“Food is the way to a man's heart” always sounded a bit provincial even for this foodie. My response, be it a private thought to myself or an opinionated exclamation aloud, was generally, “ It just sounds like a patriarchal social contract designed to anchor women into cooking for a man and forever being chained to a part-time job as chef because this is supposedly how his love is truly earned and maintained!” During those fits, I was likely taking a feminist ethics class at the time. Or on a diet. Despite my protests, and disgust in the inequitable fact that men dominate professional cooking, I later saw some truth and extreme power potential in that silly old proverb. An unfortunate yet notable result of this mind shift was a) I began to pity men for their overly simplistic emotional psyche and b) once I began to employ this dating tactic, it kinda worked so well that I c) voluntarily chained myself to the stove.
Generally speaking, women like to receive care, appreciation and devotion (a.k.a. love) through diamonds, flowers, expensive classy lingerie and taking the trash out when we ask (without asking is an urban legend). Men receive our love through bedroom play, linear and succinct storytelling, silence during the ball game (any and all ball games) and preparing meals. So much pressure! One can however achieve that heart-centered, connected and feminist balance, even when cooking for and dining with a special guest.
For instance, David and I liked to cook together. Off the record, I sincerely believe he didn't trust me completely in the kitchen. My experimental and intuitive cooking was domestically opposed to the structured recipe-bound cooking dance he witnessed growing up. While he may have found my free spirited-ness alluring in most circumstances, in the kitchen it only dialed up his anxieties. So instead of insisting on my way or the highway, we gave into play. We listened to music and occasionally NPR, took turns as executive and sous chef, danced as we got tipsy on wine meant for dinner and sometimes had to turn the burners off as we made out on the kitchen floor. We had a very clean floor.
I dated Fran for almost a year, yet after a few unpleasant experiences, I began to reconsider how often I wanted to cook for him. Cooking for him was as much an act of vulnerability as it was nurturing. It was an offering and the sting of distaste (literally, his) could pierce even the thickest skin. If food was the way to his heart, his heart was not interested in anything I made. Our cooking relationship was comparable to seducing a 4-year old with brussels sprouts. Impossible. My solution – cook what I wanted and what I liked and if he wanted to partake with graciousness and appreciation, he was welcome. In the end, I ate well, he watched and that was that. The end, literally.
Roland was an actual chef and I had the extreme good fortune to eat from his kitchen almost daily. A true renaissance man, cooking for Roland was an intellectual, artistic and emotional act. What I remember most, aside from his warm Texan accent, piercing blue eyes, his fondness for Charlie Parker and outstanding vocabulary, was the food he prepared for me. Most memorable - rosemary polenta with grilled balsamic vinaigrette portobello mushrooms. I was petrified to cook for him. So with him, my gift was the ability to receive. A sweet taste that lingers in my memory.
As with Roland, Michael and I worked together in a restaurant, yet neither of us were cooks, in the official capacity. At the end of the shift we'd go into the kitchen and make our own snack. Michael was also hardwired to hold all of our important discussions (work and otherwise) over a meal. He was constantly trying to feed me and I was constantly trying to get the relationship beyond the dinner table. I learned a tremendous amount dining together. We shared food, time together, had meaningful talks and always had fun. With exception for that small kitchen fire we almost started and the gail wind argument we had over a rack of lamb. Could have charged tickets for that kind of dinner theatre.