A quick search on Google produced this brilliant result : “20 Irresistibly Sexy Men Who are Raising The Heat in Kitchen!”. The article has some stand out sub headings and is full of scantily clad men rapturously holding cooking utensils. Some standout examples include: “He’s mastered the erotic outfit: it’s all aprons and oven gloves”, Channing Tatum cooking eggs is accompanied by “I’ll have my eggs…fertilised” and a man in Calvin Klein’s baking is called “Is he baking? Cause those buns are looking good”. This article situates highly masculine men, think ripped bodies and chiselled features in an environment that they do not belong in. The intense focus on their physicality, the use of tools and the apparent capability all lend itself to a highly sexualized and eroticized portrayal of these men.
Here, is another article that sees men that cook as sexy. One of the reasons listed is: “Cooking is Hot”. Underneath this brilliant contention is the reasoning behind it: “Women love to watch a man cooking. That’s right, watch!”. This situates females as observers, or to be more precise, voyeurs. As a result, it reduces cooking to an act of exhibitionism. Here, cooking is a performative act that has to be undertaken by men in the dating game.
Modern society has adopted and normalised an interesting expectation for White Boys in their courting of female mates. Firstly, cooking has become a prerequisite for the start of a relationship (be it casual, temporary or serious). It is the foreplay for today’s Tinder fuelled society. Secondly, it has become performative. Therefore, it is made to create a false and misleading impression that just might be short lived. This is an expectation created and fuelled by current social expectations.
Sri Lankan food is packed full of flavour and texture. For my daily meals, I usually cook and freeze some rice, a dahl curry, a spicy fish curry, stir fried potatoes, beetroot pickle and a gotukola sambol. This is a basic meal. A standout White boy fare usually consists of a steak, roast potatoes, steamed vegetables and (if he has a penchant for flavour) some store bought gravy. White boys usually cook really bland food. To be honest, it’s a chore to munch through them. A meal brings me to the present and shifts my focus to the food in front of me. When White boys cook, I am usually anxious about me, their feelings and my inability to finish my meal. It’s all in all a very intense experience.
If you look at a meal, you usually see and taste the finished final product. Yes, there are some White Boys that have been taught to cook by the brilliant woman in their lives but there are many that have learned by imitating celebrity chefs, cookbooks, their “oh-so-cultured” travels or my personal favourite, culinary appropriation. This is an act that ensures that certain elements are cherry picked and retained, and others are as mindlessly discarded. The ability to cook is manufactured and impersonal. For me and the woman in my family, food is a marker of intergenerational connection. It is a tangible element because it can be seen, smelt and mostly importantly held. Components of history have been retained and distilled through food. I learned to cook from my mother. She learned to cook from her mother. My grandmother learned to cook from her mother. The food that is cooked daily is a marker of a linear history passed from hand-to-hand. My grandmother’s mother might have been dead for years but my grandmother continues to replicate the skills and techniques her mother practiced. The food I cook is a replication of the practices that the women in my family adopted to feed and raise their families. Food has the ability to reverberate deeply on a personal level – think about the comfort you feel once you have your grandmother’s food. Consequently, home cooked food on a date feels like a superficial rendition of this.
Food can also be a marker for a larger, more politicised history. Indeed, many Sri Lankan dishes have a colonial backstory to tell. The balance of European flavours and Sri Lankan spices are really interesting. One excellent example is the Sri Lankan lamprais. This is a delicious dish that highlights Sri Lanka’s colonisation by the Dutch from 1640 until 1796. The term is extracted from the Dutch term “lomprijst” – this translates into packet of food. The dish usually consists of rice, a three meat curry, eggplant dish, seeni sambol, belacan, meatballs and a deep fried egg. This is then placed in a banana leaf and steamed together. The end result is a sensory delight. Another example is the famous love cake that is commonly eaten during the festive season. This signals colonisation by the Portuguese through the addition of the pumpkin preserve or “puhul dosi”. Other ingredients such as nutmeg, clove, cardamom and cinnamon are distinctly Sri Lankan. To be fair, I am interested in hearing about the cultural backstories and intricacies behind mash potatoes, cuts of steak and store bought veggies. I really am.
Current heterosexual, hetero-normative relationships consist of 2 people distancing themselves from larger society to create a separatist mini-society of “us”. Though this is not applicable to everyone, this is usually the case. In my culture, food is used as a vehicle to feel connected to larger society and it is usually consumed during social gatherings and religious festivals. Upon first glance, the people I am seated next to have no visible similarity to me. Nonetheless, as the food is consumed the conversations shift from the extravagance before us to the minute similarities that bind our human existence together. The Atlantic published an article about emotionally complex societies. Emotionally complex societies feel emotions simultaneously. Meaning there is a focus on the “social context and the emotions of other people in the group, and seeing one’s emotions as originating through interactions with other people in one’s environment”. On the contrary, emotionally simple societies have isolated persons that experience emotions alone and make decisions for the benefit of themselves. I am much more interested in being part of a complex, intricately laced emotional tapestry rather than belong to a singular piece of easily tearable thread.
I love cooking. This is not because I am a girl and I have been taught to cook but because it brings me so much pleasure. As a person, I am very cerebral. Cooking is a physical and sensory act that creates a very special kind of immersion. Like reading, it dissolves time and shifts your focus to another dimension. Cooking brings a deep sense of personal satisfaction. Place this against a boy’s eager-to-please ego. I remember the time my first boyfriend cooked for me. Our relationship had started and so had the process of learning about each other. I met him at his house and the entire kitchen smelt of garlic. I made myself comfortable as he began cooking the pasta. He then drained the pasta and organised a plate for me and piled a big spoonful of sauce right on to it. I eagerly bit into the pasta – the result: no salt, no pepper, too much acidity and an overload of garlic. I had given up any expectation of chilli. He looked at me expectantly and I forced a smile and squeaked a “really good”. Suffice to say, our “relationship” did not last. The kitchen, for me, is a place of creation and creativity. I am not ready to relinquish the immersion and pleasure I gain from it to stroke some boy’s eager-to-please ego. I am far more interested in the solitary pleasure of cooking for myself – a tried and true ego-less affair.
About the author: Devana Senanayake is a Sri Lankan content specialist and multimedia journalist. She focuses on feminism, immigration, race, colonisation and marginalisation. She is interested in the celebration of diverse voices, experiences and projects run by people of colour.
*Artwork courtesy of the incredibly talented Lexi Bella: https://www.lexibella.com/about.html