Withstand Bland

Dear Helena,

The other night I made risotto for a friend. I worked hard on it, so I was annoyed when she demanded salt and sprinkled it all over her rice. I was offended by the implication that my cooking is bland. Is it rude for a guest to ask for salt?—Insulted

Dear Insulted,

Some of us lust for salt more than others. One person might taste a soup and find it briny; someone else might find it bland. (Interestingly, a recent study by the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found a correlation between low birth weight and salt cravings.) A diet high in salt can raise salt tolerance, while some may skimp on salt because of health concerns. Everyone’s salt set point is different.

This means that no cook, however skilled, can season a dish to suit every diner’s taste. It is therefore arrogant when fancy restaurants don’t put salt on the table. TV chef Bob Blumer, a.k.a. the Surreal Gourmet, always offers salt, remarking: “Any chef who says the dish is already perfectly seasoned has his head up his ass.”

Generally speaking, it’s rude to tinker with your dinner. You can’t ask for curry powder, fresh cilantro, or a squeeze of lime. But salt is the one seasoning every guest may adjust to suit his or her taste. This is because, while other seasonings may subtly alter a dish, salt allows a dish to become truly itself.

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