Just one cook is spoiling the broth.
January 4, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

How do you avoid chef's stomach?

I make good things to eat and then I don't want to eat them. That is chef's stomach.

Having worked in food service for a good long time in in the past, I knew, and currently know, a couple of classically-trained chefs, cooks, hotelies and food science people. One thing they all seem to have in common is that they all love someone else's cooking. They prefer not to eat their own work--one of them called it chef's stomach.

A particular chef I knew expounded on the wonders of the Burger King Whopper: it has no foie gras, it has no macque choux, it is not seared or roasted or blanched. Someone else made it and it tastes good. He explained that he knows what he cooks is delicious--people pay a lot of money for it. But he is uninterested in consuming it himself.

I am nowhere near a chef, but just a good at-home cook. I make fancy things and very simple things, all with quality ingredients, and they come out pretty tasty. But I am, more often than not, totally unenthusiastic about eating them. Even if I make a lot and freeze it. Even if I make simple things. For instance, I have a nice, simple spinach soup in the fridge and I have eaten about half of it. But the instant matzoh ball soup won out over it three days in a row. And again, the other night I made tacos and Mr. Oflinkey loved them-- fresh everything. I had one and some tortilla chips, and I was done (to pre-empt the "have him cook" answers, Mr. Oflinkey has 2 jobs-- he has no time to cook).

I make myself eat a lot of the food so it does not go to waste, but I want to like it. So I ask the other chefs and home-cooks alike, what do you do to combat chef's stomach?
posted by oflinkey to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, I'll be watching this, because I had no idea this happened to anyone else. I am not a cook but I do bake occasionally, but only for gifts, as by the time I finish I don't even want to have a sample to make sure the finished product is good. I didn't know it was a phenomenon!
posted by loiseau at 11:07 AM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

That happens to me too. Stop making food based on what you think other people will like and make what you like.
posted by mphuie at 11:09 AM on January 4, 2008

My boyfriend harasses me for not eating leftovers, but... don't eat leftovers. I make what I want to eat for that one meal, cutting down recipes as needed so they make only a few servings. I find my enthusiasm for whatever it is I'm making tends to last only through that one meal. (My boyfriend likes leftovers, so for recipes that do require making a full recipe, it works out.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:17 AM on January 4, 2008

Wow, this is totally me. Friends and family are always puzzled about this. I am curious to see this thread.
posted by jadepearl at 11:18 AM on January 4, 2008

Eat food that other people make that totally sucks until you get to a point where you don't want to eat what other people cook because you associate with bad cooking.

posted by modernsquid at 11:19 AM on January 4, 2008

I suggest not eating or testing any of what you're cooking. Nothing. Perfect a few recipes and then just make them blind. This has helped me a little bit, but it's not always practical (chili, for instance). But I think I often sit down deflated about a meal because there's no anticipation about the flavor.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, I have better luck with things I can make quickly. Something that takes me less than 30 minutes to prepare has more chance of pleasing me when I sit down than something that's taken so long that all I want to do is shovel it in and get dinner over with because I'm so done with food already.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:29 AM on January 4, 2008

Best answer: I'm the same way, and ditto to not realizing this was widespread.

I just had a brainstorm: find friends and arrange meal swaps. Make a large quantity of something you can freeze. Invite your friends to all do the same. Then have them over for wine and cheese, and your guests and you can all take home someone else's TASTY cooking! (Don't invite the people who really can't cook, but don't knock cream of mushroom soup, either.)
posted by Stewriffic at 11:29 AM on January 4, 2008

I actually meant don't turn your nose up necessarily at "casseroles in which cream-of-mushroom soup plays a large role" rather than just C.O.M soup.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2008

I agree with mphuie: make things that YOU want to eat. Even if people request something from me, I make sure to find a recipe that looks appetizing to my taste buds and not just theirs.
posted by odi.et.amo at 11:32 AM on January 4, 2008

The only time I have this problem is when I taste a lot during cooking. Whether it's too much brownie batter left to lick off the beaters, or just a lot of tasting to get the seasoning right in a soup, trying the food in the kitchen can leave me bored with the flavors before the food gets to the table. Maybe you could get somebody else to taste while you cook? Then again, the only reason I am so tempted to taste so much in the kitchen is that I actually like the food I cook, at least at that point in the process. (My Top Kitchen Vice: tasting the cookie dough after every ingredient addition, "just to make sure it's coming along ok.") If you're not enthusiastic about the food even as you're cooking it, maybe you should pick some new things to cook.
posted by vytae at 11:33 AM on January 4, 2008

Eat crappy for a while.

Use the microwave. Eat sandwiches. Make simple quesadillas. If you must use the stove, use it for boiling water for *simple* pasta or rice, or for mac and cheese or canned soup. Maybe have top ramen a few times...

After a while you'll tire of this fare, and then "home cooked" meals will become more enjoyable. Maybe only for a period of time, but it should help.
posted by terpia at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2008

My wife and I both love to cook and this occasionally happens with us. One thing that seems to work is to repurpose the food. Chili, for example, can be served over fries, a hamburger or a hot dog. That way you're not eating the same thing four days in a row.

