By Executive Chef Sean Dunn
Provisions and Taproom, Groveland Hotel
I will not lie to you; this is my first column. Matter of fact, if you were to ask any of my English teachers from high school or college if they thought this was ever possible, once the laughter died down and the tears were dried, I am confident their answer would be “no”.
So, let us jump down this rabbit hole, shall we?
Most of you have heard the cooking term al dente which means “to the tooth.” Al Osso means “to the bone” and if you have met me I do believe you will agree, that describes my personality quite well.
If you have not met me yet, here are the cliff notes. I have been a chef in some form for over 20 years, I have owned or been a partner in 3 restaurants, a winery, and a catering business. I have been a dishwasher, a prep chef, a food and beverage director and a restaurant consultant. What that means is that after all this time as a chef I have several core beliefs: I have a big heart by nature, and I am a pessimist from nurture. Most people are consciously obtuse to other issues or beliefs, I am old enough to know my physical limitations but still brash enough to let my ego talk and I know that the only constant in this world is change (and people hate change).
I promise that I will write and say some things that you may not agree with. I will provide opinions and truth that will challenge your comfort. I will be straightforward in telling you what the service industry endures and how your expectations cause us angst.. I will be a proponent for change in your thinking, your perceptions and your knowledge of food. I could make you laugh; I might make you cry, but I hope I always make you think (about food mostly). Which brings us to the point of this article, your boring food!
That is right, I said it, your food is boring, mundane, the same as when you were a child, same seasoning, same method of preparation, in some instances the same pan that your parents or grandparents used....it is boring.
Now it is not entirely your fault if you grew up like me. Julia Child was barely a household name and most of what she cooked was that hoity toity French stuff that was for special occasions and such.
If there was a cookbook in the house, it was from Betty Crocker and not Julia Child (runners up would be Better Homes and Gardens, Taste of Home or Reader’s Digest). Let’s throw in the parent who did not like garlic or onions or whatever, couple that with a lack of knowledge of flavors and how different spices finesse the flavor of food to enhance it and not overpower it and VOILA, you grow up with Shrimp Curry over white rice made with the vile and disgusting McCormick Curry powder which is 90% Turmeric (there are well over 150 curries in the world, any of which are better).
However, now you have oodles of cooking shows, celebrity chefs and the like throwing recipes at you all day long, so your excuse for bland, tasteless food is gone.
My point is this, at the start of any year we all want a happy, adventurous, and less mundane new year. We make “resolutions” to improve our health, lose weight, exercise more, take more trips to see loved ones and such, yet the most basic and essential thing that we do to keep ourselves alive every day, to nourish our brains and muscles to achieve our goals in the new year is the last thing we want to change. How can you change the flavor of your life even a little bit, if you won't change the taste in your mouth?
Change is uncomfortable when you do not know what to expect. So, let's change that.
My challenge to you this year is to try a new restaurant, cuisine, or dish once a month, be it here in Groveland or Sonora or wherever you travel to. I challenge you to learn about a new spice and where it comes from, how to use it, how it tastes, how to cook with it, its history.
I challenge you to make a new side dish for yourself, significant other or friends. I am not asking you to change the flavors of all your beloved recipes, but I am challenging you to take Grandma’s bean recipe and add some flavor that she never thought of like soy sauce, lemon grass or Nopales (if you don’t know what Nopales is, look it up, learn how to use it).
As I stated, change is difficult because of what you don’t know or are unfamiliar with. Truly the only way to effect changes in your life, be it the new year, new you or new food is to educate yourself on the changes you want to make and then take a leap of faith and try it out.
It ain’t like you don’t know your way back to Grandma's bean recipe.