11 Ways to Make Every Meal an Opportunity for a Memorable Experience

I had a great time at Ignite Seattle. There were lots of excellent speakers, and I even got to give my own little presentation. Here’s the essay version of my five minute talk.

 

You’re on a business trip. Your meetings are over for the day. There’s no group dinner, and you can’t face room service at the hotel. You need to figure out where to eat and you want to eat well. What do you do?

You’re at home. You can’t face cooking. You want to go out to dinner. But you’re sick of all the places you usually go. What do you do?

You love food. You love trying new things. You consider every meal an opportunity to have a memorable culinary experience and you want to increase your odds of picking a winner. What do you do?

 

The following advice is for people who focus more on flavor than environment, more on food than on service. It’s not that decor and prompt service aren’t ok things to focus on, it’s just that they are not my personal priority, so I don’t factor them in nearly as much as others. This list is focused on getting food that tastes great. With that, let’s list:

  1. Don’t Cook For Yourself – This is probably the most provocative statement so we might as well start out with it. I’ve found that most people who consider themselves food experts are truly offended at this thought. They should probably tune out right now. If you’re a good cook then I apologize as this post is directed at most people, not the exceptions. And if you’re dying to flame me for advising that most people are not good cooks and should have a professional do it then feel free to go over to this past article where I’ve been roasted (34 comments no less). I will however leave you with this thought: most people don’t make their own clothes or fill their own cavities. If you consider what food you eat at least as important as what you wear or your dental health then consider having a professional do it for you when possible.
  2. Don’t Trust Most People – I suppose it’s obvious that if most people aren’t good cooks then most people are also not capable of distinguishing good from bad. I envy them (and I used to be one of them). They can eat anything and be happy. But their recommendations may not make you happy.
  3. Eat Street Food – This one is simple. It’s fresh and it’s fast. There isn’t a lot of room to store things so everything is prepared fresh. There also isn’t a lot of room for many different things so the street vendor has to focus on one thing and do it very well if they intend to survive.
  4. Find the Local Ethnic Population – Wherever you may be there is likely a local immigrant population that has brought their cuisine with them. And transplants from another country want to be reminded of home. Nothing reminds you of home more than authenticity. And ultimately an authentic food experience is most likely a good one. Another important metric is noticing how many people from the country where the cuisine is from actually eat at the restaurant.
  5. Look for Long Lines – This one is from my friend Peyman. Peyman looks for restaurants with long lines snaking out their door. Needless to say, if everyone was jumping off a bridge, Peyman would dive off too. But when it comes to food he may be on to something.
  6. Let the Chef Choose – If you’ve gotten this far then you likely agree that you have a better shot of eating well when a professional is cooking for you. Given this assumption, let them really do thier job and choose what you eat as well. They know what’s fresh and tasty. They know what they prepare the best. And shockingly, there is a very strong chance (in my personal experience) that prepared by a talented chef, most ingredients you think you hate can be delicious. I find that very few ingredients are inherently bad when prepared by the right person.
  7. Lots of Small Portions – And in the case where you might get something you don’t like, don’t worry as you should be ordering a wide and diverse set of items. Split everything with your dining companions and try as much as you can. You’re bound to find something you really enjoy and your palate won’t fatigue eating heaping mounds of the same thing.
  8. If It’s Too Expensive, Try Lunch – There are tons of opportunities to eat out for cheap. But if you want to go somewhere pricey, see if they are open for lunch. Typically the menu is almost identical and the prices are significantly lower. Why? Don’t ask or they might get wise.
  9. Don’t Throw Good Appetite After Bad – Order the first round of food at a restaurant. If it’s not good? Leave and go to the next place. Why stick around sentenced to eating course after course of progressively bad food. (And I guarantee it will get progressively worse if only because you get more and more disappointed when nothing special comes out of the kitchen.
  10. Why Only Eat at One Restaurant? – There’s no reason you can’t treat a set of nearby restaurants as your personal foodcourt. Appetizers at one place, more dishes at another, and dessert at a third. Many restaurants have a particular strength, why not only patronize them for what they’re good at?
  11. Say Thank You – Cooking professionally is a backbreaking, low paying job (despite what you may have surmised from seeing chefs on television. And for most of these folks the main reason they continue in this job is that they love to make people happy by feeding them great food. If you like the food, tell them. Tell the waitstaff. Tell the kitchen. Tell the waitstaff to tell the folks in the kitchen. It will make them feel good and they deserve it if they’ve done a good job. Also, there’s a chance that in the future they’ll try and do an even better job for you cause they know you’ll appreciate their effort.

Life is short. And eating a meal together is one of the few remaining social experiences where we sit, face each other, talk to each other, and enjoy a communal sensory experience. There’s no reason not to try and make it the best experience you can. Hopefully these tips will help increase your odds that it will be.

4 Responses to “11 Ways to Make Every Meal an Opportunity for a Memorable Experience”

  1. Curious says:

    Micheal Pollan makes the point in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” that Americans spend a smaller (maybe the smallest, can’t quite remember) percentage of their income on food than most (or any, if smallest) other industrialized country. Conversely, we’re also the fattest. Makes sense in a way, doesn’t it? Furthermore, Pollan makes the point that “good” food isn’t overpriced,e.g., the “Whole Wallet” jokes, but rather that industrialized, loaded with hormones, food is underpriced relative to its societal, personal, etc. cost. So, eating out and paying for good food isn’t such a riduclous idea.

    BTW, point 1 could be written more clearly – your caveat about good cooks isn’t easy to understand and might be better understood if the group to which you’re applying point 1 is explictly identified.

  2. Allison says:

    Saw several of the IgniteSeattle videos. Glad you had a good time & thanks for sharing!

  3. Tim says:

    … can I add a suggestion. Order wine after you have ordered your meal and where ever possible order wine by the glass not the bottle. Ask the wine waiter for a recommendation to match the courses you have ordered. Chances are you will have the perfect wine to compliment the food you hav ordered…

  4. [...] love the Hillel’s piece over at Tastingmenu called 11 Ways to Make Every Meal an Opportunity for a Memorable Experience. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly throughout and got some good ideas about eating out too (and I [...]

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