By FoodNerd March 3, 2009

I always know when my neighbor is taking a new lover. He cooks meat. Hearty dishes like filets of steak, roasted chicken, braised lamb, and pot roast. Always accompanied by potatoes. With the final bite, his message is clear: Tonight, You’re Mine.

During the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, various recipes of seduction found their way to me. Legs of lamb with mint sauce, the inevitable oysters, sautéed shrimp to be fed by hand.  Being in the earliest stages of courtship, cooking felt a bit too presumptuous.  But it did, of course, get me thinking. What would I serve? Do I—like my neighbor—have a silver bullet?


Most of my experience has been with seducing groups. In my late twenties, as I finally landed a real job but wasn’t fully ready to leave my more carefree lifestyle behind, I threw lavish parties every other month. Funded mostly by credit cards and framed around recipes from the Silver Palate Cookbook, describing them as decadent is an understatement. Each party had a specific theme and focus: Oysters and champagne; an all wild mushroom menu for the Alice in Wonderland Hat Party; garlic and cheese boards; mussels and sake; cheese, oil, and chocolate fondue. All the food interactive and utensil-free, an endless stream of alcohol. Within an hour or two, I had everyone in the palm of my hand.

But a guest list of one is far more intimidating. And the question of what to make begins to have an ominous tone.  Mocking and chiding me. Especially when the person of interest may not eat like I do.  Does not drink like I do. May not even appreciate food like I do. Thus far, I have been given little to go on--a fondness for fish tacos, an aversion to lamb (due to a suspicion of how the animal is treated in the field), a dislike for pizza, a tepid interest in red meat and pork.

Steadily, only misfires from the past come to mind. The Summer Crush for whom I made a shrimp, feta and rosemary dish. I opted to use frozen shrimp, and the meal marked our first and last date. Sake-steamed mussels were prepared for The Carpenter—a lovely dish but the effort made did not, in any way, match his investment. Or lack thereof.  At least with The Turk, I focused on appetizers—we spent many an afternoon lying on my couch eating roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, feta cheese and freshly baked baguettes. Though satisfying, though delicious, our afternoon snacking became a substitute for conversations that were needed to sustain us.

So why even cook for a prospective lover at all? Because you want to play to your strengths, to impress them, and let’s be honest, to lure them into your web. It’s a way to share yourself and have the home court advantage. To create an early and important memory while establishing a guaranteed outcome.

And what are you left with when you can’t enact the usual culinary tricks, when you can’t fall back on the reliable bells and whistles of taste and sensuality? Just Your Self.  And that, more than a limited list of approved ingredients, is terrifying.
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