FIRST THERE WAS Harrison. We had a broken relationship almost from the day we went from friends to more-than-friends, but one thing we shared was a fanatical devotion to great food and drink. He’d recently stopped drinking, so that part was out. My main weapon for seduction was located in the kitchen, and it was time to fire up the decks and cook for him for the first time.
My options were dwindling in terms of impressive recipes since he’d recently given up red meat, so I whipped up a quick but simple menu: Salmon en Papillotte with cherry tomatoes, bright yellow and green squash, a little grated ginger, lime juice and sliced oranges.
I served the delicate parchment-enclosed packets of fish and vegetables over quinoa in place of rice. As I watched Harrison take his first bite, I imagined myself a tiny person in his mouth, seeing the first hot cherry tomato burst, its juices pooling on his tongue and mixing with the fragrant ginger, curling into a drop of lime juice before finally connecting with the silky, fork-tender morsel of salmon.
After closing his eyes and mentally digesting while his stomach did the same, he looked at me and said, “Wow. Wow.” Then, he took a picture with his cell and sent it to the chef he worked with. The next day, he told me he’d gushed about the dinner to the chef, how well-balanced the flavors were, how even the cayenne I’d used for presentation on the perimeter of the plate worked with the mood of the dish.
The next week, our relationship went to pieces. Early in the morning, as the train rushed between 14th and 23rd streets, he told me for the first time that he loved me. “No matter what happens, I will always love you.” It was a week into the relationship. We hadn’t even slept together yet. I was stunned and had to lean down and ask him to repeat himself. I didn’t say it back right away, and that killed him. I didn’t say it until after he took off and spent the weekend with another girl, until after a few confused emails, and until after he met me in the hotel bar at the W… then I said it.
After two dirty martinis, I said it and meant it. It was too late.
We dated for a few more months and had a few more amazing meals, but no amount of oral seduction could make up for what didn’t come out of my mouth that day on the train.
Then there was Aaron. He was cheeky and charismatic. He was playing pool at my favorite sports bar where I was out with girlfriends. I was fresh off a plate of steak frites and a bowl of red wine from a bistro down the street—feeling saucy and charismatic myself.
He came over and introduced himself and, within the week, we were sitting down to oysters at another cute French place nearby. The first time we had sex, we were so urgent, we didn’t even take my little strapless dress off.
The first time I cooked for him, I made a pair of veal chops with saffron orzo and tomato sauce. The flavors were at turns subtle and aggressive—just like I wanted them.
It was a recipe I’d been hanging onto for a real man, one who wouldn’t see a problem with eating baby cows. The orzo hummed with hints of Parmigiano and rosemary, and there again were the hot little cherry tomatoes. The veal chops were some of the most succulent, buttery slabs of meat I’d ever had in my mouth. This was a showstopper of a meal. Aaron took one bite, put his fork down and looked at me very seriously.
After demonstrating solid taste in restaurants, he was someone I really wanted to like my food. “This is the best meal I have ever had,” he said. It was the sweetest thing he’d say to me in the short time we dated. The sex was mediocre, and he had a horrible habit of sleeping for four hours before needing to get up and go out.
He’d go back to play pool at 1 a.m., coming back to me in his bed at 4 a.m., wasted. He was a real man for just a few hours at a time, then he was a drunken toddler who couldn’t fuck.
The last one was Tyler. He knew wine backwards and forwards, and it turned me on. It wasn’t the subject matter… I just love people who are smart and passionate about any one thing. He had a bottle of Malbec he’d been hanging on to that he wanted me to cook around. He said he’d cook with me but, frankly, I like to dominate in the kitchen. He could rule in other rooms, so he let me handle the stove.
Still, I let him chop the herbs. We did a marinated rack of lamb grilled at high heat, and I served it in a sauce of its own juices reduced with Madeira wine. I made little cups of risotto with spring peas and Parmesan to sit nearby the lamb chops (again with the baby animals…). This time, I was the one whose head exploded after my first bite. Combined with a sip of the Malbec, it was a meal fit for royalty.
It was an intimate date, cooking all day together at home and then meeting up with friends for cocktails that evening. Still, something was off the entire time. A few days later, he stalked me through my Twitter account late at night and found me while I was out with friends. My crew and I were chowing down on deep-fried hot dogs, being rude and ridiculous. He had to take me as I was. The next week, when Tyler and I got together, I asked him flat out why he thought we wouldn’t work together.
“Your sense of humor—you and your friends’—it’s not my speed. That, and you like getting your hair pulled.” I faced him squarely, cocktail in hand, and said, “I’m not for everyone.”
We made out a little bit in the dark bar and then went to get some snacks. We’ll always have the wine and snacks. But I’m still holding out for the dude who will pull my hair with authority… right after a real meal of baby animals.
Emily Cavalier is dangerously enthusiastic about life. A Brooklynite and freelance food writer, she works full-time as a business development exec in the media industry. You can find her writing at EmilyCavalier.com and on her food website MouthOfTheBorder.com.