Dining and dating: The food of love
August 4th, 2010
02:00 AM ET
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"Yam mash."

That's the first thing my husband ever said to me. It wasn't just out of thin air, mind you. It's not as if he went around randomly "yam mash"-ing strange women in Lower East Side bars or anything. Rather, we'd met via online personals two weeks before that, and as I am wont to do, I'd asked him if he'd ever had a meal that made him cry.

He responded, several hours later, with this.

This past Saturday night I dined at my dear friends' restaurant - out in the country away from anything. We opened with a Malbec, very trendy these days, but complex after only a few years in the bottle. I like it. The cheese course was a really smelly but delicious blue, a goats' milk something, and there were Gaeta olives and freshly baked bread.

The entree was one of those cry-into-your-dinner events: pork tenderloin in a brandy reduction with fresh currants, mascarpone, over yam mash infused with sesame oil with roasted chestnuts and fresh rosemary. Scary. Dessert was flourless chocolate which oozed in the middle served with some port so bountiful I was afraid to ask its age. My friends, the proprietors & chefs, just got ranked second in the state just under 11 Madison Park, so they are showing off. Well worth the four hour drive, I must say. So, confirmation on the food fetish.

I wrote back, "Say yam mash to me. Say it to me slowly."

So it made perfect sense that when I strode up to the lanky man in the black cowboy hat, leaning casually as all get out, up against the bar at which we'd decided to meet and asked. "Do you have something to say to me?" that he'd respond with such a thing. It also made sense that it took about five seconds after he'd leaned in and whispered that into my ear for me to fall into jelly-kneed, goosebumped love with Douglas. Because if I knew one solitary thing about my scarred-up heart, it was that it required the companionship of the sort of man who'd occasionally get all misty about food.

I'd tried, goodness knows, to compromise and pair with indifferent eaters, men with other spheres of interest, granted - painting, chess, comedy - but little interest in the life of the stomach. We were never going to be more than friends. Food, and the sharing of it - the flavors, the conversations, the swaps of bites and sips and stories - is so fundamental to my being that to ignore this part of it would be...well, it wouldn't be me.

I'm not alone in this. Moments after I posed the question, "Could you stay seriously romantically involved with someone who didn't care about food the way you do?" to Eatocracy's social network, the responses began pouring in.

A few from Twitter:

"I don't see how you could get romantically involved with someone who was 'food incompatible' with you in the first place." - @marcygordon

"In a word NO!" - @dnaequalsfood

"It would be challenging to be with someone who does not love to eat and be connected with food for sure!" - @itmakescents

"Not at all. To eat food as just fuel is to live without crusty French bread and stinky aged cheeses and butter filled pastries!" - @DCportraits

And Facebook:

"I live that life every day. My husband would eat cardboard if placed in front of him. But that doesn't stop me from trying to educate him on flavors, textures, visuals, etc. Why should I sacrifice my enjoyment?" - M. Crenshaw

"Nope. It's such an integral part of life and too tied up with values and ethics for me to overlook my partner having significantly different views." - N.B. Meath

"It's not caring about food, it's enjoying food like I do. Enjoying food together can be sensual and seductive. Having a great meal is where most people can relate to romance and if you can't relate then no I couldn't stay involved." - T. Meyers

Food surely isn't the only thing Douglas and I have in common; we're equally music-obsessed, need pets around us, are on the same page about not having kids, hate raising our voices, are bad at sitting still and say "I love you; you're my favorite person" daily and sincerely. We're also possessed of comically different palates. I groove on harsh, earthy and funky flavors - horseradish, anchovies, sweetbreads, herring, hot sauce and headcheese. He loathes these and cannot abide heat, cilantro, parsley, halibut, dill, any form of sausage, meatball, meatloaf or lukewarm food.

We find common ground - roasted vegetables, slow-smoked pork shoulder, a pot of collard greens, cheese grits and eggs on a Sunday morning - and revel in the ritual of preparing, plating and eating those meals together. It's not always fancy, either. We've got the Szechuan takeout place at the top of the street on speed dial and dine at the nearby taqueria so frequently that either one of us can just look up at the other, walking in the door from work after 9:30 p.m., say "tacos?" and start slipping on shoes at their nod of assent.

