Sometimes it can be found in a familiar favorite or something new, what you like to eat is defined by your personal taste, senses and experiences. It's not just food on a plate it's the flavor of life.
The most important thing I've learned from working in the food industry is that people take food and their opinions of food very seriously.
It is based on our memories, cultures, backgrounds and families and one person's interpretation of a dish can be different than someone else's. It can create some heated debates that you would expect from politics, religion or crime – not food.
As food editor, the most passionate replies have been over topics that appear quite harmless like chocolate, gumbo or afternoon tea. Ironically, the most hurtful comments have come over recipes that didn't have my name on them or stories about someone else's way of cooking. Those opinions are difficult to swallow and, because I also take food personally, harsh words often linger like an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
Yes, the interpretation of flavor is a tricky business and somewhat comparable to adding salt to a dish — sometimes the limits get pushed and what could have been good flavor turns bad.
Enhancing flavor is the primary reason I began creating recipes and was interested in a career in food. Often when I tried recipes in magazines and cookbooks, I felt there was something missing or it could have been better. I began dissecting and recreating them so the resulting dish pushed the limits of flavor and turned something that was okay into food that said wow.
Now when I begin to write a recipe, it starts with a list of ingredients that each has a purpose. It then becomes a process of layering flavors and finding the appropriate cooking technique that will yield as much good flavor as the dish can hold.
I don't put my name on a recipe that I think is just okay. After writing it, testing it and making adjustments, if I'm not thrilled with the flavor it won't make it to print. It's a chance I am afraid to take knowing that someone could spend money on the ingredients, make it for their family and then not like it.
I know I can't please everyone all the time and realize everyone's palate is different. We all have likes and dislikes of various foods. Because there is such a broad spectrum of flavor preferences, FLAVOR seems to be a more appropriate title than FOOD and a way to respect everyone's individual tastes.
The range of flavor, even in common foods, can be endless because of adjustments made to ensure the flavor suits your taste. The kitchen is a place for creativity and not fear and a recipe is only a guide.
Every time we cook it's good to remind ourselves there are no mistakes in cooking. You can always make adjustments and improvements and what may appear to be a failure is actually a learning experience.
One of my favorite books, The Flavor Bible, defines flavor as a “language that anyone who loves the pleasure of the palate will find to be well worth mastering.
Once you master the language of flavor, you can use it to communicate.”
Even if you don't cook, flavor is a part of all of our lives and eating is no fun without good flavor.
Starting next week, as part of this column, I will be offering an Around the Plate update. There's a lot of moving and shaking going on in the local food scene with restaurants opening and closing, new products, weekly specials and food trends.
This is a way to start a conversation about what you are eating at home and on the town. I will be including reader's comments, news from the restaurant scene, new products and menu items, upcoming food events and anything else that adds more flavor to our lives.
If you eat something you love, find a new product or still love something that's been around for years, I want to hear about it. Restaurant owners, chefs and retailers, let me know what's going on with your business. What's new, what's popular and what are you planning? There's plenty of great flavor to share! Send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 410 W. Erwin St., Tyler, TX 75702.
Christine Gardner can also be found on Facebook at Christine Gardner Tyler Paper Food and on Twitter and Pinterest @TylerFlavor.