Cultivating Good Taste in Food and Life

Last night might have been romantic, with dinner and wine and a walk along the Charles. But you know what wasn’t so romantic? That small pile of asparagus—or mushrooms, or pâté—that accumulated on your plate towards the end of your main course. In case you thought your date didn’t notice, she did. We noticed too—and now everybody knows.

We’ve all told ourselves that picky eating is perfectly natural, and at a certain age, it was. Whether someone picks at his food because he just never liked those olives, or because she is trying to avoid the significant calories in the pickle on the side of the plate, there is no excuse for picky eating in fancy locales. Or in any locale.

Now that you’re out in the world, it is time to swallow your pride, your hesitations, and that olive. Be cultured, and if you can’t, pretend. Everyone has different tastes, but certain foods in particular require some discipline to get used to.


Everyone likes milk chocolate. It is sweet, creamy, and often shaped like bunnies. But we all know that the Easter Bunny isn’t a real animal, and we should all know that the milk chocolate he brings to children isn’t real chocolate.

Grown-ups who’ve weaned themselves off the milky concoction have learned to savor dark chocolate, but it requires a taste for bitterness and a little bit of practice. A lot of supposed gourmets have been talking about single origin chocolate, but for starters, take several small portions of different chocolates to find a flavor you enjoy.

As soon as you open the wrapper of your first bar, prepare yourself for a distinctive dark chocolate smell, rich like coffee but complete with notes of other flavors. The smell is the first sign that quality dark chocolate is far more complex than the mass-produced Hershey’s Bars. Don’t let the bitterness force you to swallow too quickly; instead keep the chocolate in your mouth to sense all the other flavors that linger beneath, including a certain sweetness that is more rewarding than the pure candy of milk chocolate.


If you must embrace the childish eating aesthetic, olives provide you with a convenient opportunity to put your fingers in your mouth. But to earn that privilege again, you must first eat the olive. Remembrances of cheap salads past might give you pause, but whole olives from the bottle—or in a dish—are much juicier and more complex than their dining hall cousins.

So purchase a jar, starting with the green variety to give yourself some practice with the flavors. Bite into a whole olive slowly, noticing the texture and, of course, watching out for the pit. (Stuffed olives allow you to munch all the way through and reward you with a red pepper for your efforts.) As the juice covers your tongue, notice the brightness of the taste and the mixture of salt and bitterness. One final tip: let yourself start slowly, eating an olive at a time with bread in between. As with other substances, it takes a while to build up a tolerance.


People have devoted their lives and writing careers to Bacchus’s favorite beverage. We’re not going to attempt to teach you about the subtleties of different grape varieties or origins d’appellation, but we will point out that consuming red wine is one of the few ways to pass your drinking habit off as both a health benefit and a cultural affectation. Try taking a wine class or visiting a vineyard if you find yourself in wine country. But even if you can’t make it out there, ordering wine at dinner can be more than a vehicle to inebriation. When the wine arrives, swirl your glass, which not only lets the wine breathe, but also gives you your first insight into the character of your drink.

Look at the color, and pay attention to the legs, or the way the wine drips down the side; the longer the legs, the more alcoholic the wine. Stick your nose in the glass, inhale deeply, but don’t get your nose wet. Take your first taste. If you haven’t yet learned to label the different flavors and tastes, simply and slowly savor the experience. And even if you aren’t enjoying the experience, you must go through these steps anyway if you ordered the wine. As with sections when you haven’t done the reading, it is important to act as if you know what is going on, even if—and especially when—you don’t.

—Columnists Aliza H. Aufrichtig and Marianne F. Kaletzky can be reached at and