- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Blushing over bouillabaisse. Shy smiles across rosemary-roasted chicken. Unlikely situations for romance, one might think, but many dating analysts say the kitchen, however unglamorous it sounds to the uninitiated, can be more romantic and certainly more wholesome than a bar or nightclub.

"Cooking is a very sensuous thing and a nurturing thing," says Joan Allen, co-author with Marc Kusinitz of "Celebrating Single and Getting Love Right: From Stalemate to Soulmate." "So I thought it would be really fun to bring single men and women together."

That's just what she does: Miss Allen teaches "Celebrating Single" cooking classes as a consultant to Whole Foods in Rockville and has given demonstrations in D.C. bookstores and at Whole Foods' Fresh Fields retail locations.

With her love for cooking and a desire to cook up love, Miss Allen has set out to create an activity "where people can learn something, and they go away with a full stomach and they meet new people and they take home their recipes that I create for the class."

No fairy-tale kitchen-to-altar stories have been told so far, but the class has brought together one couple who still are seeing each other. Several classmates have been out on dates. Two women in the class became good friends with a common goal of manhunting.

Sometimes, the oven is the only thing heating up during singles cooking classes. Still, just by "getting out there" and "there" used to refer mainly to bars and singles clubs they are increasing their chances.

"It's not 100 percent guarantee you're going to hook up," says Don Diebel, president of Gemini Publishing, a Web company that helps men meet, date and attract single women. "But I recommend it for single men to put the odds in your favor, because the cooking classes are comprised of mostly women."

Ah yes, there's always probability. On his Web site, Mr. Diebel illuminates this slightly more manipulative motivation:

"Being that you'll probably be the only man or one of very few men in the classes, the women will be vying for your attention. You can pretend that you're helpless when it comes to cooking, and the women will feel sorry for you and they will want to go out of their way to give you a helping hand. Being that you will be focusing on cooking, this is a golden opportunity to ask the single women in the class for a cooking date to try out your new recipes."

Bingo. But aren't women hip to these sneaky ways, and wouldn't they sniff out a schemer who couldn't care less about crepes?

Mr. Diebel recommends that men take a laid-back approach so as not to scare off potential mates. A friend of his had success by "just asking her for a coffee after the class. It's a good strategy I would recommend that over a date on Saturday night."

Mr. Diebel says kitchen tasks ease the pressure. "You're focused on a project: putting recipes together. And that's less stressful for the guys," he says.

For men and women who are ready for romance but want to dip in one toe at a time, the kitchen classroom is a good setting to get to know one another. Is he easily distracted when julienning the carrots? Will she impatiently skip key steps?

"What it does is, it provides a very easy conduit for people to connect and chat about something," says Cheryl Perry, owner of C. Perry Catering in Manhattan's Lower East Side. "They don't have to chat about what they do for work. They talk about the fact that their onions came out more brown."

It may be true that male and female singles take the class for different reasons: Perhaps the lady wants to learn to be a better provider for a future husband; the gentleman may be looking more, well, in the short term. In New York City, Miss Perry sees an even male-to-female ratio in her classes, but she does get the impression their motivations can vary, somewhat predictably.

"I think guys come in at the angle more of perfecting their skill they're a little bit more macho, maybe they'll be a chef, too. With women, it seems more like they're thinking about entertaining and providing comfort."

Miss Allen says foodies and kitchen klutzes alike are attracted to singles cooking classes more than ever because they are using different criteria in their mate searches.

"We're moving [away] from the 'me generation' to the 'Let me give back' generation," Miss Allen says. "Rather than in a singles bar or dance, they're looking for educational, cultural ways to meet other singles."

Miss Perry, whose recent series of Jewish singles cooking classes has been popular, is expanding her business and "getting a great response." While she is reluctant to pin the increased interest in home-based activities on any one factor, she does see an outpouring of desire for more soothing social activities. Cooking, she says, "is actually just comforting."

"Food is productive, but has this representation of a stability and home," she explains.

They may have grown tired of "the hunt" in nightclubs, where competition to look good and impress others is fierce. In a cooking class, aprons become messy and students collaborate on common projects. This lets singles act more naturally and have less to regret in the morning.

"People want to be in an environment that's positive," Miss Perry says.

The cooking-as-entertainment trend often extends into homes. Miss Allen says "networking parties" are a new trend. "You get a group of people; let's say you invite 10 women and they need to bring 10 male friends and everyone brings a dish."

Practical, money-minded types will note that this makes good sense. For the cost of a few drinks at the bar, singles get two opportunities: the chance to learn a few good, simple recipes and perhaps snag a gastronomic guy or gal pal, which is no doubt a sound investment.

There is also a metaphorical aspect. Falling in love, much like making a meal, takes preparation. People may think that means they need to be beautiful and sharply dressed or make a boatload of money, but it takes a different kind of readiness, says Miss Allen, who knows this firsthand from teaching groups of singles to cook.

She explains via a story:

She once met a stately and refined widow from Catonsville, Md. The daughter of a slave, she grew up in Ellicott City into a cultured young lady. Many years later, with her husband gone and facing the sad prospect of cooking for one, the woman made a decision. Every night without fail, she put out her lace tablecloth, her sterling silver and at least a flower or two. She even would take out her silver candlesticks and dine by firelight.

"That is how she took care of herself," Miss Allen says. Even though many of her students are just starting out or starting over in their love lives, her advice still is based on the widow's story: "They have to fall in love with themselves first."

A lot of career-focused singles "probably eat Chinese carryout over the kitchen sink every night," she says, but what they should be doing is giving themselves the kind of love they want to find out in the world. "You have to treat yourself like a VIP."

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