The zip of a serrated knife cutting through a big crusty loaf of bread ... the thwap, thwap, thwap of a knife on a wooden cutting board slicing celery and onion and garlic. The smells wafting through the kitchen, the heat of the burners. It’s a hypnotizing process. The repetition and progression of the whole cooking process soothed my aching heart and calmed my nerves. Sweating the vegetables in a pan, knowing exactly how each one would react to heat, the familiarity of crispy bread in the oven ... that smell that reminds you of childhood. That nutty caramelized smell. I felt like a jazz musician. I felt like Jack Kerouac. I felt confident and finally proud of myself rather than down on myself.
Then we ate. The pure pleasure and happiness was reflected on the faces of my friends as they ate the food I’d made. My spirits lifted more. That single moment on earth was a priceless and indescribable feeling.
So I guess you could say I cooked my way out of my rabbit hole. Don’t get me wrong—I take a dip back in every now and again, but I’m no longer living with a noose around my neck. I have my knife to thank for that. And my apron. My sautee pan. My oven. And the skills I’ve learned over the past 13 years of earning a living over a hot stove. I got a new gig I’m very happy with. I’m even flirting with a new female. (Body heat is a hell of a craving). And so is the craving to cook, create and enjoy good food. Cook like your heart is broken.
Oysters, chocolate, tiger penis: Will eating these things really make you more viril? We investigate.
By Michael Alan Goldberg
In Peru, it’s customary for a man who wants to boost his sex drive to stick a particular Lake Titicaca frog—so wrinkly it looks like a scrotum—whole into a blender along with some hard liquor, whiz it up, and then gulp down this “Peruvian Viagra.” Throughout Southeast Asia, people swear by tiger penis or monkey penis soup, to the tune of several hundred U.S. dollars a bowl, to jumpstart their libido. Around these parts, you can get roughly the same effect with a 12-pack of Natty Ice.
None of these things will be on the menu at City Food Tour’s fourth annual Valentine’s Aphrodisiac Dinner happening for the second year in a row this weekend at Café Estelle. But owner/chef Marshall Green, in conjunction with the CFT folks, is putting together a three-course meal designed to get you hungry for a roll between the sheets by incorporating more than 15 so-called “culinary aphrodisiacs.”
CFT co-owner Eric Matzke, who’s hosting the event with business partner Robert Weinberg, has boned up on his aphrodisiac knowledge over the past few years. Turns out that despite the mythology surrounding the libidinous effects of oysters, chocolate and other foods, there is some historical validity to the power of aphrodisiacs. As Matzke explains, when the ancient Greeks and Romans had trouble making babies, they’d go to the local “sexpert” who recommended they eat all types of fish—the ocean was the most fertile place they knew—as well as foods from which life springs (eggs, seeds, nuts, bulbs like garlic), or food that resembled sexual organs, such as asparagus and oysters.
“Their diet was terrible,” says Matzke, “and if you’re not getting the nutrients you need, the first thing that gets cut is libido and child production. But these foods that they were being prescribed, it upped peoples’ protein and healthy fats and all these vitamins and minerals that they weren’t getting in other ways. All of a sudden you’re healthier, so the libido starts coming back and bearing children is no problem.”
So what about the claims that crop up from time to time that certain chemicals in foods—such as the theobroma in chocolate, which is said to trigger endorphins—can actually increase sexual desire? “The chocolate thing really is true,” says Matzke. “And asparagus has a lot of vitamin E and folic acid—both are great for sperm production. But the thing is, to see a spike to a really significant level that would impact sperm production, or make you feel so crazy happy that you feel like having sex, you’d have to eat 25 percent of your body weight of those things.” Frankly, the only thing you’d want to do after eating that much asparagus is die, not get busy in the sack.
Jenkintown sex therapist Patricia Rich says she hasn’t seen any studies that make a truly compelling scientific case for any particular food’s aphrodisiac effects. But since the brain is the biggest sex organ, she says it could be all in the mind and that’s OK. “If someone eats a plate of goat testicles, maybe they really will feel virile. If a food stimulates your belief and gives you some fortitude you didn’t have before, then it worked, didn’t it?”
As Rich explains, one of the precursors to sex is relaxing and becoming more aware of all of your senses. “Enjoying a sensual meal together with some of these so-called aphrodisiacs would be terrific foreplay. Certain foods obviously bear resemblance to sexual organs or possibly even secretions. There’s texture and temperature—some foods have a creamy mouth feel, and spicy food can create physical responses like sweating or your heart racing that’s akin to a state of arousal, so it connects you to your sexuality.”
Matzke says that Chef Green has taken all of that into account to create his own sensual meal. The first course is an arugula salad with pomegranate, avocado and passion fruit (“You’ve got pomegranate seeds bursting in your mouth, the velvety avocado, the spicy arugula which is firm, not limp…,” says Matzke).
The second course, which Green will be demonstrating for those on hand, is linguini and shrimp with asparagus in a saffron-garlic-cream sauce (saffron being an aphrodisiac because it’s so expensive, and what’s hotter than someone spending lots of money on you?). And the dessert is a vanilla panna cotta with blood orange sorbet and assorted fruits—creamy and decadent, with more of those alluringly expensive ingredients.
Aside from the lack of wrinkly frogs and monkey penises, fried foods are conspicuously absent from the menu, and the list of aphrodisiacs in general. “Anything that’s heavy and greasy with lots of trans fats and tons of carbs is going to make you feel sluggish and gross,” says Matzke. “Those things are not going to get you in the mood. Most of the aphrodisiacs we’re using are healthy foods, and when you start incorporating more of these foods into your diet you drop a few pounds, you get healthier, you feel good about yourself, maybe you start dressing slutty, and you’ve got more energy and more confidence. What’s hotter than that?”
By Brian Freedman
When it comes to Valentine’s Day drinking, the classics are often the way to go, especially when you’re trying to set the mood. So while baroque cocktail recipes and the latest wine producer to be name-checked on Entourage may work for the other 364 days of the year, getting back to basics is typically your best bet on Feb. 14. But that doesn’t mean hitting up the state store for the same suspect bottle you saw last week on the Chairman’s Selection display; instead, branch out and try something from the list below.
Few drinks possess greater aphrodisiac qualities than Port. And no matter which style you buy—a deeply cherry-fruited Port like the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve, a caramel-tinged tawny like the Warre’s Otima, dense and wine-like vintage Port—they’ll all work well with that other Valentine’s Day standard: Chocolate.
On Sunday, we showed up to Adsum after brunch unannounced to take some photos of Chef Matt Levin, who had participated in a survey we'd done in our Food & Drink Issue. He happily obliged. But then we lost his answers. Here they are.