What are the essentials for seducing a man? A splash of expensive perfume, perhaps? A little black dress? Seductive body language? Well, according to author Penny Lewis, it is none of the above. What you need is a nice piece of steak, a tomato and a spud.
Lewis, with co-writer Sarah Lockett, has written The Dish, which is intended to show women how to incorporate food in a strategy to win men over. You should cook for your date, she feels, but don’t go making elaborate soufflés or that perfect sauce hollandaise — because the key to success is simplicity.
She explains: “Most men are carnivores so for that crucial first meal you would want a heavy accent on meat. I would go for something that is very hard to mess up. She advises a good quality piece of beef, roasted in the oven and accompanied by a simple baked potato and a roasted tomato. “It has two big advantages. It’s difficult to botch, which is good because you might be quite nervous — plus you won’t need to be standing at the stove. For dessert I would advise banana with a cardamom sauce.”
Isaacs, a Hampstead mother-of-two with a background in law, feels there are a lot of single women with careers who might not have done much cooking and therefore might benefit from a little guidance. But she maintains that it is a relatively simple task to make good food that still has that wow factor. “I recommend good, strong flavours with the inclusion of lots of herbs and garlic. Don’t worry about the garlic — it will be fine as long as you’re both eating it.”
So why should you cook for your man? Isn’t that a little 1950s? Isaacs refutes the suggestion. “I don’t think that the idea of cooking for a man is old-fashioned at all. The ’50s has been much misunderstood. Single women didn’t cook much in those days. They mostly lived at home until they got married. Then they would have been given a Constance Spry or Florence Greenberg cooking bible and off they went. Ours is probably the first generation which can cook without the prying attention of its parents.”
So should you cook Jewish food for your man? The answer is yes and no. “One of the best things you can do is a simple roast chicken — nothing more Jewish than that.” But there are also some no-nos. Although Isaacs loves chicken soup and apple strudels, these, she warns, are not date foods. “The dishes I recommend should not look labour intensive. Men might be frightened away if they think you are overtly domesticated. They will not be attracted to someone who looks as though she is chained to the kitchen. So never make soups, bread or anything with pastry. And only make cakes if the guy has children, because it is a surefire way of bonding with them. Otherwise, leave it for later. You don’t want to appear like a mumsy plum bottler.”
There are two more rules which Isaacs applies fairly strictly. Don’t cook too many vegetables because men, she fears, are not overly keen on them (if you do serve them, pep them up with sauces and vinaigrettes) and at all cost avoid foods with overtly romantic associations. Isaacs blushes: “I once made a heart-shaped pizza. I cringe when I think about it even now. What was I thinking of?”
Ultimately, by cooking for your man you are giving him a strong but also a subtle message: “You will want to project yourself in the role of someone who could be a future wife and mother. But it has to be done carefully because you do not want to come across as mumsyish. It’s the dichotomy between appearing to be sophisticated and also being capable and approachable on the domestic front — it’s a fine line to tread.”