Being the first person to do something seems to carry a great deal of weight with the majority of folks.

Many of those whom we honor as heroes are so honored simply because they were the first person to do whatever it was they did. Their names become the stuff of legend: Charles 
Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic; Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier; Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon; John Garduno, the first guy in my class to work up the nerve to ask Marcy Hawley for a date…

It’s little wonder that such individuals tend to be revered by those who come later. Being the first at anything has inherent dangers; in some cases it is downright foolhardy. 

Some poor schmoe, for example, had to be the first to test-fly a parachute. Did the inventor try it first? Was the chute the right size on the first try? If the first ones were too small, could you tell parachute test pilots by their steadily decreasing height? 

I’ve always had this mental picture of some guy with an over-sized bedsheet, tied at the corners with clothesline, standing on the roof of his garage with hope in his heart and a complete abandonment of sanity, making his peace with God before taking that first big step into space. And down there in the driveway, I’ll bet, was his mother - shaking her finger and telling him he was bound to die, “Because if the fall doesn’t kill you, I

And what about smoking? There’s been a big push in recent years to get people to stop. (I know, because I’ve been among the loudest, most obnoxious pushers.) But how on earth did they ever start in the first place? Who would have come up with such an idea? And how did he convince his buddies to give it a try?

Yeah, I can just imagine that conversation: “Hang on there, Slick, let me make sure I understand what you’re
saying. You want me to chop up this dried weed, roll it together, wrap it in a scrap of paper, set it on fire, and then stick the end that’s not on fire in my mouth and suck on it? Sure I will – right after you take this parachute I made and jump off the building over there…”

I am convinced that innovation must almost by necessity walk hand-in-hand with trepidation. And I can think of no area where this is more true than in the area of cuisine.  We take so much of what we eat for granted.

That’s because we’ve been eating it for years. But it had to start somewhere. And I'm inclined to think the initial reaction on the part of those who stood by watching had to have been something along the lines of, “Are you nuts?”

Take mushrooms, for example. A lot of people love mushrooms. They put them on their pizzas, in their spaghetti, on their burgers and in their gravies. I knew a guy back in college who would have put them on his ice cream if he hadn’t been afraid people might stare.

But who tried them first? And how many test subjects did it take to determine which ones could be ingested and which ones couldn’t? After all, a lot of these forest dwelling fungi are flat out deadly; they’ll kill you dead, as my Grandpa used to say. Others, I’m told, will make you walk upside down on the ceiling. 

So where did it start? Was it some lost caravan, or a troop of hungry, battle-weary soldiers limping home after some war or another? “All right, men, I’m looking for volunteers. Who’s going to taste the mushrooms?” Maybe the final fate of the Donner Party began as an act of rebellion…

And then there’s the little matter of eggs. It’s one of the basic staples of our diet. We eat them fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, shirred, over easy, sunny side up, omeleted and Benedicted. They are an ingredient in our breads, our cakes, our pies, our pastas. Sometimes they even find their way into certain types of milkshakes - and a few hearty souls out there have actually worked up the nerve to slurp them down raw.

But again, who came up with the initial idea? Was it a couple of our most distant ancestors some unnumbered collection of millennia ago, disgusted after an unsuccessful bronotosaurus and willing to try anything to quiet the rumbling in their bellies?

“Hey, Ug, you wanna try one of these here eggs?" 

“What? Geez, Glug, have you lost your small-capacity, just-barely-walking-erect mind? Haven’t you ever noticed which end of the bird those things come out of? I'd just as soon go back out into the forest and gather me a bowl full of mushrooms…”

Here’s one to ponder: Japanese blow fish. You know, the fish that will drop a diner dead as a rock if it is not prepared just exactly right. How many “almost-rights” do you think got tossed out back with the rest of the garbage before they got to exactly right?

And what about beer? That’s one I have never understood; personally I can’t stand the smell of the stuff. I know, I know - a lot of people have learned to like it. Some, apparently, have learned to enjoy it quite a lot. But I never met anybody who could honestly tell me that he enjoyed his very first swallow of the stuff. 

I’ve often wondered about the initial reaction of whoever it was who accidentally spilled some yeast, sugar, hops and barley into a bucket of water. “Hey, Gladys, lookee here - the water has turned yellow, it’s bubbling like peroxide on an open wound, and smells like one of your mother’s old boots. I wonder how it tastes?”

Having once published a cookbook of my own, I understand that culinary experimentation has always been a tricky thing. And success is a relative matter at best; even the best of chefs have come up with concoctions I wouldn’t feed to a dog.

Still, there have been those occasions when they’ve gotten it very right, indeed. Basic chocolate, for example, is bitter, awful-tasting stuff. But somebody back there somewhere made some pretty good guesses when he or she created sweet chocolate.

For what it’s worth, here’s a tip for future reference: the next time anybody out there needs a test taster to sample some new chocolate recipe, I know where you can find a newspaper columnist more than willing to volunteer…