Ditch Your Picky Eating Habits

I had a picky eater friend in university who stands out from all the rest. Whereas most picky eaters would perhaps have a list of ten or twenty acceptable foods, he had maybe five. These were limited to: steak/beef, chicken fingers, pasta, tomato sauce, and pizza. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much). As a foodie this habit drove me insane and naturally led to many discussions about the merits of trying new food.

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The most adventurous dish my friend tried in university.

If you’re a picky eater, I strongly urge you to ditch your habits. First and foremost, it helps fill my ego when someone ends up loving a food I recommended to them. But as much as filling my ego is awesome, it also gives you the ability to open your mind.

Now, you’re probably wondering, how the hell eating some sushi might open your mind. I’m not talking about an unprecedented blast of flavour changing your world. I’m also not talking about telling a potential employer how worldly you are because you went to a poke place once. Eating new foods helps you open your mind by exposing you to new cultures and unique values. 

For example, let’s say you’re like my friend and only eat typical broke university student foods for 98% of your meals. After 300 invites to go to Korean BBQ you finally break and accept, promising yourself and others that you’ll eat more than just the beef.

You arrive a tad late after battling food anxiety (I’m told this is a thing) and discover your friends have already ordered. For those of you familiar with Korean BBQ, this means they’ve brought the unlimited sides (kimchi, sweet potato, salads, cold soup, lettuce, onions, sauces, lotus root, glass noodles, and more).

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Just look at all those sides!

Kimchi is thrust upon you and you take your first bite. Then another side and another. Eventually, you find one that you love or at the very least tolerate. As the meal goes on your friends tell you about the different types of foods in painstaking detail as that’s the only way you’re willing to try them. By the end of the meal you’ve learned a bunch about typical Korean foods that everyone loves and your culinary palate is slightly larger.

As you begin to explore more cuisines your curiosity grows and you question why Asian food has so much rice (history lesson about Asia), why vegans are obsessed with eating local (farm to fork movement), why Indian food is so spicy (valued cooling effects of hot food), and more. Even if you don’t turn into a full blown foodie like what happened to me, you’ll more than likely end up learning a lot of new things. As an added bonus, you’re likely to get invited to more hangouts and making friends with people from other cultures will become easier. And perhaps greatest of all, travel will become less scary and more enticing.

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Lessons in history (Tokyo).

In case education, new friendship opportunities, and travel aren’t enough to convince you, take this word of advice from the once super-picky-eater friend of mine:

For me it was like, well, I know I’m not allergic to anything (or there’s a 0.0001% chance I am but who knows), so why shouldn’t I just go for it?

Worse that happens is I don’t like it.

As a foodie, blogger, and fellow human being, I sincerely hope you’ll think twice before your next meal of chicken fingers and push yourself to try something new. And remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.

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Glassroots – local food from the heart

This article originally appeared on www.westerngazette.ca

By Ellis Koifman

Glassroots is the newest dining experience to come to Richmond Row. After a hugely successful summer of dinner service, they’re soon opening for lunch with reasonable student prices.

The idea behind Glassroots is its grassroots approach to everything from décor to construction to food. Everything is local; everything comes from the heart.

“We are fiercely local. Almost everything we do comes directly from farmers, directly from local buyers,” says Mike Fish, co-owner and front-of-house manager. “A lot of our cherry tomatoes and our herbs come from our patio. We’ve got 22 planter boxes that surround the patio.”

Located where Veg Out was open for several years, this new restaurant with new owners is entirely vegan. But you won’t find the word “vegan” anywhere in the restaurant. Instead they want to be known for their environmentally friendly and healthy experience.

“For us it was like every other restaurant, the food just happens to be vegan,” says Fish. “We get people in all the time… They’ll leave not having a clue that they just ate at a vegan restaurant. That’s really neat.”

If you check the Glassroots website, you’ll be able to find last week’s menu with items such as the mushroom melt burger and the late summer barbeque bowl. Whereas most restaurants will change their menu quarterly, they have a new one every week. “After the end of one calendar year we’ll have done 50 menus, which would take a restaurant 13 years to do,” says Fish.

