A Prickly Palate

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is part 6 in a series of blog updates on my health status.

I was 26 years old when I finished graduate school in Boston. I had dreams of starting my own consulting business. There I sat in my basement apartment, trying to figure out how to make money using my newly acquired nutrition marketing and communication skills. I knew networking was important, so I joined the newly formed Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR).

Shortly after joining I saw a notice in the WCR newsletter about a scholarship for a one-week “Mastering Wine” course with Karen MacNeil at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone campus in the Napa Valley. I applied with great enthusiasm.

About six weeks later I received a letter saying I’d received second place, or in other words, I received nothing but kind sentiments about the enthusiasm I showed in my application essay. Oh well, I thought. I tried. A week later I received a second letter offering me the scholarship. Apparently, the first-place applicant had a schedule conflict. This was the first time since starting my struggling business that I was thrilled my calendar had nothing on it.

Someone from WCR made all the arrangements for me. All I had to do was show up at Boston Logan Airport for my flight to San Francisco International. My instructions included the following:

  1. Pick up rental car at Hertz.
  2. Drive to Silverado Vineyards where you’ll be staying at the guest house.
  3. Arrive at the CIA at Greystone by 9 a.m. Monday for class.
  4. Enjoy yourself!

There were so many delightful surprises awaiting me during this adventure including the red convertible Ford Mustang from Hertz; the gift basket on the counter at the guest house packed with wine, sausages, cheese, crackers, nuts, and more; and the amazing Walt Disney artwork throughout the home. Little did I know that Sterling Vineyards was owned by Diane Disney, daughter of Walt Disney.

The week included morning classroom instruction and afternoon tastings at wineries typically not open to the public. Each day we studied a different varietal, working our way from Chardonnay on Monday to Cabernet Sauvignon on Friday. My classmates included F&B directors from hotels and resorts, restaurant managers, and aspiring wine writers.

This was a phenomenal experience for young woman like me who really wanted to appreciate what she was tasting and experiencing. My palate become more sophisticated, more discerning, and more distracted by defects. I later learned through testing at the University of California Davis that I’m a super taster, someone who has an abnormally large number of taste buds. I can taste off flavors and defects. I can also produce great flavors when cooking. I typically love the food I make, which has been a blessing during our stay-at-home order.

And then Bell’s Palsy struck. One of the side effects is an impact on my taste buds. Everything now tastes sweet. EVERYTHING.

I could not figure out what was going on the first few weeks after the diagnosis. I thought I wasn’t getting all the toothpaste out of my mouth. I now drink rosé and exclaim, “Gross! This tastes like white zinfandel. Ugh.” My husband rolls his eyes and says, “It’s tastes good to me.” Seriously? But thankfully he says the same about my cooking. Alas, I hate everything I’m cooking now.

So, my prickly palate and I wait for this to resolve along with all the other side effects. Meanwhile, I feast on fantastic memories of my time in the Napa Valley, especially our final afternoon at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars drinking wine from bottles that cost more than my rent at that time. Earlier in the week we had been encouraged to “swish and spit”, but that day no one was spitting. We all wanted the experience to go on forever, sitting on the patio of the winery gazing out to the west, admiring the vineyards, and dreaming about our future lives.

I’m now dreaming of the day when my prickly palate and I are happy once again with the flavors of food and wine.