Well I don’t. I see no sense in eating something that, to me, takes away the taste of the food, if the food has a perfectly agreeable taste of its own. The same can be said of curry. I can understand some people liking it, and that’s fine. That’s not my gripe today. I don’t like chilli. And I should be allowed not to like it.
My gripe is levelled at those people who tell me I have to like chilli, who insist that I like chilli, who put it in my food whether I want it there or not. And those TV chefs who put it in everything and those food critics who regard chilli as some sort of venerable but fiery god that must be incorporated to “bring out” or “enhance” or “zest up” the flavour of a dish.
It isn’t, apparently, addictive, although some people claim it is. One psychologist at least, Jason Goldman, declares that some people have a masochistic tendency to enjoy harsh, bitter or fiery flavours. To me, chillies are just a pain in the mouth.
So if some people like Jamie Oliver want to nibble on a chilli instead of having a cup of coffee, that’s their problem. What I don’t like is when chefs put the chilli in their dishes as if it’s a normal, everyday ingredient. It happens: go to a restaurant of even moderate swankiness and peruse the bill of fare. Many of the dishes, in my experience, contain chilli. Mild, perhaps, hidden, perhaps, but nevertheless present. And if I don’t like chillies, which I don’t, then my choice is limited. Because try asking the chef to leave out the chillies. Not going to happen.
I once argued with a chef about this. She said that in a restaurant, one must eat the dish as it is prepared, like it or not.
‘But I’m not going to eat something I don’t like,’ I replied. ‘If I don’t like chillies, I don’t want them in the food I eat.’
‘That is ridiculous,’ she replied. ‘The chef is an artist. How dare you comment negatively on the way they prepare the dish. They have created it!’
‘If I don’t like a book, I don’t read it,’ I countered calmly. ‘If I don’t like a movie I don’t watch it. If I don’t care for a painting I won’t look at it. So why is it different for a chef?’
After spluttering a few moments the best she could some up with was, ‘But the chef is an artist!’
Anyway, my point is that there are people out there who enforce their tastes on us. And a lot of people eat chilli because they feel it’s the thing to do, that someone who seems to know something about something tells them they should be doing it, so they do. Like getting tattoos. Or wearing their baseball caps backwards (I have seen this STILL going on in 2014!) Or following some banal TV show. But some of us don’t want to do these things, thanks, and we shouldn’t have to. And we shouldn’t be pressured by people to do so.
So chilli is a fad. It’ll pass (there is a very mild, indirect scatological pun there). But until then I’m finding it hard to eat in restaurants.
By the way, I also don’t like bananas or mangoes. Living as I do in Queensland, Australia, I’ve people almost faint when I reveal that little nugget. ‘How can you not like bananas?’ they cry, with as much horror as if I’d questioned the matrimonial state of their parents. ‘You’re not a Queenslander!’
Um, yes I am actually, born and raised.
I just don’t like them.
So I’m sorry if any chilli fans out there feel outraged. I’m sure most of you are sane, decent people who can cut others a bit of slack because they don’t like eating something that physically hurts. But there’s always a few who spoil it for everyone else. I try to ignore them, but it’s hard sometimes, especially with people like Jamie Oliver putting the vile things in every single dish and expecting us to like it.
Please keep your tastes to yourself. People should be allowed not to like something, and should be allowed to insist that food be served the way they want, not the way some ‘artist’ wants it to be. I am perfectly entitled to write an unreadable book. That’s my prerogative as a writer. But if no one reads, I’m in no position to complain. If I want people to read what I write, I need to think of my audience.
So lay off, chilli nuts who demand I like them too. I don’t. Get used to it.
Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com