When it comes to attracting a partner, the ability to chop a courgette adeptly is crucial. Well, it is at Date on a Plate anyway. This is a regular evening run by chef and cookery writer Denise Phillips for foodies who want to date, or perhaps for daters who want to cook.
The recipe is simple. Get some single guys and single girls cooking and eating together, and perhaps there will be some chemistry as well as cookery. The beauty of it is that even if you don’t meet your soul mate, you will at least learn how to stuff a mushroom.
At our session, held at Phillips’s house in Northwood, Middlesex, there were six women but only five guys — an untimely car breakdown had cost one unfortunate male his place in the kitchen. This is one of a series of organisational problems which can make this a stressful job for Phillips, who nonetheless combines the role of cookery teacher and shidduch-maker with impressive efficiency.
The formula has been honed over eight years. As each of us arrives, we are shown into the kitchen, given an apron, a glass of Champagne and a canapé and are introduced to our fellow cooks/dates.
Once everyone has arrived, we get down to the important business – chopping garlic — not something any of us have ever done in a dating context before, but it turns out to be a surprisingly good ice breaker. It also means that we are able to assess the vegetable slicing capabilities of our potential partners.
The starter is mushrooms with hazelnut gremolata. Hazelnuts have been pre-roasted and chopped so we have the simple task of mixing in our freshly chopped garlic, chopped parsley and lemon zest before spreading the mix over pre-grilled mushrooms and returning it to the grill for five minutes.
The main course is a Spanish escalope — turkey with olives, cherry tomatoes, parsley, courgettes and lemon, served with red rice — introduced by Phillips as suitable for an “express dinner party”. It is equally good for a gathering of Jewish singles who seem more interested in getting to know each other than in assembling the nuts and bolts of the dish.
Dessert is another impressive looking and (relatively easy to assemble) dish — a plum almond tart — individual squares of puff pastry baked with almond mixture and sliced plums, garnished with some toasted almonds.
With the cooking over, we are invited to wash our hands, remove our aprons and adjourn to the dining room. We have, says Phillips, been good students — by which I think she meant that we have spent less time chatting and more time cooking than previous groups, so perhaps this means that we are more interested in cooking than dating after all.
Either way, we are seated in boy/girl formation to eat the food which we have prepared. After each course, the guys are invited to circulate so that guests can chat to everyone.
It seems to work well. Most if not all of the daters have at least a passing interest in food, and there is nothing like a shared project to get the conversation going. Oh, and the meal is good too, particularly the dessert (the one I am served is much too neat to have been made by me).
At the end, everyone is given a list of email addresses so that they can make contact with each other if they so desire. Phillips feels sure that some of the participants will meet again. She said: “We have had several Date on a Plate weddings since I started the courses in 2001.” Phillips is living proof of its success — she met her own husband at a course five years ago. And with foodie culture on the rise, it could be that feed dating is indeed the new speed dating.