Cover Story

Till cooking do us part

Newlyweds figure out who rules what in the kitchen

Newlyweds Lori and Geoffrey Day of Concord make lunch together. He insists on chopping on a wooden board; she uses an old block of Corian. Newlyweds Lori and Geoffrey Day of Concord make lunch together. He insists on chopping on a wooden board; she uses an old block of Corian. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / July 13, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Boston newlyweds Kate and Holtie Wood were mere weeks into their marriage when he caught her in the act: using a metal fork on one of the fancy new nonstick pans they got as a wedding gift. “Now we have strict rules,’’ says Kate, 32, director of individual giving at the Steppingstone Foundation. “I’ve been told I can’t use anything but a wooden spoon.’’

She cheerfully recounts several Teflon-related scoldings from her beloved and then adds, “He’s probably watching over my shoulder to make sure I treat things with respect.’’

Strict? Perhaps. But the Williams-Sonoma kitchenware is nicer than anything he has ever owned, says Holtie, 35, who works in the financial services industry. “I’m trying to take care of things so they last a little longer.’’

With more men cooking than in earlier generations, and kitchenware continuing to dominate wedding registries, according to & 2010 Registry Study, it’s time to tweak the old schoolyard taunt: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes - no, not the baby - then comes jockeying for position in the kitchen.

But wait! Isn’t cooking together good for a relationship? It can be, says W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Couples who share activities, from cooking to church attendance, do a lot better than couples who live separate lives, he wrote in an e-mail. “Insofar as cooking becomes an opportunity for husbands and wives to build a common life together, that redounds to the benefit of their marriages.’’

But the kitchen - and all that expensive kitchenware from the wedding registry - can also become a place where all sorts of issues are played out, experts say, from who washes the dishes, to whether or not a vegetarian will cook meat for a carnivorous spouse, to who gets dibs on limited counter space.

And that’s especially true now, says Stephanie Coontz, author of “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s,’’ and director of research and public education at the Chicago-based Council on Contemporary Families. “Fifty years ago the idea was that the man will carve the Sunday roast and occasionally put on an apron and barbecue, but the kitchen itself was completely the women’s terrain. It was both a terrain of power for women, but also a terrain where there were high expectations that they’d do all the work.’’

Today, she says, “part and parcel of the new expectation is that men and women are going to share these things.’’

Michelle Maisto, author of “The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love,’’ says that menu-related disagreements (often over salad, which she adores) taught her and her husband how to compromise. “Salad is a silly thing,’’ she says, “but it can be blown out of proportion because it gets to the bigger questions. Our identities are so tied to food.’’

Maisto, a vegetarian of Italian descent, and her husband, a meat eater whose parents came from China, gradually worked things out by learning to be more sensitive to each other’s tastes and cravings and, more pragmatically, by mastering a handful of fast, flexible recipes.

Pamela Ricci, 27, a marketing manager from Reading, and a vegetarian, took a different approach. Before they married, she told her husband-to-be that she was fine with his eating meat, but that she could not cook it for him, and unless it came highly packaged in the grocery store, she could not buy it, either.

The result? “He’s had to learn how to cook,’’ she says. “There have been many calls to my mother or his mother halfway through.’’

Boston interior designer Michael Carter, 49, of Carter & Co., and his new husband have also drawn lines. “The truth is, I’m a lousy cook and David is a good cook, so what has evolved for us is that by default I’m the cleanup crew.’’

While many couples register together for bakeware and mixing bowls and skillets with the intention of using them together, Dan Zevin, author of “The Nearly-wed Handbook’’ and “Entry-Level Life,’’ calls cooking together a “recipe for disaster.’’

“Probably the quickest way to end the marriage early is to think you’re going to be happily cooking with all your new gear,’’ he says. He was baffled by all the bowls he and his wife received as newlyweds. “That was so strange to me. There were just so many bowls. We had bowls to hold other bowls. I’m not sure if we ever used them for anything.’’

It is hard to use all that new stuff. Elizabeth Catucci, 29, sales and marketing manager at the Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill, is trying. She basically panics every Wednesday night, when it’s her turn to make dinner for her new spouse, an Italian who loves to cook. “There’s a lot of pressure. I want to make him happy.’’

Alas, even though she works in a restaurant, and gets recipe advice from a professional chef, an entire Drew Barrymore movie could be made of her disasters. “One time I tried a seafood casserole and did not read the note that the recipe serves 12. The dish was barely edible, but he insisted it was good and continued to eat it as leftovers for the rest of the week.’’

Lori Day, 48, an educational consultant from Concord, says that as an older couple, she and her husband brought their own well-formed styles to the kitchen. “He takes really good care of knives,’’ she says.

“He believes you should only cut on wood or you’ll dull the blade and never put it in the dishwasher.’’ She, on the other hand, cuts on an old piece of Corian. “We’ll have dueling veggie prep. He’s prepping his vegetables his way, on the wood board, and I’m doing it in my lazy casual way.’’

Asked if he knew before the wedding about his new wife’s habit of cutting on Corian, Geoffrey Day, 53, an Internet marketing strategist, laughs. “No,’’ he says, “and it’s certainly not a deal breaker.’’

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.