A conversation I overheard while I was shoveling dry sautéed string beans into my craw at that Chinese joint Hunan almost made me kill a man.
"I like to eat the same thing most days, that way I know what I'll get," a cocky businessman explained to his lunch companion. "It's like when you go to a club. There's a hot blonde that you could try to get with but maybe you'll get shot down. And then there's that brunette, not as pretty, that you know you can take home and bang every time. I'll take the brunette." It was at this point that I jumped over the booth and stabbed him in the throat with my fork. OK, not quite.
Let me explain: I used to be a total food wimp. In my youth, hamburgers came to the table shivering and nearly naked, never dressed with pickles, tomatoes or lettuce, with only a toasted bun to keep them warm. I threw up on the dining-room table once after my mother force-fed me a single chunk of stir-fried celery. God help the poor soul who tried to get a slice of hard-boiled egg between these lips. Only one thing saved me from a pitiful—clinically obese—life chained to the Burger King's drive-through: my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Debbie Green.
You see, people think this column is called Bite Club because it rhymes with Fight Club. Not true. It's named after Mrs. Green's "Two Bite Club."
In the pantheon of great ideas. Mrs. Green's ploy to get kids to explore the world of food is right up there with birth-control pills. She created a special club where we 5-year-olds "promised" to try a new food of her choosing every week. We swallowed our fear and signed our names on the "Two Bite Club" members roster with the promise of a glittery "I Ate It!" ribbon and major bragging rights to come. The club's kicker? Everybody had to take two bites of every dish: The first to prove they ate the food; the second to actually taste the food. To a teacher's pet like me, this challenge was like giving Whitney Houston a crack pipe. I was gonna eat this shit, even if it killed me, which I had a sneaking suspicion it would.
It was in this fine dining room, amid the Play-Doh and Golden Books, that I first ate calamari. And beets. And, I think, sushi. I know for sure it's the first time I scraped my teeth over a smooth leaf of artichoke, slathered in lemon butter. The first bite was delicious. The second bite? A revelation. It's the first time I ever felt like food was, well, an adventure. And I'm not the only one: "Every time that I would refuse to eat something, [my mother] would say, 'You are a member of the Two Bite Club, and if you don't at least try two bites of this I will have to take your membership away,'" says my old classmate Valerie Garrett, another Green alum. "I mean, years after the fact she would pull this out. The weird thing is, it always worked."
Of course, it took a couple of decades for me to evolute into a woman who now enjoys taste-testing stinking, gluey piles of natto, devouring quenelles in Lyon's Rue Mercière bouchons, and even munching away on sammies piled high with dreaded ripe tomatoes and vinaigrette-dressed field greens. I realize now that many of my persnickety tastes were related to a true dislike of a few simple flavors (I still fucking hate celery). But ever since I joined that idiotic Two Bite Club, my grasp of different cuisines has exploded exponentially. Because I took the time to open my damn mouth and try them.
And that's what I wanted to scream at Mr. "I'll Bang the Chicken-Sandwich Brunette" in Hunan that day. Mrs. Green was on the right track: To personally not like a dish, from foie gras to pad kee mao, is natural. To be embarrassed by your preferences is just plain silly. But to never even taste something is a damn shame. And in a town as in love with food as Portland, the possibilities for culinary adventure are endless.
Take it from me—the second bite's always the best.
This will be Bite Club's last column (for now). WW