Taking on the unlikely role of food judge


When it comes to food, my tastes are pretty simple. There aren’t a lot of foods that I like and fewer still that I can cook. Fortunately my wife has been very kind throughout our marriage to accommodate my finicky nature.

But I’m gonna tell you what, dear reader. On Saturday, I had a high-brow experience. I went to a tasting.

Yes, Johnny Whitfield, who never saw a big city he liked, sat in an elegantly appointed room inside an otherwise industrial looking building in Raleigh and took little bites of food as a chef with a real chef’s hat brought trays of food out for us to sample.

My daughter Anna Kate, who is due to marry in the fall, wanted me to attend and share my opinion of the food prepared by the caterers she is considering.

Now, I’m gonna tell you. I may be small town, but I’ve been in high cotton before. I once drove past the Angus Barn. Didn’t stop, but I drove past it.

Heck, I even stayed in a hotel one time where they actually pull the covers back and put a real mint on the pillow. I believe we were there for four nights, so I got eight mints, because I ate the ones on my wife’s pillow, too.

But on Saturday, I violated pretty much every food rule I have ever lived by. Some of the food I ate, I have no idea what it was. Some of those dishes were good, some had pretty much no taste at all and some were pretty yucky. Some of the food we were served, I couldn’t even pronounce. (Turns out haricot verts is a fancy name for crispy uncut green beans.) As we rated each grouping of foods, I was consistently in the minority. My favorite food was everyone else’s least favorite. And vice versa.

Now, to be fair, some of the food was pretty good. The mashed potatoes were awesome. I had seconds. The beef was pretty good, and the chicken was tolerable. But there was no pork anywhere to be seen – a mortal sin in the eyes of a boy who grew up on a hog farm.

At one point, the very gracious lady who was leading us through our food tour mentioned the drinks they would serve. I heard the words every Southerner must hear. “Sweet tea.”

“Ah, yes,” I said to her. “But how do you define sweet? Personally, I like some tea with my sugar, if you know what I mean.”

My daughter has some difficult choices in the months ahead, but I gave her my best advice on Saturday as we stood outside the caterer’s office.

Her decisions will be based on more than just the taste of the food. She will have to consider cost, other services provided by the caterer and her sense of the personalities of the caterers she will be working with. I’m glad it’s not a decision I have to make. Finicky though I am, I’m much better suited to eat the food and pass judgment on that basis alone.

But it was a challenge, let me tell you.


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