My Specimen Pete
by Nancy Hinton
(Food writing 2006)
I first met Pete ten years ago. He didn’t seem so odd, actually quite the opposite, he was a very stereotypical, well-bred Westmount boy, very “normal” for a tête carée. He liked his beef well done, and little else, certainly nothing green or strange looking. And so, the adventure started.
It began innocently, I just felt that he should try a certain menu item so that as a waiter he could describe it. I wanted him to appreciate what we were doing so that he could sell it. When I saw who I was dealing with, I knew I’d have to take it up a notch. He wasn’t the waiter who was ever going to kiss the kitchen’s ass, taste everything, ooh and ahh, no matter what I did. No, he would just turn up his nose. Infuriating.
I tried everything, from open assault, to secret trickery, anything to trip him up, to inadvertantly woo him, to open his mind. He was a tough case. It took years of camraderie and cajoling for him to even try his meat a little more pink. But we got him there, and then the tables turned. Slightly.
If he hadn’t married one of my best friends, I probably would have let the story die there. I certainly wouldn’t have bothered with him any longer. I wouldn’t have had the patience to follow his progress, let alone document it. I would have let my guinea pig continue to pace back and forth in the first leg of the maze, frustrated to not see him want to make it further, but resigned to his unadventurous nature. What did it really matter, I wasn't married to him. Nonetheless, I never gave up hope. I stuck it out, and with the help of many others, one day, we made it to the point where he was eating pork and salad that wasn’t iceberg.
I was always the type who felt the need to convert any picky eater. Tell me you didn’t like something, and I would make it how many ever ways it took to convince you otherwise. I did it with Bob with eggplant, with my family with lamb, with Ange with olives, with Jonathan with mushrooms, with dozens of people with coriander, or with tartare.... I felt like I had that power, even if it might have been more determination than actual cooking skills, but still, I could always do it. However, my specimen Pete made me feel powerless. As soon as he saw me coming over with all my wierdo foodie stuff, he would set off to make himself peanut butter sandwiches. I came close to throwing in the towel.
But there were a few victories here and there, and they kept me going for a while longer. He would love an amuse or a certain side dish – yay! He would gobble up my duck rillettes, and just when I thought I had him nailed, he would put up a new wall, and outright refuse to taste the foie gras sandwich everyone else was raving about. (And this was well before there was any media driven morality about foie gras). Not that Pete is all about morals anyway.
Eventually, I gave up trying to seduce him. Conspiring with his wife, we just decided to lie, which I’m sure she was already good at. It was all about the wording. Don’t mention salmon, even if the trout resembles salmon. Don’t mention that there is rabbit, just say chicken, don’t mention the cheese in the stuffing or the mushrooms in the sauce. Even though my menu was intricate, if Pete was in the room, it was simple, no worries, nothing exotic going on here.
The years went by. We left him alone more or less. And the funny thing is, when we weren’t looking, he slowly grew up. He now samples most things with a more open mind, he eats his steak medium rare, enjoys pork, veal, venison, even caribou! (Ok, that he didn’t know... or pretended not to anyway.) He has developed a taste for certain species of fish like tilapia, he loves sushi. He can appreciate a lobster boil Harrington Harbor style, he’s not far away from cheese fondue. Baby steps.... there’s hope for him yet. I can’t wait to see what kind of pancakes he will be making on Pancake Saturdays with the girls in twenty years.