I once ate an espresso custard and bitter orange choux that reminded me of a high desert sunrise, my first kiss, and the final notes of the Ode to Joy hanging in the air over the Hollywood Bowl. In one bite.
I once worked at a posh restaurant. The pastry chef was a taciturn Austrian I’ll call Wolf. Wolf was not handsome. Wolf was not charming. On the street, Wolf would go unnoticed. I don’t know how he knew of my love of food and of pastry in particular, but on my last day, he pressed a folded sheet of paper into my hand. Startled by his expressiveness, I wordlessly tucked the paper into my pocket. I wondered – is it a love note? A proposal of marriage? An invitation to come with him to open a bakery in the far reaches of Brooklyn where we’d use only imported Irish butter and Belgian chocolate?
It wasn’t any of those things – it was a handwritten recipe for a bread pudding so decadent it’s best eaten lying down. Never again would a man so readily understand the needs of my heart without my having to speak, dine, or sleep, with him.
I once had a dream where Colin Firth emerged from the ocean, his wet shirt clinging to his chest, and a clotted cream covered warm raspberry scone on a tray. I once had another dream where Daniel Day-Lewis lay in bed with nothing but a Teuscher truffle on his head. In another dream (admittedly this may not have been while sleeping), George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Hugh Grant and I enjoy a cheese plate in a candelit room. With accompaniments.
Clearly this isn’t about the men. The men are merely the backdrop to the real fantasy: The food. Let’s be frank: These days, we fantasize much more about food than sex.
Sex has lost something. It’s too out there, there’s no mystery, no seduction, nothing we don’t know. Between the cigar details of the ancient Lewinsky affair and just about any episode of Sex and the City, if we haven’t done it, we’ve seen it done. And nothing dulls the palate like a constant diet of the same old thing.
It’s no wonder Carrie and the girls had a regular date at the coffee shop – where else bur a restaurant can we go for the sensuous, mysterious, dark and dusky temptation that used to be sex?
Sex was risqué, a little dangerous. We used to have to hide it, sneak it, enjoy it in cars. Not any more. Food is the new taboo – and we treat it exactly as we did sex: We hide it, sneak it, enjoy it in cars. When a woman says she wants to be bad, she means she wants you to leave the tray. When she’s good, she means it’s calories she’s kept at bay, not the Wolf at the door. When did enjoying food become such a subversive act?
It has to stop. If food becomes just another shameful, back-alley pleasure, what will we have left? To talk about, think about, do, do on a date? It’s time we came out of the pantry and put the “oooh” back into food!
Last week, I waited for a friend at a wine bar that serves food so exceptional it stops your heart. I sat with a glass of red wine and a dish of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with parmesan.
At the next table was an actress, as famous for her thin arms as her talent. She was asking if there was anything like a salad on the menu – all the greens came with oil or cheese or bacon. She glanced at me, smiled a small smile and said to the waiter, “I wish I could be bad tonight.”
Bad? I slid over the dish of dates. I offered her one. She took it. Put it in her mouth. Bit down. Something like a tear appeared in her eye, a hint of a flush on her cheeks. She slid down, just a little bit, in her seat. She looked so helpless, so confused, so pleasured and delighted.
I leaned over and whispered, “I once ate an espresso custard and bitter orange choux that reminded me of falling in love, sleeping late and a really great run – all in one bite.”
That’s how we do it, people – one skinny, undernourished actress at a time.