Me: this morning, mildly disheveled, getting ready to leave his crib:
“What should I write about today?”
Him: stretched out the couch while watching the news and looking like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man—every inch of him is proportional perfection:
“You’ve got to teach these women how to cook.”
True that: As of this morning, we were both suffering from a food hangover from my last night’s cookout.
When V gets in the mood to cook: watch out! First off, there is some list making involved with a KGB-style interrogation of the future guests on their dietary restrictions and preferences. Then, the research begins. Besides the modest collection of my own cooking inventions, I consult my gods and goddesses of cooking: Jamie for a more rustic menu, Martha—when I seek perfection; and Nigella—when I expect to get laid (after the dishes are done).
Food shopping with me tends to get quite intense for every party involved. First, I don’t want any tagalongs who’ll set me back by twirling and smelling every sale item on display at Whole Foods. I deal with my list—while you shut up and carry the basket! I march through the store, with my hair yanked back into a brutal bun and a permanent frown similar to the one on the forehead of a heart surgeon. Then, I proceed to cross-examine the clerks about the best of the best of their produce. I read the labels in the aisles while continuing to frown, which prevents all commission-crazed sales staff from chatting me up. I do lighten up a bit when surrendering my money to the cashier: A few flippant remarks and self-deprecating jokes—and I feel like I’ve reached my daily quota of niceness. As soon as my trunk is loaded, however, I am back to the Amazon-on-Wheels Act, honking my way through the parking lot and speeding off to my sparkling clean kitchen.
The actual process of cooking—is like perpetual foreplay, as if life itself were my lover. It begins with stretching some skimpy clothes over my body, leaving the arms exposed and the legs—stark naked. I prefer some Nina Simone moaning and grunting in the background, waking my empathetic heart and disturbing the hormonal balance in my ovaries. A lit candle or two in my work area—is a must. Then, I begin unloading my shopping bags; and my curiosity with substances is awakened. Now is the time to sniff and lick and twirl and measure and exclaim laconic odes of gratitude—for the abundance and the time to enjoy it; for the company and the very process. Here, barefoot in the kitchen, I summon the voices of my gods and goddesses again; study their notes—and leap into a two-to-three hour improvisation.
What happens to my guests? They are ordered “to chill.” Sometimes, I jam a glass of wine into their palms, or a platter of hors d’oeuvres worthy of a Dionysian feast. The main thing: is to stay in my vicinity—but away from my stove. Never do I demand another pair of helping hands because they’ll just fuck with my shit, already in various degrees of steaming and roasting and sizzling and baking. But my lucky beneficiaries are guaranteed to be entertained as I leap and slide between the sink and the fridge, break out into a few tribal dance moves and stuff their mouths with teases of the upcoming masterpiece dinner. I demand they continue to speak to me even if I’m muttering like a witch over her cauldron. Be near me, be yourself, but please don’t help me—that is V’s recipe for every partnership in life.
After years of embracing the Juliette Binoche in Chocolat in my own self, I’ve learned that the last few minutes of the meal-making are crucial. They are all about timing. That’s when the combinations are matched into harmonies or flavor dissonances; when the perfect temperatures are hopefully achieved; and—my favorite—when the arrangement of the display happens. The magic. The feast for the eyes. The foreplay via the tongue.
The secret here, however, is to keep your mind and heart on the guests. They are the very objects of these generosities in progress; the witnesses with whom you’ve chosen to celebrate your life. The contradiction in my process, however—is that by then, I prefer to chase them out of my kitchen entirely. So, I behold them in my mind’s eye: Is my company a woman of the warmest heart and her 3-year old baby girl? Is it a friend making a rest stop in between his bouncing all around the world, in search of art, and consequentially—sex? Is it a beloved boy who’s granted me unconditional space and time in which to recover from a heartbreak? Or is it a hedonistic girlfriend whose zest for life has yanked me out of many depressions? They are my chosen people. My fucking army of survivors and defenders. All this—is happening for their sake.
So, what I can teach you, my ladies, is that, as every other activity in life, cooking mustn’t be a mundane chore; a weight pulling you under in the listless current of every day responsibilities. It is up to you to negotiate with your partner—or friends—how and when you prefer to cook. You can choose to cook on that rare occasion when your heart is overwhelmed with generosity. Or: never! If you absolutely hate cooking—for your man’s, your own, and for fucking god’s sake communicate that! Don’t turn it into a reason to resent him. Don’t hold a grudge against your assumed responsibilities as a woman because you’ve never mentioned just how much you hate being in the kitchen. Because I swear: It will show in your meal—and ruin your relationship.
But then again, why would you deny yourself the following hedonistic pleasures?