Earlier this week, my old Eater colleague and friend-of-the-blog, Paula Forbes, wrote an article for GQ.com called “Six Tips for Cooking Your Date a Better Dinner.” My first reaction to this was: GQ! Paula is among the best writers I’ve worked with, and it’s cool seeing Eater alumni with stuff in places like GQ. After that vicarious pride, though, it got me thinking about times I cooked for a date, and all of the different ways it went wrong. I could have used her advice seven or eight years ago.
The worst experience I had cooking for a date was when I lived in New Orleans. At some point or another, I bragged to a girl about my pizza. I make good pizza, and at 23 that was a rare thing. She was impressed. She wanted to experience this pizza. I imagine I said something like, “Totally! Let’s make pizza.” Though this was before Jason Segal introduced “totally” into my everyday speech.
The problem with making pizza on a date is that pizza dough takes forever, and it’s mostly passive. Not having Paula’s post to guide me, I was neither smart about the menu, nor did I prep like a fiend. I walked over to her apartment on St. Charles Avenue with flour, yeast, cheese, tomato sauce, and an endless supply of nerves.
I showed her how to make pizza dough: We measured, we mixed, we kneaded. Then it was time to let it rise. What, oh Lord, do we do now?
Because I was nervous and pizza takes forever and also pizza is a terrible thing to make from scratch on a date, I rushed it, not letting the dough rise nearly long enough. I gave this dough like an hour to rise, when normally I give my pizza dough at least two hour-and-a-half rises.
(This is where I’m glad that I’m surrounded by fewer food snobs than I used to be, so I’m less likely to have know-it-alls tell me my regular pizza method is wrong. This is what I’ve developed after 10 years or so of cooking pizza at home, so shove it.)
The dough was impossible to work with and the pizzas were ugly as hell. When we ate them, the crust was chewy and awful and everything was the worst. This was a bad meal, and this woman really knew good food. It was one of many embarrassing things I did in front of her over the course of our dating.
Paula’s fifth suggestion for cooking for your date is, “Let them bring something.” This date was at her house, so I guess she brought the oven. But her real contribution was that if I was going to make my favorite food, we would watch her favorite movie. So earlier that day, I went to the Blockbuster in Uptown New Orleans (remember those?) and rented Life Is Beautiful.
Remember Life Is Beautiful? It’s the 1997 comedy-drama that takes place largely in a Naza concentration camp, directed by and starring the wonderful Roberto Benigni. Benigni won the Best Actor and Best Foreign Language Film Oscars for it. It’s a really good movie. But it’s a terrible date movie.
Here’s this date in a nutshell: I sat around with a girl I didn’t know that well waiting for pizza dough to rise. I rushed the dough and made the absolute worst pizza I’ve ever had. When it was time to watch the movie, I sat down on her couch. She came over to the living room and sat as far away from me as possible and crossed her arms. Then we watched a Holocaust movie.
It was a very, very bad date.
Five years later, though, she and I got married. We never talk about that date.