I grew up in the home of an uninspired cook. We had food allergies, so Mom cooked without spices, she was highly allergic to garlic, so I never had any until I was an adult. She was also uninspired as a cook, she cooked because she had to, not because she enjoyed it. I've always described her as that person who cooked zucchini to the consistency of oatmeal mush.
My dad did not cook, but he was an adventurous eater. He always said he'd try anything once, and that's what he modeled for us. So from Dad, I got the idea that there was more out there, and that it could be fun.
I joined the Army right out of high school in 1961, and started being exposed to new food. Before I was ever assigned overseas, I had the privilege of reading the "Ugly American" which basically taught me that other cultures had their own value, and should be accepted as being different, and to honor those differences. Basically, I learned not to make value judgments based upon my biases, but to value the differences.
Therefore, when I was assigned to Viet Nam in early 1962, one of the 3000 military advisor's President Kennedy sent, I was prepared to try new things. Including Bahn Mi Thit , Vietnamese Spring Rolls,noodle soups, and the best prawns I've ever had. These prawns were the size of a hand.
In 1963 I was transferred to San Antonio, TX for my training as a social worker where I continued to try new things, including Pearl Beer. I then moved to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO with exposure to more new foods. This was where I first had biscuits and sausage gravy, again, the best I've ever had.
In 1965 I was transferred to Nurnberg, Germany, where I spent 3 years. I spent time at Gasthauses which traditionally provided lodging, food, and spirits. I didn't speak much German, and Mootie (mother) didn't speak much English, but I was able to convince her I wanted whatever the GI's were not eating. So she fed me as a member of the family, and took great pleasure in introducing me to many foods I never otherwise would have been exposed to.
During my 3 years in Europe, I also visited Amsterdam twice where I learned about Steak Tartar, and Spain once where I was introduced to the pleasures of Mediterranean foods, especially squid and octopus, prepared in a myriad of ways.
In 1969, upon my discharge from the Army I briefly moved back in with my parents until I could get established. Several months later I rented a room from a young woman, and her son that I had picked up hitchhiking several times. That's the way we did things in the 60's, in Berkeley. As soon as I landed in my new room it occurred to me that I had never cooked, and that if I was going to be on my own, I'd better learn to do so.
Being a lifelong reader, I went to the local bookstore, and asked what the "bible" of cooking was. I was shown the "Joy of Cooking", and the "Betty Crocker Cookbook". After evaluating them both, I chose the Joy. I've always loved Beef Stew, so I looked up the recipe, and then went and purchased the ingredients. The recipe called for turnips, in addition to the onions, potatoes, and carrots. Once it was cooked I tasted it, it was horrid.
I discovered that I detested the taste of cooked turnips. At this point, I had an epiphany, I discovered that a recipe is simply the way some other cook has successfully made a dish, once, and that if you don't like it that way, just modify it. So I threw the offending stew away, and remade it the way I thought it should be. It was delicious.
At that moment, I became a cook.