We also try to change things up. It's easy to fall into a rut when making something -- your chili/chicken soup/burgers always taste the same because you use the same ingredients -- so we routinely try new spices and combinations.

Another thing that helps is to simply prep instead of making a dish when you feel like cooking. I really enjoy grilling and will often grill lots of vegetables, onions and peppers when the main dish is something simple like a smoked chicken or a steak. They can be served as a side to the main dish but the real benefit is that these can then be used to make lasagnas, quesadillas, sandwiches, etc.

I think that some of the chef's stomach comes from spending so much time preparing something. You're around it and have smelled it for so long that it loses much of its appeal. If you've got a lot of flavorful ingredients prepped ahead of time, the meal/dish comes together quickly and I think we enjoy it more.
posted by Atom12 at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Heh. I'm familiar with this. I once watched a chef prepare 150 plates of beef wellington, 100 pounds of beautiful jumbo shrimp, and about fifteen exquisite racks of grass fed lamb chops, all for a wedding reception. He excused himself before service, went into the walk-in and made himself a boiled ham sandwich on white bread with Miracle Whip. That was his thing.

I think part of the problem, in addition to tasting all along, is that you are smelling what you're cooking for an extended period of time and your olfactory sense simply becomes inured to it. That means that you don't enjoy the sensation of taking that first strong whiff of your food before you eat it. That is, in part, what whets your appetite.

A few things that help me:

- Eat a piece of cheese and have a glass of wine before you start cooking. This relaxes me and puts a little something on my stomach before I start cooking. That way, I don't taste the all along because I'm ravenous but because I want to be sure it's properly seasoned. And I just like to have a glass of wine while I make dinner because....hey, wine.

- Taste midway through cooking once and then again right before serving only. Also, pick a favorite small spoon to taste with and use it - it will help limit your actual intake of food as you go along.

- Leave the kitchen for a few minutes before serving dinner. Wash up in the bathroom rather than in the kitchen, go into the bedroom for a moment, or even go outside or step out into the hall. Sounds odd, but you will get that initial whiff of whatever you've made for dinner when you step back into the kitchen and that will whet your appetite.

- Consider having someone else serve you whatever you've made for dinner. Even that small step can make food more appealing. Plus, it's just a nice thing.

Best of luck!
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

This happens to me too!!

I end up eating crusty bread, cheese and salumi or something. Handfuls of nuts. I do cook things I want to eat, but I end up just wanting a bite and then I'm happy to let others finish the rest. So I end up grazing. It works for me.
posted by spec80 at 11:53 AM on January 4, 2008

Do you have a friend who likes to cook that you can swap meals with? Sounds a little ridiculous but at the very least, if you make a big vat of soup, it would probably help if you could off-load most of it to that friend in exchange for whatever she was making and had extra of.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:05 PM on January 4, 2008

Wow, who knew this was so common?

I pretty much concur with all of TryTheTilapia's advice. Glass of wine and a snack of cheese, taste once midway but keep your tongue out of the food otherwise, have the Mr. do the serving, step out of the kitchen for a few minutes before you sit down to eat.

I have one other weird thing...I do taste if absolutely necessary, but I guide mostly by smell. In fact, I'm a bit superstitious about tasting the final product first. This may or may not be rooted in the fact that I feel like I get taste-bud fatigue very easily.

FWIW, I also have almost zero interest in leftovers.
posted by desuetude at 12:24 PM on January 4, 2008

The only thing that helps me (yet another person who this happens to almost daily and also had no idea it was apparently so common) is to try to not make the entire meal in one go. In other words, rather than spend an hour straight making the meal from start to finish, I'll try to do some of the prep work ahead of time. If I need to have dinner ready at 8:00, I have two choices:

- Enter the kitchen at 7:00 and stay there until everything is ready at 8:00.

- Enter the kitchen at 6:30 and do any sort of chopping, measuring, mixing, etc possible. I'll then head back to do whatever I was doing before until 7:30, at which point I'll return to the kitchen to do the actual cooking.

That's a very simplified example, and it isn't always possible, but the general rule for me is: the less time I've spent in the kitchen immediately before it's time to eat, the happier I am sit down and chow on the food.
posted by mjgrady at 12:46 PM on January 4, 2008

It happens to bakers, too.
posted by studentbaker at 12:49 PM on January 4, 2008

This happens to me all the time, especially on big holiday dinners. Which is kind of a bummer, because I anticipate them for weeks, and then I don't want to eat them when I sit down. I have yet to find a cure for this. The only foods this doesn't really happen with are fairly scent-neutral foods like baked macaroni and cheese, or mashed potatoes. Those still taste all right to me, and generally all I end up eating.
posted by headspace at 1:10 PM on January 4, 2008

I thought it was just me! This is why I always want to order Chinese when I cook some time-intensive French dish.
posted by Brian James at 1:13 PM on January 4, 2008

I get this sometimes when I cook, mostly when I barbeque for 10, or 12 hours straight.
I put it up to getting burned out on what you're making, that and stress.