Fish shares ownership of the restaurant with Glassroots’ chef Yoda Olinyk. The pair’s lives have always been surrounded by food.

When Olinyk was 18, her parents split up and she was left with the responsibility of cooking a decent meal for her dad and herself. “I bought a cookbook and pretty much since that first meal I made… I just loved it,” says Olinyk. Since then she has worked at several restaurants and ran the first plant-based catering company in southwestern Ontario, often serving at vegetarian and vegan events.

Fish’s story is similar. He discovered a love for food and worked in the food business. At the age of 18, he got into bartending and learned the “artistic mixology experience” at the Whistler Fairmont in British Columbia. He has spent years working as a wine rep and has become known for his drink-mixing skills.

Sitting down for a meal at Glassroots will provide you with more than just a vegan dining experience — you’ll get to join the intimate atmosphere that Fish and Olinyk have created. With their limited hours — only open five days a week — they’re able to prioritize interacting with their patrons.

“That’s why our tagline is ‘A food and wine revolution’ — we really want to change the way people think about food in general,” says Fish. “Everyone can be comfortable here.”

“At the same time, we wanted to have a place where vegans or anyone dabbling in that lifestyle could come in and not just have a kale Caesar,” adds Olinyk. “We’ve got everything from Creole food to Mexican food to Italian food to Asian-inspired dishes.”

On Sept. 30 Glassroots will be opening for lunch. Olinyk emphasizes the value-driven reasonable prices for take out items like fresh soup and salad. If you’re downtown and in the mood for a new experience, Glassroots is the place to try.

Glassroots can be found at 646 Richmond St. and is open from 4:30-11:00 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday (soon opening for lunch).

Trending Alternatives

Vegetarianism

In the month or so since my last post I’ve started following a pescetarian diet. Turns out watching Cowspiracy and doing extensive research into the meat and dairy industry affected me a fair bit.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about following this diet (and having a vegan cookbook) is that everything is REALLY cheap. I’m talking spending $30 or less a week while making delicious home-cooked meals kind of cheap. If I had known this when I was in my early years of university I would have adopted a pseudo-vegan diet much earlier on.

Getting sick of eating too many ramen noodle cups might be part of the student experience, but once you get to that stage (it happens pretty damn quickly) you should definitely check out some vegan recipes. I’m not saying go 100% vegan – especially because this would ruin your ability to enjoy pizza (the other big university food), but have one here and there and add some chicken if you feel like it.

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Find a few recipes you really like (the cookbook I linked earlier, Thug Kitchen, is fantastic), go to the bulk food store, pick up most of the ingredients for a ridiculously low price, and enjoy an awesome meal that doesn’t involve dried noodles, flavour packets and a lifetime supply of MSG.

This brings me to the topic of this post (and often the topic of this blog): eating cheaply during and after university. Even if you’re incredibly lazy with food, chances are you’re not willing to spend a ton of money to get that convenience (you’d rather use that excess money to pay back the saddening amount of student debt, or you know, do something fun).

If you look at a couple of the vegan recipes in Thug Kitchen Cookbook or elsewhere you may notice that there can be a ton of ingredients. Don’t get scared away! For the most part when you look more closely it basically says to take all these (easy to prepare/ready-to-cook) ingredients, toss them into a bowl/pan and mix.

At this point you probably want me to stop ranting on and on about vegan recipes, so I will (aren’t you lucky!).

Soylent 2.0

Those of you who know me in person, or who checked out the video I linked on the Facebook page a while back, know that I did a five-day Soylent challenge a while back (or rather attempted one and failed miserably) along with two of my co-editors at the Western Gazette. Soylent is a meal replacement (not to be confused with “meal supplement”) that comes in both powder and liquid form. It is essentially 20% of all your nutritional needs (based on a 2,000 calorie diet) all in a convenient bag/bottle.

When I attempted to switch to Soylent for five days it went downhill pretty quick. The powdered version – Soylent 1.5 – I found to be lumpy, grainy, poor tasting and just generally a terrible experience. But I still liked the idea, even if I had given up on the challenge after two days.

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A couple weeks later I ordered some Soylent 2.0, which differs from its powdered counterpart by being factory-mixed (meaning no grainy/lumpy texture), flavoured with a hint of strawberry (which really just makes it taste like slightly sweet milk) and bottled into convenient.. err.. bottles.

