I had always believed that it would be easy to seduce a man with my cooking. My childhood role model was Zeralda, the heroine of a picture book by Tomi Ungerer, who saves a town from the menaces of an ogre by showing him that there are more delicious things to eat than children. From the age of seven I gazed at pictures of Zeralda devising recipes in her father’s kitchen, roasting suckling pigs, or icing a cake in a kitchen hung with hare and pheasants, and I longed to be like her. Especially because in the end she marries the ogre, who shaves his shaggy beard to reveal a handsome face, and they live happily ever after.
My own attempts to win men over with my cooking have been disastrous. It all began, I think, with the anorexic boyfriend at university. He was strikingly beautiful and great company but he had an uneasy relationship with food. He treated it like something dangerous, which he had to counter with long hours in the gym. Young and ignorant, I didn’t understand at the time why our dinners together always reminded me of those of Jack Sprat and his wife.
Later, while working in London, I cooked for another man I was beginning to like very much: a roast chicken, anointed with lemon juice and fine olive oil, sprinkled with herbs. It was one of the best roast fowl I’d ever cooked. But he, too, was neurotic about his weight, so he peeled off the crisp, golden skin, the most exquisite part of the bird, and left it at the side of his plate, where it slowly congealed. I think my feelings for him dimmed from that moment on.