THE UNE JOLIE LAIDEs OF OUR DINING EXPERIENCES -or- THE UGLIEST BEST THING I EVER ATE

For me, it was a cake my mother made in 1988. It was a white cake with cherry/walnut frosting. It was lopsided. The icing looked like a raging sea.  I know that if I had ever presented a train wreck of a cake like this to an employer or client, I would have been laughed or scowled at. Two chefs immediately come to mind that would have violent reactions to the sight of such a cake.

It was one of the most delicious cakes I ever had.

It tasted like Joy. It tasted like my mother was looking forward to enjoying a day of the three F’s: family, friends and food. It looked like she had a few Bloody Marys during the icing stage. This may have made its appearance suffer, but ultimately made the whole experience endearing.

The French have a term for this, at least when describing women: Une-jolie laide.  It is when a woman is not classically beautiful but has that certain something that makes her attractive anyway. 

What about food? I set about asking some of the clients of the Chefs Center of California, where food based businesses can start and grow, what was the ugliest/tastiest thing they’ve ever eaten.

Jamie, Pastry Chef for Napoleon’s Macarons: Scrambled Pancakes.

At the age of nine, Jamie already had a desire to please people with her baking prowess. Not quite adept at flipping, she flipped her pancake too early causing it to splatter and fall apart. Already having that knack for going with it as one must sometime do in a kitchen, she proceeded to add spices and sugar to the mangled batter. The sugar carmalized, the batter cooked and voila! Scrambled pancakes for her family of 11.

Michael, Chef for Modern Art Catering: Balut

Ugly not just in appearance but in its preparation and pretty much everything surrounding it, Balut is a fertilized egg that’s basically about to hatch. It’s boiled and served with chili, garlic, vinegar and perhaps a bit of coconut sap. “It’s usually followed by many beers.” Added Michael.

Lois, Cheese Artisan for Nary Dairy: Savory Foam

When Lois married Allen Keller, the other half of Nary Dairy, they went to a high end restaurant in Chicago to celebrate. At the time, molecular gastronomy was beginning to find its way into mainstream haute cuisine and Lois just couldn’t get around the frothy look of foam on an entrée plate. “It just looked like pond scum.” Once past the appearance, it was a flavor and dining experience that she fondly remembers years later.

Danny, Cook/Driver for New Era Foods: Spicy Tuna Roll

“It was the eggs on top” that did it for Danny when he had his first tuna roll in downtown Los Angeles. It was an authentic place that rolled fast and garnished with large fish roe. His young palate may have been up for it but it just didn’t look good to him. But after the first bite, he was hooked like a fish.

Join the conversation and tell us what the ugliest, best thing you ever ate was.

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2 comments

  1. I love the more interesting bits of seafood, but their appearance can be bracing. The brown, slimy, pimpled appearance of fresh uni; glistening translucent red marbles of ikura; the double whammy of looking like an assortment of large maggots and the knowledge that it came from the private parts of a fish make shirako particularly difficult on the eyes. But for flavor, taste, and texture – very, very hard to beat

  2. I would like to point out that the wonderfully written comment was written by Francis Scanlon, proprietor of Gustus Vitae spices. Check them out at gustusvitae.com.

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