5

The flip-side to this question about being asked one's opinion on food they didn't like;

What things should you keep in mind if you have cooked or are cooking a meal for family or friends, and would like their honest opinion of it, for future or immediate reference?

For a number of reasons that generally boil down to politeness, most adults seem reluctant to express their true feelings about food they've been served - the only metric I can often get is if they enthusiastically tell me how good it was, then they probably enjoyed it, and if they say nothing, or only complement the smell, or the decor, or how well the napkins are folded, then they probably didn't. In that latter case though, I still don't know what they didn't like, or what I should do better in the future.

I'd really like to minimize the mutual-loss where I take time to cook for someone, and they force themselves to pretend to enjoy it. Especially important would be requesting honest feedback if I'm not done cooking yet, when changes could still be made.

The main sets of circumstances that I think would require different methods/responses:

  • People for whom you cook often/regularly, versus people you don't see often
  • People who can cook things they themselves like, versus people who, while they know when something doesn't taste good to them, don't really know how it could/should be improved
5

My best strategy for this (and it doesn't always work well) is to ask what people think might improve the dishes I prepared. I'm always ready to tweak recipes and like to do so until I find the approach that makes dishes come out just the way I like them.

The opening of "what changes do you think might make this better?" gives people a soft opening for critiques that they might otherwise be too polite to mention, and can also let people highlight things that they liked.

5

I'd really like to minimize the mutual-loss where I sacrifice time to cook for someone, and they force themselves to pretend to like it.

Since your question is very broad, I will focus on this part. The way I handle cooking for someone the first time, is usually asking them two types of question: first I ask for their favorite dish (just to have some comparison, I usually don't cook exactly that... or I just ask for ingredients they like), secondly I ask whether there is something they completly dislike.

By cooking something related to their favorite dish and not using any "bad" ingrediants, I am quite confident that I never wasted the time I spent cooking for guests ;)

Some additional inqueries ("do you like spicy food?",...) can on the fine-tuning.

One final hint: being very clear in your dinner invitations can help! I usually tell my guests the menu beforehand, giving them the option to interfere.

2

I believe the key to getting meaningful feedback on your cooking is by being a leader at the table. In other words, by modeling the behavior that you wish the diners would have.

But, before that, make sure that you actually do want honest criticism and can handle it. I know that when I cook, I mostly don't want that :p).

Here are a few suggestions for how to tease honest appraisals out of people.

  • Create an environment where people feel safe to share their feelings about food. Or in other words, try really hard to be positive and to keep the experience fun for your diners. If the diners are having fun, then they'll assume you're having fun, and they wont think they've offended you in their behavior. They will begin to ease up on masking their true feelings and thoughts about the food.

  • Talk about what you think about the food you've prepared.

    1. It will demonstrate the words and language used to describe food. Food is hard to talk and think about. And, though I'm not an expert at food, I'd suppose there is a specialized vernacular for talking about food among experts. But, most people won't have such language arsenal to use. However, if they are having the same experience with food that you are, and you describe it, then they will automatically associate your description of the food with their experience. With time, they will start using the same type of language you used.

    2. It will demonstrate what food descriptions you consider acceptable at the table. For those who are fearful of being offensive, if they hear your critiques, they will be more likely to share those same critiques in the future.

  • Expressly ask for peoples opinions. It may not get you immediate results, but it will cause people to start thinking about how they might respond to your request. It will also clue people in to the fact that you at least think that you want criticism. At this point, some people will start to subtly test you to see if you can really handle what they think. I'd suppose, some others may test you in other not so subtle ways. If they feel good about those tests, they may take you up on your request.

  • When somebody shares a thought or opinion about the food, take a moment to validate their thinking. The validation needs to be on the same level as the person giving you their thoughts. For a child, it may be "that's an awesome idea" or "your right, it is too salty". For an adult, it may be thinking about their suggestion for a moment so that you can give a comment back that shows an expansion on their idea.

These types of suggestions, I suspect, will also apply to non-verbal communication, like forcing yourself to eat food that you don't like. Help people feel good and happy at the table, and I think their behaviors will reflect how they feel about the food more accurately.

0

One way, and perhaps the most reliable way, is to observe how enthusiastically they eat what you have prepared. But this is after the fact, and inefficient, and you say you would like to be able to make course corrections as you cook.

First, I think you have phrased your question's title incorrectly. The question should not be whether they like your cooking, but whether they like what you have cooked.

And, as you say, it depends on your "audience". If you are giving a dinner party, your guests are obliged to sincerely pretend to like what you have cooked unless they have a serious allergy, in which case they should inform you of it beforehand.

About all I think you should do at a dinner party, is to inform your guests what you are cooking for the main course, and, for example, ask who likes the dish more spicy and who likes it less spicy. As I said above, guests at a dinner party are way out of line if they are picky or critical.

If your audience is people for whom you cook frequently, I suggest that you simply ask them. For example:

I noticed last night that you only picked at your grilled eel. What fish do you like most?

Or, during the course of the meal, you can discuss the new recipe you are experimenting with and ask them for their advice, particularly if they are also enthusiastic cooks. In this tactic, you might start out with a reservation (preferably real) of your own:

I think I put too much sugar in the durian tart.

You have a narrow line to walk between appearing to fish for compliments and get honest feedback. Thus, I think you should discuss your cooking only with people whom you know very well and like a great deal.

0

I'm imagining you saying cheerfully, at the end of the meal, "So if you had to pick one of these dishes to have again, what would you vote for? Joe, let's start with you."

This should give you some specifics about what's good, and if no one votes for a dish, you know that something is likely wrong with it.

And in fact, once you know that something is likely bad, it might be easier to bring it to another person or group and say, "OK, this dish is not successful, but I can't quite put my finger on why. Could you do me the favor of tasting it and criticizing it? Remember, I am absolutely looking to hear what's bad about it."

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