Good taste doesn’t come easy – Orange County Register

When it comes to having a palate of sophistication and refinement, I … how can I say this … I got gypped.I blame my biological father, because, why not? It’s so much easier than blaming my mother. Here’s the story: He was an Italian citizen, originally from the province of Ancona in central Italy. After a brief stint in the States that included his relationship with my mother, he spent most of his working life in Sao Paulo, Brazil as a civil engineer. Italy, Brazil – aren’t your taste buds watering at the mere mention? Can’t you smell the rich scents from the kitchens? And wine! The Chianti, the Sangiovese …

But I wasn’t raised with the exotic side of my blood relations, so I didn’t grow up with any of that culinary culture. My family, the one that nurtured me, was the Scotch-Irish side, the ones with the boiled cabbage, the corned beef and the potatoes – boiled too, of course. Spices ran the gamut from salt to pepper. Well, to be fair, there was sometimes a sprinkling of paprika, maybe a parsley sprig garnish for festive holiday dinners. The drinks were Bushmills whiskey (a lot of that), and a cold Schlitz in the summer. To be fair, my grandparents briefly owned a diner in the culinary mecca that is Western Pennsylvania (that’s sarcasm, Dear Reader). Gram did make a killer grilled cheese and an egg salad that was, frankly, superb.

Let’s just say I burned out a few thousand of the 10,000 taste buds we’re all born with on overcooked pot roast and soda bread long before I knew what the word “gourmet” could offer. But all was not lost: It turns out developing a palate can still come through exposure to new tastes, an emotional connection or positive memory associated with foods, and throwing out the salt shaker along with the sugar bowl.

Although I’m still, sadly, not a world-class foodie, people in my life have broadened my horizons magnificently. From beloved Latino friends and their families I learned to crave green chile. From a few French ex-boyfriends in my youth, I came to appreciate endives’ bitterness, the uses of fennel, and the beauty of subtlety. From Filipino pals I developed an appetite for papaya and chayote – but not balut!

Now that I think about it, my personal palate in some ways parallels Orange County’s own culinary development. Forty years ago no one was making the drive from LA to dine here. But in the last four decades, daring gourmets like the ones I’m pictured with above – Zov…

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