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The other day I was joking with a friend about his food preferences. He sort of has the palate of a six-year-old, just up the portion sizes. No vegetables, onions are icky, you know the drill. He defended himself (apparently he’s “just more of a meat and potatoes” kind of guy), but it lead to a great chat about how I size someone up if I’m cooking for them.

In case you didn’t know, you can walk in, sit down, and tell the waiter you just want me to cook something from scratch, no menu needed. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I always look forward to the challenge. There’s a careful balancing act of knowing what someone likes, what they hate, what I have in the kitchen, and how much time I have to put together something truly amazing.

It can be easy with regulars - if you’re around enough, I probably already know what you like. But if you’re a newcomer, or aren’t in often, I’ll always come out of the kitchen with a few questions.

The first, and often most important, is “How adventurous would you consider yourself?” It’s my baseline because, well, this is Iowa. Some people want the chance to break out of their Midwestern comfort zone and try something completely new. Some people are more like my friend from before - meat and potatoes.

Then come the more practical questions. I want to know about any allergies upfront, any foods you have an aversion to, and maybe a few favorite dishes, so I have an idea of your palate.

Back in the kitchen, I’m faced with even more practical concerns: what do I have on-hand, and how much time will they take to prepare? I always have a few ingredients in the back that didn’t make it onto the most recent menu, or just looked too cool to pass up. So sometimes, I can treat you to something totally unexpected, like mako shark. And while you may love lasagna, a good lasagna takes about 6 hours to make from scratch, so I can’t whip one up in the middle of dinner rush. (And yes, some lady asked me to do that once. She was severely disappointed.)

The most satisfying outcome is when I can get you to love something you actually hate. Think you don’t like mushrooms? Think again. I’m a perfectionist, and a chef - cooking is my job, so hearing that my food is good is meeting expectations, not exceeding them. But if someone says “I thought I hated this dish, but I loved yours,” that’s the kind of compliment that sticks.

Why am I telling you this? Because more people should order like this. It gives me the chance to get creative without overhauling the whole menu, and justifies all the weird stuff I order from my food supplier, so really, you’d be doing me a favor. And if you bring your Tinder date in and order something fancy and exotic, you’ll look cultured and hey, you might get laid. It’s a win-win.

Mandle Addie