Food changed my life, in a few ways.
When I was a kid, I was the pickiest eater you’d ever meet. I don’t know how I survived past the age of ten, but I’m fairly certain that you couldn’t find a fresh fruit or vegetable on my plate or past my mouth if you tried. I was downright awful to anyone who tried to get me to eat well, too. A story often told by my immediate family – to anyone who will listen – involves the Herculean task of eating a single grape at the dinner table one night; you don’t need to know much more than that, because I’m sure my parents or my sister will gleefully describe it in detail. Another story, related to me after my beloved grandfather passed, detailed my defiance of our family’s patriarch one morning while he was in town and I was very young – but probably old enough that I should have known better.
Needless to say, my childhood was not one of culinary exploration. In fact, it wasn’t until my early twenties that my eating habits began to change. A lot of the credit for my expanded diet goes to my mom and my sister, whose appreciation of cooking competitions on the Food Network opened up a world I really didn’t know before. For the first time, food could be beautiful. Chefs could take something that sounded entirely unappealing to 10-year-old Brien and make it look and sound like something I couldn’t live without.
And really, I couldn’t. At some point, I had to make a change. Subsisting on an intake of red meat, starches, and the occasional red sauce, be it on a pasta or enchilada, was no way to live. With my only sources of vitamins coming from milk and orange juice, I was going to be a very strong-boned corpse before too long. I began to notice my weight increasing, my recovery time from injury taking longer, my immune system struggling to combat illness… I was in pretty bad shape by the time I was 25.
Thankfully, one other very important factor played a role in my change: my future wife.
Dating, and later marrying, a chef totally flipped my eating habits upside down. I’d made some changes before we met – turns out the avocados and sushi are pretty good – but really ratcheted up the changes when we started seeing one another. Maybe it was some insecurity on my part, perhaps something just ‘clicked’ in my brain, but I felt compelled to become an adventurous eater. We’re not talking Andrew Zimmern Bizarre Foods or extreme eating on the lines of Adam Richman, but I’d step out of my comfort zone to try all sorts of cuisine previously undiscovered. Beyond Mexican and Italian food, I began trying Indian, Japanese, Ethiopian, Thai, and more, flavors and ingredients that were altogether foreign for a kid whose burger used to come with ketchup only, or who ordered Taco Bell soft tacos without the lettuce or any hot sauce. From Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives to three Michelin starred temples of gastronomy, food of all kinds is exciting for me now.
With a broader palate also came the desire to explore cooking for myself. Up until recently, the limited repertoire of my culinary skill was limited to prime rib roasts for holidays, accompanied by twice-baked potatoes, and maybe some scrambled eggs for breakfast. Thankfully, I have a wife who encourages my exploration in the kitchen – especially since it means she doesn’t have to bring work home with her, in a sense.
I’ve still got a ways to go, but thank goodness for meal delivery services that have become more and more ubiquitous. Providers like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and our current favorite Home Chef, have brought me more confidence that I had before. The regular repetition of preparing ingredients, using knives, and making measurements has allowed me the freedom to explore beyond the pre-portioned packages those companies provide, and reach into our pantry and fridge and throw something together, whether on the fly or with the help of a handy recipe or website.
If anything in my story sounds like where you’re at, I hope you know it isn’t too late to change your eating habits for the better. It really can change your life – keep an eye out for the unexpected ways that you can make those changes, whether it’s watching Bobby Flay trounce his competitors, or the invitation of a friend to go somewhere and try something you never, ever would have thought about before. There’s a whole world of food out there that I only wish I’d taken advantage of sooner. Be healthy, be happy, and eat well!
You can follow my cooking & eating adventures on Instagram @jamestskywalker and with the hashtag #skywalkercooks!