5 Rules to Preparing The Special Meal
Hi, I’m celebrity chef Bobby Flay. You may know me from the seven Food Network shows I host, the six other shows that I’ve appeared on, my status as an Iron Chef, my unhealthy love for chipotle, and my otherwise entirely charmed life. Did you know that I was a high school dropout at age 17, before being enrolled in (and sponsored to) the French Culinary Institute by a wealthy mentor? And that I proposed to the woman of my dreams after ice skating with her at Rockefeller Center?
Hey, but I’m sure you’re cool too… doing, you know, whatever you spend your time on. But you can understand why when, on a Sunday morning when you’re merely eating breakfast, television networks like CBS invite me onto their weekend lifestyle news shows to instruct America on cooking… and loving.
I know, right? Could my advice have been more vague? Cook for your spouse! Or order in! Whatever! As long as you’re spending time with your wealthy, talented and beautiful wife in your luxurious home, counting the zeros at the end of the cheque that CBS just cut you, then who needs actual specific advice on how to prepare a meal for their loved one?
Exactl– what? You do? Oh, for Christ’s sake. It’s not enough that I had to stand there for two and a half minutes while they showed stock photos and shots of my hot wife, now I gotta hold your friggin’ hand too?
“Oh Bobby! I lack basic skills and am unable to improvise menus off the cuff!”
“Oh Bobby! I go grocery shopping with my wife every week, and we’ve never once had a whimsical moment tasting cheese together!”
“Oh Bobby! If I order Chinese food on our anniversary again, my wife will think I’m a fuckup!”
Jesus. You people. God, you just– I gotta pulverize somethin’ before I go nuts.
Ahhh, that’s better. You smell the Ancho chili in there? Man, that’s good– what the hell do you mean, “What’s an Ancho chile?” You know, the dried up black ones, look like a Great Dane’s nutsack? For the love of sweet Jesus, come on.
All right, look. So maybe the CBS thing was a bit fluffy, but it’s for their Sunday morning show, you know? You know who watches programming like that — yeah, me neither, so cut me some slack if I mail it in every now and again.
Listen, here’s the deal: You really want to knock it out of the park when you’re putting together a special meal for your lady? You really want to know what it takes to show her that you care? I can give it to you in five simple points.
1. Make it yourself
You ever notice how when you buy a card for somebody, it hangs around on their desk or whatever for a week and then disappears? But then they’ll keep some totally insane crayon scribble on a piece of torn construction paper with the word “DAdy” on it for forty years?
Yeah, that’s the difference between buying it and making it. Unless you’ve got the juice to take her someplace incredibly memorable — in which case you don’t need advice from me — there is no substitute for nutting up and doing it yourself.
And here’s the best part: the more of a dumbass you are in the kitchen, the more this works in your favor. If you’re a boxing champ, it’s not actually that big a deal when you punch the shit out of some guy in a bar; on the other hand, it’s huge when you take the time to poach an egg and not screw it up.
It’s as simple as this: Making things is hard, and everyone appreciates having something made for them. It’s the most basic form of giving, so for Christ’s sake don’t screw it up and order dumplings because you think she’d like them more.
2. Don’t try anything new
Hey, but you know what? That doesn’t mean you need to be a friggin’ hero either. A simple meal done well is worth a whole lot more than a complicated one that came out lookin’ like you scraped it off of a wall.
Man, I can’t tell you the number of times I see people follow go down the same path…
- “Oh wow, it’s a big day, I gotta do something really special!”
- “I know, I’ll bust out the whatever-doo-dad I got for Christmas that does crepes!”
- “I’ve never done crepes before, are they supposed to look like this?”
- “Good news honey, I ordered Chinese. Let’s watch a movie under the blankets, and– aw shoot, don’t cry.”
Even if you haven’t cooked much, there are a few things you know how to do well — grilling, frying, even friggin’ sandwiches. There’s always a new twist on stuff you know how to do already, you just have to look hard enough to find it. Getting better at something is a lot easier than learning something new… save that for a day when it isn’t important.
3. Prepare ahead of time
And by this I don’t just mean make your salad dressing early. I mean the whole deal.
Look, go back up to that video. You hear that story about my wife and my first date? Take a good look at my mug; take a good look at her. You think I didn’t know what it was going to take to make that evening go well? You think a little forethought didn’t factor into that?
Your romantic dinner together starts the minute you think of it. You help her prepare for what you’re gonna do, you let her know what’s coming, and you let her know how good it’s going to be.
Good dishes are about building flavors that complement and contrast each other. Good dinners are about the same thing exactly, but building up anticipation and comfort in equal proportions. Give your loved one the suspense of trying the great meal you’re about to serve her, with the certainty that you aren’t in there trying to figure out how to make her egg yolk martinis.
You want to surprise her? Do it with how good your meal is, or with your attention to detail, or with what kind of flowers you give her. But setting the stage can be just as much fun as the meal itself, and make the payoff that much more worth it.
4. Cooking together is bullshit
Good preparation is, by the way, a great way to avoid having to cook with anyone else. Do you love your wife or girlfriend? Do you want to continue living with them, happily? Then listen right now and don’t ever, ever cook with them.
Yeah, yeah, it’s all about spending time together and whatever. But if you have your shit together then you won’t be spending the whole time in the kitchen anyway. And guess what, yeah, a crappy meal will be a story to last a lifetime — because she will never forgive you for screwing up your sixth anniversary. She will laugh about it forever, but never without looking you with an expression that says, “I only got one sixth anniversary and you ruined it by arguing with me about Gorgonzola.”
Kitchens are like any other place where a lot of things happen all at the same time: someone has to be in charge, and someone has to take orders. That’s how you keep it all together, and that’s how you get complicated stuff done. And if you’re not usually in charge of your kitchen? Oh God, just forget it. Nothing pours cold water on the night like telling your wife to leave you the hell alone and just let you do things your way, and that’s where it’ll end up, believe me.
Remember what I said about giving. You can’t give something you’ve made unless you did it on your own.
It’s as simple as that. Whatever you put together is just food on a plate unless you remember why you’re doing it.
You cook to serve. You put your energy and your effort into flavors that taste great, colors that catch the eye, smells that whet the appetite. Why? Because it matters to you that when that plate goes down in front of someone, they go, “Wow.”
If you keep that thought in the front of your mind, everything else is gonna turn out just fine. It isn’t about you, it isn’t about how good or bad you are in the kitchen, it’s just about doing something great for someone you care about.
Remember, I’m livin’ proof. Look at her! Look at me! Look at the crap CBS lets me put on the air. Good cooking, done well with the right frame of mind, can work Hot Actress Wife wonders.
Now for God’s sake stand up for yourself and go do it.