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VOL. 44 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 14, 2020

Intersection of food, love can be difficult to navigate

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Love, love, love, love. Love. Love. Love. Valentine’s Day is that time of year when food writers struggle to find another hackneyed turn of phrase to lionize the intersection of food and love.

We have pretty much exhausted the long history of emotional ties to eating. Comfort and guilt? Yup. Passion and “better than sex” molten foods? You bet. Still, we can’t escape the simple fact that it’s love and sex that pique our culinary interest on this day.

This year, I think I really have something.

In the past, I’ve explored the burning topic of “ardent must,” or how mustard inflames passion. I waxed poetic about the marvelous dexterity of the tiny fingers that need to pluck more than 13,125 scarlet stigmas of the flowering crocus sativa to produce a single ounce of saffron, prized for its sublimely heady aroma and flavor and the deep yellow dye that lends its name to the robes of Buddhist monks.

Running short on ideas one year, I enlisted the help of Vivek Surti, proprietor of Germantown tasting outpost Tailor, to teach me how to sabre a bottle of Champagne. That was sexy – and dangerous.

I will not produce a list of places to go Valentine’s weekend because you’re already too late for reservations, and I always just suggest people go where they are known best if they want the best service.

Let’s see, what else is there? Chocolate, of course, claims chemical interactions that mimic the vertigo of falling in love. Asparagus and oysters lend naughty comparisons to our anatomies, and movies like the Japanese classic “Tampopo” leave indelible images like the tongue-passing of an egg yolk that either excites or horrifies our sensibilities.

This year, however, I turned my attention to the Kamasutra, the ancient Hindu text that was written at least 1,700 years ago, way before internet porn.

When I mention the Kamasutra, I’ve found people familiar with the title fall into two categories: Those who have heard of it and think of it only as a manual for erotic sex positions (me), and those who have read it and know it for that, but so much more (many more well-read people).

A little research has shown me that the text indeed addresses many issues of sexuality. It’s essentially a multifaceted guide for living well emotionally, spiritually and physically. It makes sense that sex would be a part of that, but also reminds me of Mark Twain’s diatribe, “Of all the delights of this world man cares most for sexual intercourse. He will go any length for it – risk fortune, character, reputation, life itself. And what do you think he has done? He has left it out of his heaven! Prayer takes its place.”

But I digress.

The Kamasutra, to my surprise, also offers strong opinions on food. Much of it is common sense, like avoiding garlic and onions, heavy fried foods and foods that cause bloating and flatulence. Yeah, that’s a killer when you’re canoodling with the one you love.

Foods that leave you feeling light and fresh, like honey, milk, nuts and above-ground vegetables, fall into what the Kamasutra calls “tamasic” foods that help you feel clear and purportedly get the blood pumping to all the right places.

I decided to ask for a second opinion from Maneet Chauhan, who grew up in India and is a marvel at creating flavor profiles that bring your palate alive.

“In all honesty, in terms of Kamasutra, you probably know more about it than I do,” Chauhan began, to my dismay. “Because growing up in India, you don’t talk about it, and I have somehow never gotten into it, but I do understand that it is more than just the physical aspects of love.”

Chauhan does profess a deep interest in Ayurvedic medicine that combines an understanding of body types with strategies for nutrition and yoga.

“It’s not a stretch from that to Kamasutra, because it is about living your best life,” Chauhan says.

That led us to a discussion about the simple fact that eating is a sensory experience, and that’s something trained chefs know well.

“When I’m cooking,” Chauhan says, “it’s about the smells, the sights, the attraction, which is also what love is about. Both are arousing to your senses. A beautiful plate of food draws you in, makes your mouth water and eyes get bigger. This is how food and love go hand in hand.”

“The older I get,” Chauhan adds, “I recognize the folly of youth. You are so concerned about being technically sound, and you need that as a professional, but when you add the soul of your own story to your food, that I think is the most important part.”

Chauhan also is a proponent of teaching couples how to cook together.

“That is an aphrodisiac,” she says. “Couples cooking together, it is seamless waltzing, spending the time to create a dish.”

And yes, when not in the kitchen in one of her many restaurants, Chauhan does cook with her husband, Vivek Deora, and then there are times when he cooks just for her.

“For my birthday, every year Vivek cooks my favorite dish, a goat curry. I don’t want a Louis Vuiton purse,” she laughs.

His cooking is an act of selflessness that she has come to appreciate. And while he can be a bit slow in the kitchen, it doesn’t bother her at all. “That’s when I pour another glass of wine and watch with anticipation,” she exclaims.

And there, somehow, Chauhan leads us to the same advice two doctors gave me years ago. Judson Rogers and his wife, Mary Ann Blake, know a lot about love. First, they are married and as fine a couple to draw from as one could hope. He is an internist, and she is an obstetrician/gynecologist.

When I posed similar questions about food as an aphrodisiac, their answers were simple.

For Dr. Blake, who’s delivered thousands of babies and understands how these things work, says she doesn’t buy the aphrodisiac myths unless you’re aroused by a good story.

On the other hand, a “good, stiff drink” goes a long way toward losing your ambition and opening the door to romance, she says.

Dr. Rogers is a fan of anticipation, saying nothing lights the fire like a “long separation.” Something tells me a dripping ketchup bottle is not what he had in mind.

Jim Myers is a former restaurant critic, features columnist, hog wrangler, abattoir manager, Tennessee Squire and Kentucky Colonel. Reach him at jim@culinarity.com

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