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Think you’re a picky eater? Don’t worry, even the best chefs in the world have foods they didn’t always love to eat or cook with. Find out the ingredients these top chefs hated…until they didn’t.

Everyone’s got that one food they just couldn’t get into. For me it was always olives. Gazing across a picturesque green-brown olive bar at Whole Foods wondering how something so pretty could taste so terrible. Or worse, listening to peers rave about their favorite varieties as they noshed on bowl after bowl alongside cocktails at Greek restaurants. But alas, that briny taste and vaguely mealy texture never quite did it for me.

NAME GAME9 Foods That Have Been Renamed So You Actually Want to Eat ThemOne day I met a spunky gal at a cocktail party in Brooklyn who had been afflicted with the very same aversion to the very same Mediterranean tree fruit. Like me, she felt like she was missing out on an exciting culinary category by not liking olives but unlike me, she decided to take action and actually trained herself to like them. She did it by stocking her fridge with a jar or two of good olives and making a point to eat at least one every day. Sure enough after just a few weeks, she was popping them down like grapes (and actually looking forward to it).

After hearing her story I made a point to (bravely) eat at least one olive every time they were presented. I too grew to tolerate, then like, and eventually LOVE them in everything from pasta primavera to dirty martinis. This all got me thinking about some of our favorite chefs, and whether they’d had similar journeys with ingredients they didn’t like, and how they came around. 

So we asked a few. Here’s what they said.

Gabriel Kreuther, Gabriel Kreuther Restaurant

Oysters, green salad, and fennel.

guide to different types of oysters

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“Many things! Green salad for one.  I wouldn’t touch it until I was about 17 years old, then one day I decided to give it a try to understand it better and have loved it ever since. Also, had a hard time with fennel.  Same with oysters (which I also now eat).”

Related Reading: A Guide to Appreciating Oysters

Anita Lo, Anissa & “SOLO: A Modern Cookbook for One”

Durian.

durian fruit

Chowhound

“I used to hate durian when I was a kid. My mom and aunt who grew up in Malaysia used to eat these stinky durian sticks that I’m still a bit afraid to taste.  When we visited Kuala Lumpur, the smell was overwhelming to me. You’d be driving on a deserted road at a good clip and you’d start to smell it, and it would get stronger as we went along.  Then 15 minutes later you’d come across a roadside stand. Ick.

I don’t know if the smell is less pungent now but it doesn’t affect me like it used to. And I now love its sweet custardy richness, although I still prefer it in its pure form rather than made into desserts. In China last week we had a chicken soup with durian.  It was a revelation; the umami paired well with the clear poultry broth. It was delicious. Still, my favorite way to eat the polarizing fruit is plain, standing by the stall where they open it for you, as most places over here won’t let you bring it inside.”

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Chef Francois Payard, Payard Patisserie, Bistro FP Patisserie & FP Bakery 

Cardamom.

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“I didn’t like cardamom at first because it just wasn’t something I was exposed to growing up in France. But little by little I’ve found that I like it’s a distinct flavor, and it isn’t something you see much on menus. It goes pretty well with chocolate and apples.”

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Chef Nir Zook, Arba

Eggplant.

Is eggplant worth growing?

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“I use to hate eggplant. My family grows them and every summer, my mother had a million eggplant recipes for every day of the week but I was allergic. I couldn’t even pick them without a reaction. As I got older, my allergy went away and I fell in love! Mainly charred but really in every version including soups, casseroles, or lasagna.”

Chef Danny Brown, Estuary 

Beets.

Chowhound

“Growing up, my father used to make beets in the pressure cooker. They were likely overcooked since they always tasted like sand. Later in life, I started to find the better beets grown out on Long Island and realized that when they’re cultivated by a careful farmer they can be sweet. Something I never knew before!”

Chef Bobby Matos, State of Grace & La Lucha

Mayonnaise. 

Duke’s

Mayo! I think we all hated the texture and thought of mayonnaise as a kid. Until I moved to the south, I refused it even into my adult years. When I moved to Texas, I fell in love with Duke’s mayo. It was so different than what we had in California! The first time my wife made me a BLT slathered with Duke’s, I was sold! Now, I use it in almost everything at State of Grace!
Related Reading: This Vegan Mayonnaise Is Even Better Than the Real Thing

Chef Trae Basore, Bar Cleeta

Anchovies.

anchovies

Chowhound

“I definitely did not enjoy anchovies as a kid.  But now, not only have I trained my palate to enjoy the flavor, but I also love using them in the kitchen. I find that adding anchovies into dressings/sauces brings an incredible depth of flavor. ”

Chef Claudette Zepeda, El Jardín

Cumin.

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“Cumin is high on the list of ingredients that were banned in my household as a child, as my grandmother HATED the smell. It wasn’t until I started cooking–and loving—Indian food that I learned to love cumin and use it appropriately. And as I started diving into regional Mexican cuisine I began to see cumin pop up in those recipes too. I saw how diverse Mexican cuisine can be and I could never make a proper pipian (green mole from Puebla, Mexico) without cumin. Accompanied with crispy pork belly and a tortilla, it is hands-down one of my favorite bites.”

Chef Craig Koketsu, Quality Meats 

Celery.

Is celery worth growing?

Pixabay

“I used to hate celery. I thought of it as a filler ingredient that I associated with cheap Chinese takeout. But I had a change of heart after I tried Ignacio Mattos’ celery salad with mint and formaggio di fossa at Estela. It was so light, clean, and refreshing, but wholly satisfying because of the copious amounts of cheese.”

Chef Michael Balboni, db bistro moderne

Pasta.

Angel Hair Pasta with Asparagus and Green Garlic Cream

Chowhound

“When I was young I hated pasta, any kind of pasta, mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, I wouldn’t eat any of it. As an Italian boy growing up in New Jersey that did not go over well. But weeknights at 8 p.m. I would watch “Emeril” with my dad, mainly just an attempt to stay up an extra hour. One night Emeril made a dish that I decided I would try. The very next day I cooked it with my parents; angel hair pasta, parmesan cheese, truffle oil, and chives. A simple dish, but proved to be the first time I ever enjoyed a bowl of pasta. After that, I started cooking more and more and 20 years later, I’m still cooking. Now there are few things I enjoy more than a great bowl of pasta.”

And to read about the ingredients our community members (Chowhounds) have been sounding off on, check out the foods we once avoided but have learned to enjoy or leave us your thoughts in the comments below!

Header image courtesy of Getty Images

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