Around the SFR offices, I get hassled for the allegedly frequent sexualizing of the food reviews I write. Apparently, there are a lot of people for whom food and flavors don't correlate to sex. The result is metaphorical confusion and, occasionally, mild disgust.
I find this alarming.
I accept that my metaphors might be confusing and that my peers might respond to them with mild disgust. But I'm alarmed that the intertwined double helix of sex and food might not be codified in the cultural chromosomes of any and every contemporary creature.
It's such an old saw at this point that I take precautions to avoid sexing up my food reviews too terribly often—it's cliché after all—because it amounts to little more than a self-deprecating in-joke.
In Andrew Cockburn's 1977 essay "Gastro-porn" in The New York Review of Books, he writes, "it cannot escape attention that there are curious parallels between manuals on sexual techniques and manuals on the preparation of food; the same studious emphasis on leisurely technique, the same apostrophes to the ultimate, heavenly delights.
True gastro-porn heightens the excitement and also the sense of the unattainable by proffering colored photographs of various completed recipes." Compare the photographs of '70s cookbooks to those of today and it's clear how utterly entrenched foodporn (a more common term in contemporary usage than gastro-porn) has become. It's a far more dramatic and exploitive evolution than a comparison of actual pornography during the same period of time will reveal.
However, tired as it may be, it is true that I naturally, instinctively and primarily relate to most food with pleasure/displeasure responses that I would call primarily sexual or at least carnal—I just can't help it. I've always kind of thought everyone was like that so, at this point, I can only assume that people who don't get sexual references to food are people who don't much use their mouths or spend much time enjoying the flavor of things during sex.
And I am truly, deeply sad for them.
It's my belief that everyone should have a reliable, intimate eating partner—or, as the case may be for the lucky or the culinarily libidinous, multiple eating partners. In the best possible case, at least one of one's eating partners is also an enthusiastic sex partner. After all, an exciting food life and an exciting sex life can and should complement and encourage each other.
To that end, I offer several basic meal formats for initiating what Cockburn might call "gastro-seduction." The primary feature of each of these is the dismissal of individual plates. If eating is going to be an intimate, shared experience between two or more people, the first thing that needs to happen is to get everyone on the same plate.
I realize that cozying up to a big slab of sirloin with your sweetie is not the sexiest thing in the world for vegetarians, but consider this: Vegetarians are not the sexiest thing in the world (the latest PETA ad notwithstanding). I mean, there's certainly potential—if you consider sexiness to be made up of a number of factors, you have to conclude that blowing it out of the park in one category can make up for a failure in another category. I have no hang-ups with people who restrict their diets however they please. If you want to get serious about vegetarianism, more power to you.
But again, there’s a sex analogy. Do you want to have sex with someone who will only do it on the bed? In one position? And only if the lights are off? Or do you want to have sex with someone who’s up for anything, anytime, anywhere? A good eating partner should be at least as adventurous as a good sex partner.
Recommended application: Enjoy a classic bistecca Fiorentina, roughly sliced on a cutting board and devoured with lusty abandon. You’re not going to be able to find beef from a Chianina, but don’t worry about it; just cook up a proper porterhouse and get dirty.
Plan B: Try short ribs with a nice, tangy sauce.
In the same way that someone who refuses to tear flesh with you can come across as sexually prudish, nobody wants a partner who shies away from fruits and vegetables. And large, sexy salads designed to be eaten from a shared plate or bowl should definitely include fruit.
Recommended application: The easiest way to put some sexual stank in a salad is to start with big vaginal greens that have soft, clitoral leaves (think butter lettuce and mache), add roasted seeds (maybe pumpkin) and a bold fruit (try grapefruit), and temper it all with olive oil, lemon and sea salt.
Plan B: Ram some iceberg in your friend’s mouth and slap him or her with some leftover beetroot.
This one should be obvious, right? Pastas are created in different shapes and sizes in order to ensure they’re able to contain and utilize different viscosities of sauces and oils, thereby increasing the pleasure of eating them.
Recommended application: Don’t distort good, old-fashioned aggressive lovin’ with high-tech food toys. Start with a simple spaghetti aglio e olio. Eat it Lady and the Tramp-style only if you can actually pull it off with a straight face or you both get hot from collapsing into laughter.
Plan B: Experiment with a rich, red, sour sauce.
Sure, you’ll be bumping spoons like you sometimes bang teeth when you’re totally strapping in a dark alley, but that can work.
Recommended application: Use a well-strained soup—nobody likes chunky-style sex, and nobody wants to share a lumpy soup in an intimate setting.
Plan B: If you actually do like it chunky, maybe you should share a stew.
This is one of our few culturally accepted shared foods. True, prudes will pull slices over to their own plates, but good friends and intimate partners will share the same pan. Plus, you can’t deny that a pizza has that “Missing Piece Meets the Big O” innuendo from the get-go. This is the easiest food with which to draw others into an eating orgy and the most low-key way to flirt with your friend’s eating partner.
Recommended application: A classic cheese pie—don’t mess with a good thing.
Plan B: Add artichoke hearts. If artichokes don’t make you want to fuck, I don’t want to know you.
Eat with your hands
This is a technique, not a meal. If two plates create a separation between eaters and one plate can unite them, useless utensils are the equivalent of keeping things at arm's length. If you want to get rid of barriers and boundaries and really open yourself up to your eating partner, you've got to get your hands dirty. And eating and sex should both be finger-licking good. If they aren't, you're doing it wrong.