You've been hard at work preparing your beef Wellington since 8 a.m., then you spent an hour designing your tablescape, another hour choosing the perfect wine to accompany your meal, and even more time preparing individual soufflés and baked Alaska for dessert. Feels good, doesn't it? Or maybe all you did was toss a bunch of ingredients into a pot on the stove while sipping an ice-cold Natty Light, and somehow turned out the perfect pot of chili. Whatever it was, you did it really, really well, and your guests noticed. Or maybe it wasn't even that good, but your guests still want to tell you how much they enjoyed it.
Why do so many of us have trouble accepting praise? Here's what I've learned about how to accept a compliment in the kitchen.
There are different kinds of compliments for cooks, and I've identified a few.
The Obligatory Compliment
What it might sound like: "Thanks so much for dinner. This looks delicious!"
What it means: It may mean your guest just isn't that into what's on his plate, or it may be a genuine appreciation for the work that went into it, or both. Not everyone likes this one, but I do. It's a perfect way for the picky eater to express thanks for a cook's hard work. Any compliment is a good one, and you should take it. Remember that your guest may feel just as awkward.
How you accept it: "You're welcome. It was my pleasure."
What not to say: "You haven't even tasted it." Or anything else that puts your friend on the spot.
The Awestruck Compliment, from a Non-Cook
What it might sound like: "Wow! This is so good. I'm impressed."
What it means: Your guest is impressed, maybe because her skills in the kitchen aren't as great as yours, or maybe because this is the best darn meatloaf she's ever eaten. This is a genuinely lovely compliment.
How you accept it: "Thank you. I enjoyed making it."
What not to say: "Oh, anyone can make this. Here's how I did it ... " Not everyone is into cooking — even people who love to eat. Your friend is probably thrilled to be invited to your home because she's one of them. She's a great friend for a natural host, because she'll shower you with praise, but she doesn't want to go home and do it herself. She's just there to party.
The Awestruck Compliment, from Another Cook
What it might sound like: "Whoa. This bouillabaisse is phenomenal. How did you do it?"
What it means: Your bouillabaisse is phenomenal. And your friend might like to know your secret.
How you accept it: "Thank you so much! You know I've tried to tackle this for a while. I'm so glad you like it." And if the recipe isn't a secret, you can add, "Let me know if you want the recipe."
What not to say: "Ugh. I don't know. Do you really think so? I'm just not sure about the spice." Or, my personal favorite, and a habit I'm trying to break, "Oh, good! I got the seafood on sale, and I made fish broth from this raw fish head I brought home last time I went out to eat. And saffron is so expensive, but I actually found some at Big Lots. Would you believe it?" This is a boring, annoying response, and I need to stop.
The Self-Hating Compliment
What it might sound like: "This is so good. I'm the worst. I can't even make toast."
What it means: Your guest is insecure. Or doesn't know how to give a compliment. Or always has to make it all about her. I had a friend who used to say things like, "Oh, you're so fit. You look great ... and I'm so fat." Ouch.
How to accept it: While it may be tempting to say, "I'm sorry," go with, "thank you" instead. Follow it with something like, "Ha, ha, ha. I bet you could learn in no time," or some other nonsense. Or offer them a baby blanket for their next pity party. Just kidding. This is one awkward compliment.
What not to say: "You are so right. You're the worst." But if you go with that one, you could follow it with, "And I am the best! Ha, ha, ha!" while skipping out of the room and waving your hands in the air.
The Back-Handed Compliment
What it might sound like: "This is good. But I would never go to so much trouble. I'm just too busy with work and the kids, and I'd rather order out so I can read The Economist instead of cooking. You're lucky to have so much extra time."
What it means: "I'm smarter than you, and I'm also jealous that you can do this thing that I can't. So I'm going to act like your little hobby is silly and that I have better things to do with my time." Your guest is kind of a jerk.
How to accept it: "Thanks! You know me! I'm a real lady of leisure! I don't have anything better to do than cook for you!" Sigh. Okay, don't answer that way. Rise above it. "Thank you so much. You sound really busy. How's work? And what grade is little Maleficant in this year?" This compliment needs deflecting, so you might as well start a conversation about something else.
What not to say: "Why do you always do this to me? Why can't you — just this once — say something nice?" Why ruin your dinner party with an argument? I would tell you to consider not inviting this person back, but they're probably a member of your family. Just smile and walk away.
The Easy Compliment
What it might sound like: "Thank you. That was so good!"
What it means: "Thank you. That was so good!"
How to accept it: "You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it!"
What not to say: "[silence]" Never ignore a sincere thank you!
There are certainly other kinds of compliments, like the "Mouth Full of Breakfast Running out the Door in the Morning Compliment" from a teen. What versions did I miss? And how do you respond?