So, also, intimate eating is a cuisine of less. While there are many reasons for a general concern about overeating, There is a satisfying closeness that comes from occasionally shared bouts of gluttony.
These days, when the twin subjects of intimacy and food are paired, our imagination immediately conjures a romantic occasion: filet, lobster, dim lighting, champagne. Now these highly planned evenings are often overloaded with expectations that as often as not result in the opposite effect than the one that was planned. We have all, at one time or another been down that road.
The intimate eating that I have in mind flows from our desire to capture the special closeness such meals provide and bring it into the unromantic eating of the every day.
To accomplish this sense of needful privacy, intimate food must work in a very different way from the old-fashioned supper, which even when painfully modernized, works best when it is in form, if not content almost identical to what the folks next door are eating. Intimate food strives for another effect altogether. Relaxed, uncomplicated and personal, it provides an oasis from our public selves and the pressures of outside demands by pushing the public world away. Mood matched to mood, candles are lit and curtains drawn, this time before not after the meal.
Because of its very personal qualities, intimate food may seems at first to share something of the unkempt carelessness of the solitary diner. A whole meal might be made of just appetizers, the meat served on, not with, a salad, the dessert eaten first. But in fact, there is a style to this type of eating that springs directly from the claims of intimacy, twisting convention into off-centered patterns that mark them as our very own.
First, this is a cuisine of accommodation. Often, both partners work and neither wants to put the other to the task of an elaborate nightly meal. Supper must come together simply and easily out of what is at hand and by whoever has the chore or gets home first. And since our days no follow eccentric rhythms, accommodation also means bending to meet the appetite that has had no lunch, waiting for a suppertime that is suddenly delayed, or hurrying when the eaters must rush out directly after. Pasta for instance, has become a mainstay of this kind of cooking because it can be so fresh, so quick, so adaptable to all these things.
Next, I think, it is a cuisine of spontaneity. Not that every meal must be impromptu, but there is always the sense that it springs, like good conversation, from real attention and not a stock response. Politeness now demands, not graciousness but mutual understanding, and supper has become a place where this is most pleasurably displayed. The golden pineapple on the fruit stand, the impulsive splurge on the first asparagus of the season, the sudden mutual craving for ribs, intimate eating presupposes on both sides a willingness to meet a mood and join in, something that can’t be done unless little risks are taken, desires voiced, contact made.
This, by the way, is also why one of the first reactions to this kind of eating is a feeling of vulnerability: we are too used, every one of us, to this idea of supper as something that is served to us, from which we take our pleasure as we want, even to the point where one or the other must play the servant, at least before sitting down. But in intimate eating, it is not the stomach who is king, and especially not any particular stomach.
So, also, intimate eating is a cuisine of less. While there are many reasons for a general concern about overeating, in this instance it springs particularly from intimacy’s need to share. And while no one can deny the satisfying closeness that comes from occasionally shared bouts of gluttony, in the long term it becomes a sort of mutual bribery, a substitute for something else.
Here, instead, selectivity has replaced surfeit as the accepted form of pampering: a few succulent slices of Parma ham for the slab of roast pork; the lustrous single chocolate truffle for the hot fudge sundae. Less on the table means the more we need or should- offer the other in the pleasures of ourselves.