Recipe for romance

As a chef and a food lover, could I fall for a man who wouldn’t break bread with me?

By Julia Shanks
January 3, 2010

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Twenty minutes into our first date, I informed Ken that if he had any food issues I needed to know. I’m a professional chef and hobbyist eater, and most things I enjoy involve food -- cooking, dining out, fishing, and traveling. Part of my date-screening process includes discovering if a man will be a good companion in my favorite activities.

This concern didn’t come from left field. I had a string of boyfriends before Ken, all of whom had some sort of dietary restriction.

One was a quasi-vegetarian. On our first date, we met at a trendy gastro-pub near my house. His dashing smile and titillating conversation distracted me from noticing what he had ordered. I later discovered he would only eat meat if he could kill it himself. With fond memories of fishing with his dad, he agreed to an angling excursion with me. We perched ourselves on the sunny rocks surrounding Spot Pond in the Middlesex Fells and had a romantic afternoon of casting lines and picnicking. That night we grilled our catch, supplemented with striped bass from the market and a homemade remoulade with tarragon and capers.

With his diet of allowable foods expanding, I suggested we visit a friend who raises chickens on his farm. There we could commune with nature and perhaps add chicken to the list of acceptable foods. The idea didn’t fly, nor did our relationship.

Boyfriend No. 2 wouldn’t eat fish. I realized this relationship would not work the night I had 10 guests over for dinner with varying dietary restrictions. I carefully chose the menu: tuna crusted with camomile and spice, served with a blackberry-sage chutney and creamy polenta. For him, I prepared chicken. On a single occasion this was fine, but I couldn’t imagine a lifetime without fish, nor cooking two dinners every time I craved seafood.

Gradually, I realized that a willingness to try new foods spoke to a person’s general openness to the world and new experiences. Boyfriend No. 3 happily ate whatever I cooked or ordered in a restaurant, as long as it didn’t contain shellfish or pork. He kept kosher.

Ken assured me with a chuckle that he had no food issues. We continued our walk around Cambridge’s Fresh Pond discussing life, relationships, and food. At the end of the loop we both wanted more. We drove into Harvard Square for hot chocolate. Catching the final rays of the perfect Sunday afternoon, we people-watched and talked and then headed to a nearby restaurant to continue the conversation. With a bounty of dishes, including chipotle-grilled flank steak with avocado salad, we talked long into the evening, even telling the bartender that we would remember him as the person who witnessed our first date, and our first kiss -- quick yet soft, suggesting there might be something to build on.

The next few dates were combinations of food, movies, and arts. I didn’t pay attention to whether the dates started in the afternoon or evening; I just remembered that I never wanted them to end, so they always seemed to slip into a meal.

On the fifth date, Ken was adamant that we have a daytime date and that we go to an art gallery. I was frustrated because we had already had daytime dates; I would not take the blame for the dates continuing into the evening.

We were off to Boston University’s Photographic Resource Center to see an exhibit on social issues. During our coffee afterward, Ken finally told me what he should have said on our first date: “I’m a food addict.” He continued, “I go to Overeaters Anonymous twice a week for meetings. I’m on a very strict meal plan.”

The whole ploy for the daytime date was really about having a date that did not revolve around food.

Could a food addict date a chef? And could a chef date a food addict? It could be good for me -- to learn how to enjoy life without looking through basil-colored glasses. This could be a new adventure in dating.

I wish I could say my story had a happy ending. Alas, on the next date, as I cooked shrimp fried rice and chili-sauteed green beans, I realized that food addiction is a serious issue and bigger than just cooking to his meal plan. Ken needs to conquer this on his own before he can manage his addiction within a romantic relationship. When he does, he will make a fine partner. For me, I will continue to feed my passion while I look for love.

Julia Shanks is a consultant for restaurants and community-supported agriculture farms. Her recipes can be found on her blog, Send comments to Story ideas Send yours to Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.

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