These meals are where we talk and connect and slough off the stresses of the day. I've eaten with plenty of men for whom food is a chore, a box to be ticked off several times daily in order to stay alive. These were not dispassionate partners - just strung in a different key than I am, and eventually the discordance became too much to bear.

And 21 months after that first, rapturous description of a meal, the showing-off chef in question gave Douglas and me one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received: massive trays of his yam mash to serve to the guests at our wedding.

Previously - Could you date someone who was rude to the waiter?

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Filed under: Bite • Culture • Dating • Favorites • Feature • Valentine's Day

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soundoff (173 Responses)
  1. alfuso

    Anyone who ruins grits by adding cheese, is a Barbarian and not fit to sit at my table.

    August 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  2. Sweetenedtea

    Yam mash actually sounds pretty horrid, but, then, I can't stand yams (and, yes, that includes sweet potatoes.)

    As for foodie compatibility, it's nice, but hardly a good reason to reject someone with whom you're otherwise compatible. Most of us aren't going to wake up every morning for the next 50 years, look over at our partner and think, "I'm still in love with...your palate." You may as well reject someone because s/he isn't as passionate as you about terry-cloth. And some of us are quite fond of good terry-cloth.

    August 7, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  3. reallynow

    I got lucky that my husband used to be a prep chef for many years. I love to cook. So he preps and I cook. He is willing to try everything. It all worked out.

    August 7, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  4. JJ

    The differences in eating habits between my wife and I are contributing to a worsening rift between us. Simply put, she's been eating everything in sight (with predictable consequences). I'm worried about her health but she reacts angrily to even the gentlest suggestion that she needs to change her diet. Her doctor has told her the same but she ignores medical opinion and continues on unchanged. My worry about her is affecting our relationship.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  5. Adiff

    Kazz, You're absolutely right there. Sex and love aren't the same thing at all!

    August 4, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  6. Adiff

    Soylent Green is made of.....Greens.

    August 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  7. kazz

    if you marry someone because of what they eat, you deserve to be disappointed

    August 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  8. tooty

    My partner and I have a unique bond over food: both of us can be real sensualists about it (i love the author's 'yam mash' story here) - and we each also have to live with dietary/food restrictions. So there is some shared compassion and support around that, too. One moment that really confirmed our love was when I discovered he'd made a "gluten free" pantry shelf for me at his place, and had stocked it with snack foods I could eat anytime.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Fiona

      Finally, someone who gets it!

      August 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  9. Harry

    It's just food. As someone mentioned, fuel for the body. I understand there are those who value "fine dining" and "fashion trends," but these things are really quite superficial. Let's get beyond this already; it almost appears to be so passe today. Kind of like the Opera or the Ballet. Oh, my! Did I really write that? I must be so unsophisticated not to enjoy such superficial things.

    Oh, and to the people who post anti-Obama tripe on EVERY article, keep it up. As a supporter of our President I can only say that you people are showing your true colors. "Fried Chicken and watermelon?" Really? Goodness! Very sad, people, very sad.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
    • JJ

      Well said.

      August 5, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
  10. greenbird

    I know exactly how it feels to care more about food than one's SO. my husband is a burger/fries/pizza/quesadilla guy. he doesn't understand occasionally spending money on a rather expensive(but divine, out-of-the-ordinary) meal. he can't wrap his mind around the complexities of wine and beer(he's not a drinker at all, actually). but I'll never stop trying to open his mind up to the wonderful culinary world I inhabit :)

    August 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  11. Foster

    I'm a total foodie- especially for spicy and South Asian foods- but my girfriend of 8 years is all Primal iet ( nothing but raw meat/ raw dairy/ occasional raw veggies). It was very difficult at first but I stuck with it and we have worked it out. She occasionally eats cooked with me; I cook basic food at home (I'm not a good cook myself); I go out 2 or 3 times a week with my foodie friends; and I eat a lot of restaurant food for lunch near my office. She is extremely healthy on that diet (as is everybody else I've met on it) so I can't argue with her about its benefit (and I would, as I practice acupuncture and do a lot of nutrition with my patients)- but being a foodie makes me happy. I would prefer it if we could do cooking together- for flavor and the experience- but she is 100% health oriented in her diet- so I make the best of it. It has kept me healthier I suppose, and for that I can be thankful. Life is about compromise- and if we've made it 8 years I guess it's working and can be done- but I'd love it if she suddenly became a foodie, nonetheless!