Over the course of about a month I had a bottle of Soylent 2.0 every morning for breakfast and occasionally for lunch or dinner if I was in a rush to go out. The convenience I had hoped for with 1.5 was present with the slightly more expensive 2.0.

Soylent 2.0 is a student’s dream meal when it comes to cost and convenience. Each 400-calorie bottle costs about $3 US including shipping and tax. For those of you who NEED a morning coffee, they recently came out with Coffiest, which kills two birds with one stone by giving you a cheap meal and your morning coffee in one bottle (though I can’t speak to how it tastes as I have yet to try it).

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Whether you’re needing a healthy snack while at the library (that doesn’t involve crunching lettuce on the silent floor), rushing to a morning class, out for a long walk or up late and not wanting to spend time prepping a meal, Soylent 2.0 is the best thing I’ve had. So please put away those ramen noodles once in a while and replace it with one of these (or a vegan/vegetarian meal if that’s your fancy and you’ve got the time).

There are a lot of ways to eat more cheaply but these options allow you to do so while still maintaining a healthy diet. While they may not be the most popular options around that doesn’t mean they aren’t good ones. When it comes to future eating it’s all about looking out for new and upcoming trends and in a few years time (or less), chances are these options will be far more popular than they are today.

Images: Pexels (1), soylent.com (1)

Eating for the Community

Community

The Inuits living in arctic Alaska believe in a subsistence lifestyle, where hunting isn’t just about putting food on the table for yourself or for your family, it’s about sharing with the whole community.

Excess consumption is a critical problem in today’s society. Red meat – something not necessary at all for the human diet – is eaten several times per week by many if not most people. Think of food chains that offer a quick burger to go so you can eat a hunk of meat for your meal without a second thought.

We’re completely disconnected from our food.

By no means do I consider myself a vegetarian or vegan. I eat fish and meat far more than I should. I indulge in chicken fingers from The Spoke at Western University and treat myself to the occasional steak cooked on my cast iron pan. I love going out for duck when I can and never say no to a delicious platter of assorted local meats.

Recently though, I’ve started to question my own indulgences and those of our society.

When we go to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries, the chicken we purchase comes in a nice clean package – blood, skin and bones removed – with two or more lovely pieces ready to be cooked. We don’t think about it. We just add it to our cart and go on our merry way.

Across the world chickens are cooped up in masses and slaughtered in inhumane conditions. Being raised “organically” doesn’t make much of a difference to the consumer. You let yourself stop feeling guilty because it ate nicer food and lived a nicer life and maybe it’s healthier for you, but all the difference you really see is a slightly different label on the package of chicken from the supermarket. Your eating habits don’t actually change much.

The inuits living in arctic Alaska hunt for the needs of the whole community. They don’t have access to supermarkets that disconnect them from the rest of the world, meaning they aren’t disconnected from the process of hunting for food and preparing it. They understand everything as being connected (nature, animals, humans, climate).

On the flip side, urbanized societies around the world are completely disconnected. When you go to your favourite burger joint you aren’t thinking about how your hunger and your indulgences affect the needs of the community or its ability to access food. Sure, you’ll think of your family when shopping for the week’s groceries, but the buck stops there.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A couple months back I proposed a scenario to as many friends as possible. Inspired by a Buzzfeed video, I asked people if they would be willing to go to a chicken farm and kill and cook their own chicken, following the common guidelines and with the direct instructions of a farmer (assuming of course the chicken was going to be killed and eaten anyway). Only one friend said yes out of over 30.

That friend grew up in a place where it was common to witness chickens being butchered – their blood running down the street into the drain – as he walked home from school or to see people buying live chickens to butcher and prepare at home. He, unlike most of us, wasn’t born into a society completely detached from the process.

The rest of the people I asked were taken aback, disgusted by the very notion of being so close to a process. Those who briefly considered it said if they did it, they wouldn’t be able to eat chicken ever again. One friend even called me insane for showing interest in doing such a thing.

