Pancakes and Picky Eaters

Large families always create interesting dynamics at mealtimes. Sitcoms and horribly over-cast comedic movies would have you believe that many of these meals end in food fights. The reality is that they can often end in fights but the food is rarely involved (except as an innocent bystander).

Having three younger siblings and two working parents Christiane was around for many of these table side brawls. Christie saw her father working hard to serve a family meal while she and her siblings began drifting away more often as they grew older.

Except for breakfast. On weekend mornings all four of his teenage children were liable to sleep in and so Father Boyce had a captive audience to force-feed and interrogate. Christie’s favourites were the too-many-blueberry pancakes. But then so were Eggs Benedict or waffles. Pretty much anything her father cooked was amazing. Watching the way that he used food and mealtimes as a tool to bring people together was a big part of the reason that Christiane chose to enter the industry.

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Pancakes at the Boyce House

Changing schools is never an easy task for anyone. Switching twice during five years of high school was a challenge that Christie rose to. During Personal Planning Christie discovered her new school offered full service Chef-training classes and she decided, why not try it?

After high school most of her apprenticeship took place at a golf course near home. Christie got a chance to learn all about food as well as the game of golf. As much as she was enjoying her time in the industry Christie grew discouraged while watching some of the would-be-chefs in school. During the end of her Red Seal examinations she realized that as much as she loved food she wasn’t in the same ranks as many of her classmates.

It was then that Christie decided to forgo her original plan of becoming a full time chef.  She didn’t want to leave the industry, just find a role more suited to her skills in organization and management. Christie continued to work in the kitchen and fuel her love of cuisine while she went on to pursue her business degree.

On the other hand, I all but hated food until I hit my twenties. Particular meals I found enjoyable, most consisting of meat and potatoes. For the most part I ate because I had to, not for the joy of it. Except candy and chocolate. Those I ate with great vigour.

I was an incredibly picky eater. Carrots and cucumbers were the only vegetables to pass my lips. Salad was only an option if it was caesar and smothered in dressing. My parents attempted to force feed me new things but gave up when they realized my contrary nature knew no bounds. They were incredibly lenient, either catering to my whims or leaving me to pick through my meals at will. Sometimes I went hungry, sometimes I snuck snacks in later.

By the time I was 19 my eating habits had not changed. I was embarrassed to go to friends’ homes for dinner because I didn’t want them to see me picking vegetables out of my meals. I couldn’t stand going out to eat either because there are only so many times you can stomach chicken strips and fries.

Despite my lack of initiative and creativity in the kitchen I did know my way around a stove. Both of my parents were good cooks but they were also working hard.  Often it fell to me to feed my younger sister. Luckily she was almost as picky as I was and so we lived off a diet of mini-pizzas, macaroni and cheese and shake-and-bake chicken.

As of my 19th birthday I had been friends with Christie’s youngest sister, Alicia, for three years. We bonded through mutual friends in our early teens and have been close ever since. I was at college, struggling to pay for my tuition with my part time job and terrified at the thought of taking out a student loan. Alicia told me about a dishwashing job available at the restaurant where she and Christie were working.

Christiane and I had only met once before at this point, when Alicia organized a “play-date” for the two of us to meet at a drop-in ballet class. We got along really well and  I was quite excited at the prospect of working with both of them.

I came in, had a trial shift, and found that despite the damp and grimy nature of the job it was quite a lot of fun. The kitchen was loud, warm, and smelled both amazing and horrific depending on your proximity to the garbage. We listened to whatever music we wanted, each night we got a free meal, and I got to work with one of my best friends.

Alas Christie didn’t stay working with us, she moved on to a different establishment and so our imminent friendship was postponed for a little while. In her absence both Alicia and I were given the opportunity to try out cooking on the line for ourselves. Alicia jumped right into it with both feet. I was a little harder to convince, partly because I still didn’t care too much about food at all.

Finally I did brave the stress and adventure that comes with line cooking. I was taught how to hold and use a chef’s knife. I learned to ignore burns and how to bandage cuts on the go. My tendency towards perfectionism boded well for the plates I created. The compliments I received both on the food and the presentation boosted my ego but still I resisted trying new things whenever humanly possible. It was one thing to create and plate, it was yet another to get over my phobia of taste and texture.

That was until I went traveling. My adventure was a long time in coming. I have been very lucky to have spent a month of every summer since I was young at a cabin on Vancouver Island. The only downside to that was it mean that we never went anywhere else. I didn’t leave Canada until 2009 when I went on a college trip to Greece and afterwards met my grandmother in Italy.

That was the trip that changed my life. I can’t say that I ate everything that I saw in Greece but it certainly opened my eyes to the wide variety of food I had been missing out on. I couldn’t wait to get away again but food was still nothing more than a job to me. I worked as hard as I could for over a year and then in February 2011 I got on a plane with a one-way ticket to Australia and a Working-Holiday Visa. I didn’t go away to party or to lay in the sun all day. I went there to learn and explore.

WWOOFing is an international organization where you trade work, usually in a rural environment, for room and board. It was a month or so into my trip, at my first WWOOFing home, that my food revolution began. A plate was put in front of me. It was colourful, smelled amazing and intimidated the daylights out of me. So many vegetables, and all mixed together. A sauce I didn’t recognize glazed the dish which turned out to be fish curry with zucchini and eggplant. I had never even attempted to eat either of those things before. Not that I could remember. As for fish, I only ate salmon. I didn’t even like fish and chips.

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The view from my first WWOOFing house. Where my food revolution began.

My mind raced, my stomach was clenching in fear. I had to eat it. It wasn’t about me being healthy, it wasn’t even about respecting my hosts. When telling the story aloud I like to say it was because I was representing my country and I didn’t want anyone to think Canadians are finicky. The truth was I was embarrassed, totally and utterly, that a mere plate of food could cause me such anxiety.

All of this went through my mind after the food was put in front of me and before my host sat down. By the time the entire family was eating I had put the first forkful into my mouth. That was the longest mouthful of my life. Chewing and swallowing that unfamiliar dish was a pure act of will. The next was easier, and the next, until I found I had eaten almost the entire plate. Vegetables it turns out, aren’t so bad after all.  Who knew?

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