Most Sunday evenings you’ll find 12 singletons chopping, stirring and chatting in the kitchen of Denise Phillips’s Northwood home.
The six men and six women — who’ve paid £65 for the cookery class and three-course meal with champagne — are each looking for their perfect partner at her Date on a Plate cookery classes for singles.
Northwood United member, Phillips started the lessons 15 years ago, and stresses she isn’t a dating agency: “It’s about meeting new friends”. With 15 Date on a Plate weddings and countless happy couples having met at her table, something is working.
The Leith’s-trained chef, who was already teaching cookery lessons, started the singles classes in 2001, after her own personal tragedy. “My husband died suddenly of a heart attack in 1999 when he was 44. Our children were all under eight and my world had ended.” says Phillips, now in her early 50’s.
“A couple of years later, I was ready to meet people and make new friends, but all my friends were married couples.” The classes seemed a safe way of meeting new people without the cost of a babysitter. “Jdate didn’t exist in those days.”
The format’s always the same — canapés, champagne and introductions around her kitchen worktop — “I ask each of them to talk about themselves” — then an hour preparing a three-course kosher meal. The food is generally idiot-proof, but she is on hand to ward off potential disasters.
Phillips themes the meals, which always have a vegetarian option. “I can cater for any dietary requirement and I try to include foods meant to be aphrodisiacs — like champagne, avocado, almonds and chocolate.” This Sunday will be all about Valentines. “I’ll light candles and decorate the table with red flowers, rose petals and use plenty of heart shapes in the canapes and petits fours.” The menu will include mini Yorkshire puds with smoked salmon; roasted salmon with a champagne and tomato quinoa, and hot chocolate and Amaretto soufflé pudding with chocolate ice cream.
To ensure everyone gets to chat, Phillips asks the men to move places between each course. Drumming up numbers for the weekly events (which are for different age groups) can be a challenge. “I’m constantly looking, “ she says.
The net is cast via Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth and networking groups. “I also have good links with rabbis and rebbetzins — they know the single people in their communities.”
Various levels of orthodoxy are catered for, but most clients are either Modern Orthodox or culturally Jewish and keen to meet someone of the faith. “I send out a form for them to complete so I know how religious they are and any dietary requirements. I have a few Orthodox men, who want to meet Orthodox girls, so when I do get some in the right age group, I let them know. I don’t want to waste their time.”
She met second husband, Jeremy Stern, who runs a marketing company, when he attended one of her classes in February 2004.
“He was divorced with three children. A friend had recommended Date on a Plate. We got on well, although I was focused on working, so couldn’t say if it was love at first sight. He called me within a few days and there must have been a spark, as we were married by September!”
Her sister who was also widowed, met her second husband via Date on Plate, as did Marisa Messulam and Jonny Wynbourne (both 42) who will be tying the knot this June. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight for them either: “I met Jonny at two Date on a Plate evenings. We’d got on really well, but he didn’t contact me” says Messulam, who’d also tried Jswipe, Jdate and several organised single activities before meeting Wynbourne, a Norrice Lea member, again at a Professional Plus Network evening at St John’s Wood synagogue.
“As we’d met before it was easy to go up to Marisa and start talking to her” says Wynbourne, explaining that although he hadn’t expected to meet someone at Date on a Plate, he went three times as he enjoyed the environment: “We were busy making food which made talking to everyone easier as it felt more ‘real’ than sitting in a bar. It’s a different way of doing it — you may not have given that person a chance had you met them in a bar.”
“I loved bashing meat with a hammer” adds Wynbourne, who says he enjoys eating more than cooking, so was there more for the company than the cookery class. “Meeting someone Jewish was important to me”.
David Kane who is 58, met his partner of five years through Phillips’s classes. “I’d been divorced for a few years but hadn’t had time to date. My secretary suggested it. It was a fun way of meeting people. The chances of meeting the love of your life are slim, but I just happened to hit the jackpot on my third visit. It’s much easier to meet someone there than in a bar or at the ‘Jew-do’s’ of my youth and the cooking makes it fun.”
He and his partner, Sally share an interest in food and still cook together. “We pore over Ottolenghi books and enjoy planning who we’re going to have over and what we’ll make for them. Food is a natural part of our relationship — we enjoy food and eating together.”
It seems food remains a good way to our hearts. Fussy eaters beware though. “The fussier you are about your food, the less likely you are to meet someone” warns Phillips. “Extreme fussy eaters are such hard work.
For more information visit: www.jewishcookery.com