We’re used to others doing our dirty work. Out of sight, out of mind. Movies that expose the industry for what it is are hard for us to watch. They make us face realities that we have an inkling about, but are too afraid to embrace. Why? It would ruin our enjoyment of our favourite meals.

Sustainability

Does all this matter really matter? Sure, it would be nice if people appreciated where their food came from, but would it really change anything other than adding a little educational note to our meals?

Definitely.

It’s about eating with the whole community in mind.

Cowspiracy, a movie exposing the impact of the meat industry, illustrates how just one burger takes about 660 gallons of water to produce.

One. Burger.

The average American uses about 80 gallons of water per day, meaning over eight days of water goes into that one burger.

According to Cowspiracy individuals eat about 9oz of meat and dairy per day; to be sustainable, that number would have to be about 2oz… Per week.

Who knows, maybe red meat will become the next tobacco and become shunned by the world at large, changing our environment and communities.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen (at least not anytime soon). Nor do I think the solution is to expect everyone to go vegan or vegetarian – an unrealistic expectation given the habits and stubbornness of our generation.

The key here is moderation.

This means instead of having a burger every time we feel like it to having one maybe once a week (or less if possible). It means considering where the meat is coming from (really coming from) and appreciating it as more than just a piece of raw food in a plastic and styrofoam package.

With education and moderation I think we can get a little bit closer to the subsistence lifestyle exemplified by the Inuits living in arctic Alaska.

If each person were to start eating for their community instead of just themselves, it could be another giant leap for mankind.

Images: Cowspiracy (1)

Apathy, ADHD, Appetite

Disclaimer: This is going to be a bit different as far as foodie memoirs go, it’s mostly about how ADHD contributed to me becoming a foodie.

Focus is Impossible

Throughout my grade school experience I constantly struggled to stay focused.

I can’t say I remember a single class in grade 6 where I wasn’t constantly on the verge of dozing off, or zoning out. This was caused by a mix of apathy, poor sleeping habits and the profoundly difficult task of staying focused.

One day in drama class we were performing our little three-minute fight scenes and, as I was in the midst of reacting to a slow-motion punch, I completely zoned out. Luckily it was the end of the scene. Unluckily, the teacher then proceeded to ask us questions about the scene in front of the class. I didn’t hear or react to a single word that came out of his mouth. Needless to say it was painstakingly embarrassing.

School days were filled to the brim with day dreams and once I got home my parents – who deeply value education – would question my apathetic self about every little detail of my day.

Each night during the week I was restricted from playing video games – that’s not to say I didn’t play anyway while my parents backs were turned (sorry, Mom and Dad) – and watching TV was only for after my work was done.

Only through constant intervention from my father who oh so patiently dealt with my inability to focus did I actually get work done during much of high school.

When he wasn’t in the room watching that I was actually doing my work (while he did his paperwork beside me) I was either playing games on my computer, zoning out, or making up fantasies about being in some far away place (the birth of the writer in me I suppose). It was impossible to motivate myself to get started on a task and even if I miraculously did I would frequently get side-tracked.

I should note here that I didn’t do poorly in school for the most part – when I did do the work I’d do a damn good job, but getting me to actually do it was like pulling teeth. I never really had problems with my grades until the start of high school.

You may be thinking, “Doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, tons of kids don’t care about school and zone out all the time.” You’re right, which in part was what made it so hard to see there was a greater problem until later on.

Hidden Troubles

Up until late in my high school experience mental health wasn’t really addressed as being a serious problem that affected the learning experience. ADHD, anxiety, depression and more were all misunderstood by the student body who stigmatized individuals who had them. After a good friend of mine was diagnosed with ADHD he was explaining the struggle of staying focused and someone repeatedly argued that he was simply being lazy and needed to just get the work done. Yeah, high school kids are assholes.

Before entering grade 11 many students in my year were getting academic testing done. I’m not entirely sure what sparked this sudden acknowledgement en-masse of the effects of mental health; it was probably the result of a diagnosis of a kid of an influential parent or my school following a trend among other private high schools in the area. I went from being entirely in the dark about mental health to suddenly seeing it all around me – people getting extra time for ADHD, writing in different rooms for anxiety.

Awareness doesn’t equal understanding though, so the stigma continued.

