Carla Hall: Even Top Chefs Are Picky Eaters

Chef and television personality shares her experience with giving sea urchin a second chance

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Liver, chitterlings, sea urchin, okra, shad roe and alcoholic beverages. These are a few of my least favorite things. Some of these things are just bad food memories that I don’t care to repeat. Others are things that just aren’t pleasing to my palate, no matter how many times I try them.

Occasionally, the time comes when someone will insist that I have one of the things I don’t like and haven’t liked for years. They insist that it wasn’t prepared correctly or I didn’t appreciate the delicacy at the time. I’m not closed to the idea -- I’m usually open to having my opinion changed about something.

Recently, I was convinced to give sea urchin another chance. Before I tell you the outcome, I have to tell you that I’d tried it on a number of occasions. I was convinced that it was one of those foods that was either an acquired taste or a “foodie’s” badge of sophistication. I wasn’t into it at all. It tasted like a fishy digestive tract, if you know what I mean, with a metallic finish. So you can only imagine how thrilled I was to try it again with this last offer.

I was at a new restaurant in New York called Niko. I was sitting at the sushi bar with friends. We had had four different amazing dishes, and I was completely sated. One of the owners told us we had to try the uni. I was hesitant to ruin the lingering flavors of spice, ginger and citrus that were still popping in my mouth. Could I fake a gag? Would I get to chase it down with anything? Would I be considered a chef with a not-so-sophisticated palate? All of this was going through my mind.

By the same point, I had spent the last 90 minutes watching the sushi master, Hiro Sawatari, beautifully and respectfully prepare gorgeous sushi plates. Just to hear him talk about fish and his reverence for each piece made me want to try it.

The next thing I knew, I was sharing a piece of the uni sushi with a friend. Hiro told us to shut our eyes and just taste it. I closed my eyes, and trustingly put the whole thing in my mouth. I allowed the uni to melt like butter as I chewed the polished rice. It was so yummy! I’m convinced that the sea urchin I’d had up to that point just wasn’t fresh and of high quality. I’m a changed woman. Many thanks to Hiro and the folks at Niko.

Until next time..cook and eat with love!

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