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Good taste runs in the family

November 12, 2011|By Peter Dills
  • Peter Dills and his father, restaurant critic Elmer Dill. (Photo courtesy of Peter Dills)
Peter Dills and his father, restaurant critic Elmer Dill.…

Some say I was born a restaurant critic. There is no test for the position, so I guess it is as good a qualification as any. It didn’t hurt that I had a patriarch in the image of Moses as a father, and the Promised Land he sought was a great restaurant. I was born in Athens, Greece, and my dad, Elmer Dills, was a restaurant critic.

Well, that is what everyone exclusively thought. For that was his cover from the 1950s until he retired in the late 1970s as an officer in the CIA. Many a night, a multi-starred general would arrive at the house to assist Dad with a foreign dignitary. When he left the full-time service of his country he turned to concentrate on restaurant service, where he covered all the phases of media: print, radio, TV and the burgeoning Internet.

I can’t tell you all of the thousands of restaurants I visited through my youth. The way soccer moms shuffle their kids around today was the same for my dad and I, but our uniforms resided solely in a napkin, and our field was a table of utensils. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve erected a law against it now, a form of parenting misconduct, but I learned to love escargot (cooked snails) before I experienced a visit from the Tooth Fairy.

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As far back as my memories stretch, my father and I were tasting and interrogating restaurant staff on the preparation and ingredients of a meal. You would be surprised what a young boy can learn in the silence of a mouthful of pasta. By the time I got to college, I had a love for the restaurant world: the food, cooking techniques, ingredients and the compelling stories of this tribe of people. I remember a seminal event with my father after a show one evening. He had ordered a Greek salad, and when the server brought the salad, my dad asked, “What is this?”

“Why, a Greek salad, sir.”

“No, a Greek salad does not include iceberg lettuce.”

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