Can a man who has only “an unwrapped block of cheddar cheese, mustard and a bottle of Moët & Chandon Champagne” in his refrigerator find happiness with an epicure? Apparently, so.
In mid-September of 2002, New Yorker writer Tad Friend married New York Times food columnist Amanda Hesser. While their union might be a match made in journalistic heaven, gastronomically speaking they are from Mars and Venus.
Hesser wrote about their relationship in a series of columns that ran during 2001 and 2002 in The New York Times Magazine called “Food Diary: Confessions of a Woman Who Loves Food Too Much.” The diary began with their first date and ends with their wedding feast. The diary entries have been repackaged in book form as Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes.
Hesser and Friend met on a blind date arranged by mutual friends. They had dinner at a neighborhood bar where her trained palate endured beer and generic food. She considered him charming, albeit in need of “food reform,” particularly after he ordered an after-dinner latte. As they began to see each other on a regular basis, Hesser begins to contemplate the first time she will cook for Mr. Latte.
“First meals are intimate . . . It’s an entry into the way you think, what you’ve seen and know, the way you treat others, how you perceive pleasure. Dinner guests can see by how you compose a dinner if you are an ungenerous hothead or a nurturer, stingy or clever, fussy or stylish.”
Although Hesser lowered her expectations for her first supper Chez Latte, he proved he’s no slouch in the kitchen, either. For his first meal, he served up a chicken roasted with sour cream, lemon juice and mango chutney and a promise to cook for her again - the following year.
By the end of the book, he hasn’t been reformed, but he is making culinary comments in their wedding ceremony: “I love your passionate conviction that each day is incomplete without a bowl of ice cream. I love how you’ve taught me that greasy Vietnamese takeout is not! not! not! a meal and that talking late into the evening, over a glass of red wine, are among the most satisfying of life’s pleasures . . . ”
Cooking for Mr. Latte is about food and how we relate to it. It explores group and personal culinary traditions and the lack thereof. Cooking for Mr. Latte is also about food compromises, experimentation, appreciation of others’ rituals and ultimately eating what one enjoys. The book is chatty and is seasoned with dropped names of people, restaurants, dishes and ingredients. Within the narrative, food metaphors abound. “The moon hung like a giant orange yolk just above the horizon.” We get to meet the Foodies - those who write about food and who eat and cook for a living - up close and personal. The book’s world view food is strongly Eurocentric and reflects, in part, the author’s training at La Varenne culinary school in Villecien, France.
Those looking for a literary road map to the way to a man’s heart through his stomach will be sorely disappointed. Hesser’s moveable feast is more about her relationship with food than with Mr. Latte. Besides, he doesn’t seem overly affected by the range of Hesser’s premarital cooking and liked her despite her admitted food snobbery.
The strength of Cooking for Mr. Latte is as an extended cook book. It will also appeal to those who enjoyed last year’s Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes from a Marriage by the Wall Street Journal wine married (to each other) columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. I collected some preparation tips and a few interesting recipes. As a result, Cooking for Mr. Latte has a spot on my keeper shelf - in the kitchen.