    August 4, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  12. aubrie

    My husband and I tell people that we're the representation of the bagel met the beignet. I was rasied in the Northeast with yankee pot roast, rutabagas, split pea soup, parsnips, rye bread and bagels. He was born and raised in a French household in New Orleans, Louisiana. He thinks rye bread isn't fit for human consumption and won't even try a parsnip. He likes everything spicey and drowning in butter. We couldn't be more different as far as taste, but we experiment, learn to cook things from eachother's family cookbook and try to be good sports. It's actually fun for me. I'm not picky. But meal time is an adventure in our house, and I think I like it that way.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  13. Dibbels

    I couldn't date a vegan because I wouldn't want to date an idiot.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
    • Fiona

      You have revealed more of yourself than you know, in that inane statement.

      August 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
    • Gunther

      Oh! I get it! You're implying that vegans are idiots! Damn, you're clever! I hope you reproduce a lot!

      August 5, 2010 at 12:06 am |
  14. LubLub

    I am a pastry chef and adore food. I can't get enough of it and am always looking to learn and experiment. My husband does not share this passion. He is a picky, boring eater. He has a list of the best foods won't touch....egg, tomato, berries..... He hates fruit desserts. He likes meat, potato, and cheese. For dessert he likes peanut butter or chocolate. Despite this we've been happily married for over six years. If I want to try out a new restaurant, I just go with a girlfriend instead. I have plenty of foodie friends who share my passion that I do not require this of my husband.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  15. LaVonne

    Pictures, please. Of the man in the cowboy hat, not the food. Food is good, cowboy hats are better.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  16. JBROWN

    I was in a relationship for 2 long years to someone who was never exposed to fine foods or culture for that matter. I was constantly wanting to educate and encourage him to try new things. Let alone I loved to cook gourmet meals and have a passion for food more than most. All he really wanted was chicken fingers and well-done steak with ketchup. I loved going out of town for business because I could treat myself to a real dinner. In the end, I just wasn't patient enough to deal with the food habits nor was I willing to keep trying to force food on someone that couldn't appreciate it. Now I believe I have found someone that shares in the joys of good food. I personally would rather have it that way.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  17. Roy

    I brought my then gf/now wife to a Mexican restaurant on our second date. She loves Mexican food. I don't think I would have married somebody with totally different food preferences. I dated women like that and it always caused conflict or resentment: She would say "why do you like spicy food so much" and I would get tired of eating at Shoney's, Olive Garden, McDonalds, and Chilis. The ones with no sense of adventure, culinary or otherwise, didn't make the cut. I think similar food preference goes along with similar belief systems, goals, and lifestyles. All very important qualities when picking someone to spend the rest of your life with.

    The article makes it seem like that was her main criterion, but probably the guy in question had other qualities or 'assets; that appealed to her as well.

    Good article. I enjoyed reading it and it reminded me of my courtship with my wife of 13 years.


    PS Yam mash is very tasty IMO. Good call!

    August 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  18. Angela

    To me it's more about priorities. I'm not a mechanic. I've never had the joy of building an engine and I probably never will but I can appreciate a well tuned car and I can check my own spark plugs, oil, change my tires, blades and headlights. Having said that one of the many reasons I didn't stay together with my last boyfriend was because he was in his mid 30's and couldn't boil spaghetti or flip a burger (and I mean at all not the 'right' way). He'ld eat what I made but he didn't get the love of creation and was missing a whole life skill category.

    On the other hand one of the sexiest conversations I ever had with any man was on the subject of wild sourdough strains in our respective parts of the country.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  19. Christina

    My boyfriend of 2+ years and I are total opposites on food – Me being from the midwest and him being from Louisiana. he thinks that I eat boring food and i think that the food that he eats is fattening and too spicey. i don't eat fried food or any form of seafood whatsoever and this has been a major point of contention over the course of our relationship. i don't think it's a dealbreaker, though. who cares that i don't like spicey food? thankfully, he can cook as well, so if he wants seafood he can cook it.

    August 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      sounds reasonable. I don't really care for most seafood, and because of a medical condition spicy food is out. I can't imagine holding this against anyone.

      August 4, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
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