They say a man who can cook well is worth his weight in gold.
Over the years, I have steadfastly clung to this excuse for not losing any weight.
“A man who cooks well’’ is a major selling point if you are trying to impress a lady, which is something you shouldn’t bother trying to examine rationally, but instead use to your advantage.
This column is not about teaching people recipes.
It’s easy enough to type in “romantic recipes’’ into Google and get more pages than you can read, so instead I’ll give you an insight into the formula for creating an entire romantic food experience.
Aphrodisiacs: Are there any aphrodisiac foods out there? Not really. Yes, there are foods such as chocolate and chilli that will release more endorphins (fancy word for “happy hormones’’) into your body when consumed in large enough quantities, but there is no food on this planet that will make a woman fall in love with you.
“Romantic’’ is a state of mind, and food is just one ingredient. If she already finds you interesting, a sexy meal will improve that state, but if you’re a creepy guy with body odour, truckloads of oysters won’t save you.
What to cook: Don’t try to cook anything too complicated. The more things you try to pull off, the more effort it will take, and the more chances there are that something will get screwed up. Make dishes with components that can be done ahead of time, so you can just finish off the final part in 30-60 minutes. Sauces, stews, curries, salad dressings can all be made ahead of time and refrigerated, leaving you with just the final cooking for the last minute.
Cook food that is light and won’t make you feel like a tonne of bricks when you’re done. You don’t want your lady to eat what you made and then feel like taking a nap immediately afterwards. Food with lots of cream, fat, and carbohydrates such as rice and potatoes will have exactly this effect. Distance yourself from popular Indian ‘’wedding buffet’’-style food that is known to do this—something makhani, combined with something shahi, biryani, and gulab jamun for dessert. That holds true for Western dishes as well—a small amount of a rich sauce is okay, but making cream of mushroom soup, combined with a cream-heavy pasta sauce, and a rich dessert is a bad idea.
Instead, make dishes with bright flavours. Light, fruity, citrus, tangy, flavours with a judicious use of fresh herbs will dance on the tongue. Good Italian food with top-quality ingredients is usually a winner, as long as you don’t try heavier dishes such as lasagna. If you still feel like going local, make smaller quantities or pick dishes that are not loaded with butter and cream. Save the cream for dessert, which is the course where a bit of richness is fine.
Meal composition is important in a romantic meal.
Unless you’re a great chef, there is no need to cook up a five-course meal. It will take way too long to make as well as eat, and ‘’I can’t eat more’’ are not words you want to hear, unless ‘’not tonight, honey’’ are also words you’re fine with. If you have the time, one appetiser, a main course, a light salad, and a sexy dessert is the sweet spot. A bottle of good wine would, of course, be a fine addition, too.
A good rule of thumb is to mentally divide your plate into three parts—50% of the plate for the main dish, 25% for the accompaniments such as rice, potatoes, or another starch, and 25% for a salad or vegetable accompaniment.
There is no need to use extremely expensive ingredients to impress your woman either. Exotic ingredients such as fancy cheeses and spices such as saffron sound good, but you can buy and use them all in small quantities. Parmesan cheese, for instance, may be expensive, but all you need are a few shavings of it over a salad to lend visual as well as sensual appeal.
Want to use a foreign fruit such as kiwi in your dessert?
Just buy one piece, cut into thin slices, and spread it out.
A little goes a long way.
Pay attention to presentation: You’ve spent all this time cooking up a storm; why not deliver the full effect? Good presentation is not that hard. Buy some good-quality white plates. Then stop simply dumping the cooked food onto them. Try this simple restaurant chef technique: first ladle some sauce onto your plate, spread it out geometrically in a circle with your ladle (imagine spreading dosa batter), then pick up your meat, fish or veggies with a pair of tongs and gently place them in the middle of the sauce circle. Build height by stacking up ingredients and placing them either on top of each other, or leaning against each other. Half your plate should be done. Now use the tongs to take your salad, one handful at a time, and stack them up on the plate too. Take your fresh herbs or garnish, and sprinkle them on top. My secret guide for good-looking food—height, angles, textures, and contrast. (Expect a more detailed column on this in the future.)
And lastly, don’t forget to build anticipation in your lady’s mind. Anticipation causes you to salivate, which makes food seem tastier. Before you serve the food, tell her in great detail what you’ve cooked. Take a cue from those fancy menus that describe food in effusive terms.
If she thinks she’s going to have a great meal, she’s already 90% of the way there.
Use these tips to create interesting romantic meals. And practise! There is nothing more sexy and unforgettable than creating mind-blowing food right in front of your lady. Watching you make the food, even if it’s just final assembly, is far more convincing than saying, ‘’I cooked this.’’
Madhu Menon is a chef, restaurant consultant and food writer.
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