What’s in a Grade?

What earns a dish an A or a B? Or, I dread to think, a C? Below is an explanation of The Professor’s grading system:

Taste — First and most importantly, he evaluates the taste of a dish. Is it flavorful? Are the flavors well-balanced? And while a simple dish can be delicious, it can also leave your taste buds underwhelmed, so he’ll also look for  depth of flavor and evaluate a dish’s complexity.

Satisfaction — Some dishes taste good or even great, but don’t satisfy. Or at least, they don’t satisfy The Professor. With 6’3″ to fuel (and despite a relatively sedentary lifestyle) he wants a hearty meal — not a heavy meal, but one that fills the belly, satisfies the brain, and doesn’t leave him thinking, “that sure would have been better with some pork.”

Interestingness — The Professor is easily bored. I think that’s why he was drawn to philosophy, with its gnarly questions and debates so deep and complex they evolve over centuries. A meal isn’t likely to sustain our interest over time, but it shouldn’t bore you before it’s even over. So The Professor looks for a variety of flavors and textures that combine slightly differently with each bite. He looks for surprising ingredients and/or unusual combinations.

He’ll grade a dish along each of these three dimensions, and combine the grades to determine the final score.

One caveat: The Professor is no logic machine. Inevitably, the grades he gives will be influenced by personal preferences, by likes (basil, ginger, crispy pizza crusts) and dislikes (dill, coconut, okra, and anything “mushy”) that you may or may not share. So to shed some light on the subjective side of grading, here is a brief history of The Professor’s tastes.

He is from the South, and grew up eating typically Southern food: fried chicken, collard greens, and lots of Jiffy corn bread. Typical family meals included pot roasts, baked pork chops, and fried fish most every Friday. Most of their vegetables were canned or frozen, and they were almost always cooked with some kind of pork. Spaghetti sauce came from a jar.

He didn’t taste duck, lamb, or any ethnic food (with the exception of Chinese) until he moved to the Midwest for graduate school. There, Indian and Middle Eastern food soon became staples. His culinary education continued when he took his first job — two colleagues (and, he says, “serious foodies”) introduced him to homemade pesto, wine and the idea of cooking with fresh vegetables.  Today, he is no food snob, though he does enjoy a nice meal at a top Zagat-rated restaurant, and vacations abroad are as much about cuisine as they are about museums. He likes strong, complex flavors and has a high tolerance for spice.

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