Everyone who knows me is well aware of how difficult I am to please when it comes to food. In fact, whenever I’m eating something that I haven’t cooked myself, my company always looks for what’s called the “sad food face”. This is a particular facial expression entailing a specific emotion. This is the feeling that the person who’d prepared the meal had done shame to the resources provided to them and had proven a level of ineptitude that could be punished by pain of death. It is different from the bad food face, which suggests that the ingredients were sloppily prepared, likely due to lack of knowledge on the subject.
To my knowledge, no one has yet been able to capture the sad food face on camera, so understanding its existence will have to be a game of trust. This legendary expression generally only comes from people who know food especially well and who have an awareness of the effort that goes into making even the simplest of dishes. It is far from an expression of snobbery, instead it is a sign of appreciation for well-prepared food.
My good friend Liz is a pro at spotting the sad food face, and she is especially sensitive to it when she is the one doing the cooking. The look she wears when I take that first bite of simple but nicely prepared food (always vegetarian, always fresh) is truly heartbreaking. She seems to have this idea that the food obsessed monster is always lurking, that that side of my person comes before the gratitude of someone else cooking for once. Her warm brown eyes go wide and speak of worry and fear as my mouth does the dirty work, though it knows that what it is about to encounter will be leafy, healthy, and rich in tomatoes and lemon juice. She will always ask about my feelings, overanalyzing each motion of my jaw line as though they were the ones passing judgement on the situation at hand.
In fact, I have also been one to spot the sad food face on fellow chefs. The hardest one to see was when I was visiting Chef Louie (see From the Mouth of a Chef) in his home on the Yucatan peninsula, simply because it was caused by something I’d prepared. The bounty of his family farm filled with unique produce like mamay was overwhelming, so when I brought back what looked like acorn squash to prepare with some Viennese sausages, disaster struck. This was not in fact the versatile and gently nutty flavored vegetable that forgave all but murder, but in fact a rather bitter variety who’s name has escaped me all these years later. The variety in question did not take well to being simply sautéed with suspiciously unscented olive oil. So as Chef Louie took that first bite, I knew something was terribly wrong.
He is a very polite person and would never tell anyone that they’d cooked badly, but he knew that squash had been butchered before he’d put the first piece to his lips. The twitch of an eyebrow was the dead giveaway, but that cursed squash still found its way towards painful mastication, jawline quivering and lips pointed down. Chef Louie being a very easy person to be around, this was the first time I’d felt shame in his presence. He said nothing and kept on eating that squash with an oddly angry look on his face, and for good reason. His family toiled for years to farm excellent quality produce, so when even one piece of it got wasted, it was cause for calamity. Still, Chef Louie forgave me after he tasted my chicken soup. All was well.