Cooking for me is a stress reliever, and I've gotten good at putting a meal together in 20 30 minutes with a beer in one hand (or wine glass as the case may be) and cooking tool in other, all while the kitchen fills with the sounds of the process and what ever muisc is playing and of course the aroma.

I find that if the active cooking time lasts more than an hour I get your "Chef's stomach"
So I try to have things prep'ed the night before, or any steps that can be done in advance.

That way when it's dinner time it only takes me 20 minutes and I'm ready to eat.
posted by nola at 1:15 PM on January 4, 2008

Or put another way; Relax don't do it
When you want to go to it
Relax don't do it
When you want to cook.
posted by nola at 1:18 PM on January 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

i think it's all about smell. if you cook something, you've been smelling it forever, and you get used to it. so go for a walk outside or even into another room for a while once the food is ready- just to get out of the smell. you'll be more interested if you get a break from it before you eat. i realized this because my family traditionally takes a walk while the turkey is resting on thanksgiving. even though i've been smelling it all day, it smells WAY better after a break.
posted by genmonster at 3:32 PM on January 4, 2008

TryTheTilapia has an excellent point. It is easy to become inured to smells, and smell is a huge apetite stimulent. While I don't think you should go all "Silence of the Lambs" and put vapo-rub under your nose whilst cooking, taking a break before eating the food will help.

I noticed this effect last Christmas when I was cooking for friends. I'd made a fantastic roast with trimmings but by the time it was ready, I just wasn't hungry. My friends decided to have a glass of wine and a smoke so I went outside to chat with her (I don't smoke) and show her around the garden. When I came back inside, the smell from the roast hit me and I was instantly drooling. My theory is that the smell of the cigarette and the fresh air was a sufficient break that the roast-smell seemed new and therefore had more impact.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:02 PM on January 4, 2008

I never knew this had a name, I suffer from it too. I love to cook, it is therapeutic for me. Sometimes I cook a real complicated dish, have a few bites, then put it in the fridge. I don't like left-overs either. I found that I was letting perfectly good food go bad in the fridge.

What I do now is this; Cook a nice main dish, package it up to take to work the next day for a nice lunch, eat something light for dinner. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I share with my coworkers, they rave over my cooking. Now we all take turns bringing in nice meals for the group (5 of us). Of course we try to out do each other, all the more fun. We've noticed the IT guys from upstairs drifting through the kitchen, inhaling deeply and groaning. If it's lunch time when we call for help, they knock each other down rushing to our rescue. We always take care (feed) of the tech that helps us!
posted by JujuB at 10:30 PM on January 4, 2008

I've had this problem for a while now, since about two years ago when I decided to try to cook the majority of my own meals. This is all I have come up with so far:

Try to go "out" to eat once a week, even if it's just a cheap lunch special bento box or something. Invite friends over for dinner. Friends who will invite you over for dinner in kind. Invite friends over for dinner and ask them to bring something. I find this is enough to keep me from having to eat my own cooking seven nights a week.

- Eat a salad and drink a big glass of water before you start cooking. Do not sample any of the ingredients. Do not lick utensils. Do not sample unless critical for seasoning.

- For things that are particularly aromatic, like garlic-heavy dishes, curries, sauces, chili - nose plug (seriously). Or, once things are done cooking, leave things on low and either hop in the shower or go take a walk outside. When you step back into the kitchen you will be salivating from the smell.

Overall, though, chef's stomach doesn't bother me because I tend not to overeat when I cook a proper meal. And I'm happy with leftovers unless I make too much of something and have to eat it more than twice. I like leftovers more than eating it when it's hot though, too, because I'm not "used" to the meal already.

You're right that when you cook for an hour, it's like the meal soaks up into your pores. I always wondered why neither my mom wouldn't eat much of her own cooking (which is delicious) but would pack it away like she was on vacation if I cooked dinner.
posted by SassHat at 10:02 AM on January 5, 2008

I seem to be different to many posters because I thought it was something that just went hand in hand with cooking. I cook every meal in my house (works out well, because my partner hates it and I like it). Cooking a big roast dinner at Christmas is my idea of fun, for example.

I believe it's the smell desensitizing you to it, plus also having constructed it from ingredients, you lose the curiosity that tasting a meal brought to you gives, you've already tested it and know what it's going to taste like.

So, I make a point of eating takeaway or in a restaurant every week. Sometimes if it's a good meal, go outside for a while, then walk back in and HEY, that smells GREAT!
posted by tomble at 5:18 PM on January 6, 2008

Totally the smell overload. (What we call "taste" is really almost all smell.) I usually don't plan to eat what I just prepared, keeping something different to eat while others eat the just-prepared meal. By the next day (or quite a bit later in the same day), my interest in the meal has returned.
posted by telstar at 2:44 AM on August 8, 2008

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