I was not among the vast number of people who underwent academic testing that summer – people would look at me differently! And so, throughout grade 11 I again struggled to stay focused – leading to many arguments with my parents, sleepless nights and a feeling of utter helplessness.

Thankfully, in the summer before grade 12 I finally did get academic testing done and was diagnosed with a form of ADHD. This was done by a rather judgemental psychiatrist who made me feel awful about it, telling my parents about my potential for failure and inability to focus like I was some dimwit unable to grasp her words and therefore not worthy of being a part of the conversation. I was left with an even greater feeling of stigma, which only furthered my inner-need to hide my mental health problem from as many people as possible.

No Appetite

Hiding my ADHD continued into first year university. I was struggling to cope with the shock of living alone in residence. I was hours away from home and from home cooked meals.

At this point I medicated with prescribed Concerta (similar to Adderal/Ritalin) to manage my ADHD.

One of the biggest side effects of this drug is complete lack of appetite. On top of learning how to feed myself, I was also constantly forgetting to do so. The pangs of hunger that come when you skip four meals in a row? They didn’t come. Even when I realized my lack of eating I had to force myself to consume food. Eating more than a few bites when I should have been starving felt like being brought a personal chocolate cake after a large feast – a part of you wants it, but you cannot bring yourself to take a single bite.

Needless to say, I lost a ton of weight in that first semester of university.

Remedy

Winter break rolled around and I went to my doctor for a check-up. Skipping most meals and eating very little food took its toll on my body. ‘You’re borderline underweight,’ my doctor said. No surprise there.

I stopped taking Concerta and later began alternative treatment through the Listening Centre in Toronto. Paul Madaule is a miracle worker. (After the several-month-long weekly treatment I received there my ADHD was, and still is, about 80-90% better).

But there was still the problem of my weight.

Those of you who have been to Toronto may be familiar with the burger joint ‘The Burger’s Priest’, arguably the best burgers in the city. You may also be familiar with their secret menu, which among other interesting creations contains a burger called ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse‘ – two cheeseburger patties, two vegetarian patties (two portobello mushroom caps stuffed with a blend of cheeses and deep fried) and grilled cheese buns. Yes, it’s insane. Well, that’s what I ate on the way home from the doctor’s office that day. I’m sure it’s not what he had in mind, but hell, I was finally eating something.

This was the first time I purposely sought out and ate an interesting food item I had heard about from the Toronto foodie community. The first of many I should say.

From that point onward, throughout my winter break, I visited several other restaurants with rich and filling foods, eating to my heart’s content both at home and at The Burger’s Priest. This jump-started my drive to seek out the best and most interesting foods that Toronto had to offer. As I regained the weight I lost, a new part of me started to stir.

Finally, I was a foodie.

Grab Sushi Safely

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Not many people are aware of what exactly makes a sushi restaurant trustworthy. This is pretty scary considering you’re eating raw fish – a lot can go wrong. I’ll spare you the details, but let me just say food poisoning is only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s some tips to help you stay informed about quality when it comes to sushi places:

Chef’s Experience

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A lot of health risks are associated with bad fish. If it doesn’t smell right, if the cut isn’t good, if the supplier isn’t reliable, if it’s strangely cheap, if the quality isn’t checked upon arrival, you can be put at a serious health risk. These are all things that an inexperienced chef can easily mess up. So if they don’t look like they know what they’re doing, it’s probably a good idea to walk out.

Proximity of Wholesalers

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Many sushi places in London get their fish from Toronto – this is considerably less fresh than getting it that morning from the market. When it comes to sushi, it’s almost all about freshness, every second counts. This is why a lot of small towns won’t have sushi places – they simply cannot get fresh enough fish for it to taste good.

Proximity to Body of Water

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This ties into the previous point and is also useful for getting live fish, a step up from the already fresh market. If you were in a desert town and they said “fresh atlantic salmon” on their door, would you trust them? You shouldn’t. Where the hell is that fish coming from? I can guarantee it’s anything but “fresh”. The fact of the matter is, if you’re far from any body of water, you’re not going to have have high quality fish.

