my match a few months ago. And I lost.
We had some organizational changes at work a little while back. I ended up with a boss that I had met briefly in the past but didn’t really know. He now had oversight for a portion of the operation that had not previously rolled into his group. All of my peers were in the same boat. We knew who he was but no one had worked with him directly.
Shortly after the reorganization, a few of us were going to be in the same field office for a few days. Our new boss- let’s call him G- was invited to the same meeting. G saw the opportunity to meet face to face with some of his new team as well as other parts of the organization. Excellent! Being a part of an decentralized operation, you have to capitalize on opportunities to get together with team members from other locations.
All was proceeding nicely as we prepared for the meeting and the chance to get to know our new boss a little better. G is a likeable guy- easy going, approachable- so when he suggested taking his folks out for dinner one of the nights there, great! Excellent idea!
Until, I discovered my new boss is a foodie- and I don’t mean just someone that likes to eat. He is a foodie as in that “Yes, I’ll have that exotic piece of fungus with the brain slaw…”. Bold and fearless in his adventurous appetite. And he picked a restaurant for dinner.
The last time that I’d been out to this office, two of my coworkers there had taken me to a country-casual, $2-burger-special place. When you walk in, grab a bowl and scoop up peanuts on your way to your booth. Cold-COLD- beer on tap. My kind of place. That’s not where I was going on this latest trip with G.
As an extra torture, G told us about a week before the trip about this place that he’d seen on the Food Network and couldn’t wait to take us there. I don’t have a problem with the Food Network- but I’m usually watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. This restaurant was on a foodie show. Anthony Bourdain’s maybe?
G announced the restaurant on a team conference call. The restaurant? Piccolo in Minneapolis. (I’ll wait if you want to Google it. Go ahead. I sure as hell did!) This place is the real deal- if that’s what you are into. But one look at the menu and I realized that it was highly unlikely that I could get a burger special. I was screwed.
As we all know, misery loves company. Luckily, one of my coworkers, call her R, has similar tastes as me. The burger place would have been fine. We started strategizing. What do we do? Our first meeting with our new boss and we’re both going to say, “No, you go ahead and eat. I had a big lunch.” No. R and I discussed options. There is a great sandwich place around the corner from the office. Maybe we get giant subs for lunch then order an appetizer and stretch it out through the meal. Maybe. Shit.
Fast forward- I’m in the office for the trip. Late afternoon. Just hours away from the meal. I hit the vending machine after the boxed sandwich lunches. Maybe chocolate will keep me fueled through the evening. The hotel has a bar/restaurant I could hit late night. I just have to make it through the meal without looking like an idiot in front of my new boss. I am not optimistic.
We get to the restaurant. R is every bit as nervous as I am. Another coworker, W, can’t wait. She’s excited about the meal. I am not liking her right now. The four of us sit down. G is sitting to my left. R is across from me- both of us eyeing the menu anxiously. I pull out my phone to capture this special occasion.
Scrambled brown eggs. Ham hock. Octopus. Kale. Quail with bone marrow. Pickled pig feet. Yes- this is every bit as bad as I feared. 25 years of coasting through “difficult” meals… I realize that I am no match for this menu. The restaurant is even bright and cleanly lit. I don’t even have any shadows to cloak my legerdemain.
Even worse, the restaurant offers a 5 course experience. Pick an item from every section. Everyone’s in- but it only works if the entire table does it. For a moment I was thinking I could get the chicken dish, some cheese, and finish it with cheesecake. Nope. The table is doing the full experience.
I pick one from each section- although for a few of the courses I am just trying to minimize the damage. Beer will help. Better order another one.
The dishes start coming out and I’m holding my own. Thankfully, a couple of my choices are fried. That works. Also, these are not large dishes. The five courses are not a banquet. Small tasting portions. I get a little over confident.
The octopus arrives. I honestly do not remember ordering this one. I am half convinced that R regretted her choice and passed that off as mine but everyone at the table swears that was my choice. The worst part is that, unlike the earlier courses with plates artistically dressed with decorative or (theoretically) edible components, the octopus arrives in this very minimalist presentation. The little tentacles are sitting in this tiny glass container that looks like a mason jar with a hinged latch and glass lid. The server opens the lid and steam or mist rises up. (It must have been mist. Would octopus be served chilled?)
I am freaking out at this point. I am about to be confronted with my worst nightmare. My new boss is sitting right next to me- I might as well be sitting in front of the class in a spotlight. I realize I can no longer push food around on the plate. There is literally nothing on the plate except this little jar with these Cthulhu-parts sitting in it. Nothing else. No way I can hide this.
It gets worse. I hear the sound of bus tires as W looks over at me and says, “Aren’t you eating the octopus?” The twinkle in her eyes tells me that she knows how funny this is and is serving up my first ball-breaking as a part of this team.
Every once in a while, I am at a loss for words. I know- hard to believe. As my stumble for a response, G looks over and says, “You don’t like that? I’ll take it.” I am saved. He nearly loses a hand as I swap the plates around at lightning speed. I finish my beer and wait for the cheesecake.
…I’ll just eat around the grapefruit.