Do chefs make better lovers? I get asked that question a lot. Because a foodie is a mouth with a vestigial person attached, one might think so. Indeed the skills and emotions involved in producing a great meal are exactly those at play in making great sex: passion, timing, sensitivity, the adventurous appetite, the brilliant chance of pace, the shock of surprise. All the senses that register pleasure at the table come into play in bed—the smell of sun on skin, the pop of salmon roe on your tongue, the crunch of celery in the same ear that registers the moan of ecstasy or a dirty word.
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Alas, in my modest experience over the past 40 years, chefs are like most men, but with varicose veins and impossible hours. There are masters and journeyman and hapless apprentices.
But in that same time, while the chefs may not have evolved as lovers, the country has changed around them: America’s dining revolution has given chefs unimagined opportunities. As more people became obsessed with good food, chefs became celebrities. They got TV shows, their own network. They’ve become rock stars, with all the trappings. Fan clubs, sex, groupies.
“It’s very tempting,” Jean-Georges Vongerichten admits. “All day you see women coming for your food, looking at you that way. After all, food is sexy. But I’m married now. Of course when I was single…yes… though I’m not the sort of person to put a scoreboard over my bed.”
Adds a woman in media involved with chefs on display, “I couldn’t possibly tell you what I’ve seen on the road.”
Hunger, the title of the new memoir from John De Lucie, head chef at Graydon Carter’s snooty New York clubhouse, the Waverly Inn, seems to say it all for him. “It isn’t sex women want so much as they want a meal,” explains De Lucie. “They want a man who can cook. I’ve been in the business 20 years now. And the same gorgeous hostess is still available, she’s still 25, six feet tall, wanting me to teach her how to cook. Most accountants and lawyers don’t have that in the office. With me, dinner comes first, then sex. I don’t want to be here the day food replaces sex.”
De Lucie is onto something, as even mere mortal men have caught on, cooking now as they weren’t in my days of delicious excess. It’s seductive to watch a man cook…it shows their softer side, their sense of beauty and taste, their mastery of knife skills and igniting a flame. Maybe the cheese course is followed by dessert between the sheets. I remember watching the great chef Jean Troisgros from Roanne flinging a sheet of puff pastry in the air and feeling my toes curl it was so sexy. The interlude between sharing him with an adoring cooking class and retreating to our cottage was simmering fork play.
I did find one pro, a restaurateur at the center of the star-chef game, who pines for the old days, and had some decent reasons. “It’s not like the '80s anymore,” he says. “It’s too dangerous to take risks. The camera is always watching. Someone will sue or write about it. They are more groupies than ever, but for people my age, some of us married now, we’ve grown out of it.”
“All day you see women coming for your food, looking at you that way. After all, food is sexy.”
I suppose that monogamy is admirable, but it saddens me. Opportunity abounds, yet the libido is muffled by hunger, propriety, and fear. I hope it doesn’t extend to the young and single. I worry that the lust that drove earlier generations from disco to bed seems too focused now on food, shopping (organica and leafy local greens), cooking and eating out ,and endless blogging about it. I can’t believe that anyone has the time for advanced love-making— changing the sheets, soaking in a scented bath, setting up a favorite porn film. If the newbies are born already attached to a keyboard and their parents spend those midlife-crisis years at the computer, or scouting plywood sheathing coming down on new restaurants and texting gossip to Eater and Gawker… where does erotic adventure fit in? A Yelp is not like an orgasmic moan, or maybe to some it is. As for the compulsion to Tweet. Tweeting does not lead to kissing like dancing did. Whatever became of infidelity in the afternoon—would one Tweet it afterward with a euphemism or a rating?
Such is the price of fame, it seems. As a woman who is proud that I had the creativity to spend an infamous afternoon with Elvis Presley, the thought of chefs as rock stars amuses me. “Will you be having fun with your groupies?” I playfully ask Jonathan Waxman, who has cooked everywhere from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley to his own Barbuto in New York, as he headed for the Food and Wine Festival in Aspen. He protests: “No. Oh no. I’m too old. I’m an old married man.”
“But young women love older men,” I said.
Jonathan smiled and shook his head. “But then you have to talk to them afterward.” Spoken like a celebrity.
A New York restaurant critic for 40 years and author of seven books (two bestselling novels, a sex guide and a memoir: Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess ), Gael Greene’s reviews and archives can be found at her Web site.