Timing

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Going for sushi during the week is ideal because chances are the restaurant isn’t getting another delivery of fresh fish until Monday morning. Unless it’s an upscale place that gets special delivery, on the weekend they’re likely to be using leftovers from Friday night. That means Saturday isn’t very fresh and Sunday… Just don’t. Monday you’re probably fine unless it’s a less-than-trustworthy place still trying to unload the last of Friday’s shipment through some Monday lunch special. (I highly suggest reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, as he goes into a lot more detail about this sort of thing).

Sanitation

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Don’t get sushi from somewhere that looks sketchy. If they can’t keep their workspace relatively clean or handle it with care how much do you want to bet they don’t treat their food with much care either. Of course this isn’t always the case with restaurants – there are some really crappy looking restaurants out there with spectacular food – but when it comes to raw fish, it’s best to play it on the safe side.

Images: GIPHY (6)

Memoir: Picky Eating

I think of myself as a very adventurous eater. I have a strong desire to expand my palate as much as possible. Every time the opportunity arises, I try something new.

If you had met me when I was young, you would never have expected me to one day be an aspiring food journalist.

When I was a kid, we used to go to Florida almost every winter break and visit my grandmother (who to this day spends about half the year there to escape the cold). Each day would be filled with family time, hanging out with my brother and our friends by the condo’s pool area and last but certainly not least, meals.

(Much can be said about what went into planning those meals and how that affected my beginnings as a foodie, but that is a story for another time).

Each night we would go to one of several restaurants in a plaza a short drive from the condo, often accompanied by family friends. From what I recall, restaurants were typically some slight variant of American food; but that didn’t matter, because all I ever remember getting at any restaurant was chicken fingers or pasta. To make matters worse, I would never finish my meal, often resulting in being awarded with a comment about bringing me to dinner being a waste of money (food-wise, it probably was).

I’m well aware this isn’t uncommon for kids at a young age. With limited kids’ menus, young ones are forced into a diet consisting of simple and uninteresting dishes aimed at keeping them satisfied while their parents enjoy more expensive and higher quality food.

Alas, I continued this habit, with limited variance, until I was about 13- or 14-years-old, when I began to be willing to try more dishes, mainly seafood.

This is probably a good time to rewind a bit.

When I said all I ate was pasta and chicken fingers, that was mostly true. In Florida, that’s all I remember eating. But back home in Toronto, and especially on a ski trip to Banff when I was young (alongside other small trips here and there with family), my palate had a weird twist.

From a very early age, I have always loved seafood, especially sushi.

Offer raw fish to your average Canadian kid who is used to eating off a limited kids’ menu and they’ll give you a look of disgust. Hell, offer it to one of many Canadian adults and they’ll give you the same look.

Offer raw fish to kid-me, and I’ll eat everything you put on my plate.

By the time I was 13- or 14-years-old, I was eating oysters, mussels, lobster, sashimi, calamari (including the pieces that aren’t ring-shaped), and of course still my usual chicken fingers and pasta.

No steak, no chicken (unless it was in soup, nugget or finger form), only pasta with tomato sauce (or some basic creamy sauce), only plain cheese or pepperoni pizza and other simplicities were all I ate within the realm of North American cuisine.

Aside from the chicken, I was basically a pescetarian. It didn’t help that my brother believed in two food groups: steak and non-steak. As you might imagine, this made it hell for my mom to figure out what to feed us (that is until she realized she could simply serve my brother the main part of the dish and me all the sides).

When I was 17, I went on a trip with my parents to Paris for a week. Meals we had as a family were typically seafood-filled. However, we also had family friends who happened to be in Paris at the same time.

Until this point I had been completely unwilling to go anywhere near steak (unless it was cooked well done by my late grandfather). When we got to the tiny place our family friends found, I was met with a prix-fix menu consisting of options including who-knows-what and steak frites; steak frites was my only familiar option, so I gave it a try.

It was fantastic.

Several meals later I was opened up to various meats and other dishes I had previously been so unwilling to try. Any personal restrictions to my diet had been completely removed (or would be within a few years).

As a once picky-ish eater, I now find myself making up for lost time by trying everything (that I’m certain won’t kill me). I’ve left my roots far behind and now venture onward to experience and write about the foods of the world.

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman