Bret Bannon cooks dinner almost every night of the week, even if he’s just cooking for one.
When he’s sitting in traffic after his work day, he doesn’t get vexed by the traffic jam or the gold sedan that nearly rear ended him because the driver was clearly texting. Instead, he’s fantasizing about dinner, recalling what he has in the refrigerator, and calculating what he’ll have to grab from the grocery store.
When he was at the farmer’s market over the weekend he bought sweet corn because it is finally, gloriously coming into season. The last time he roasted a chicken, he roasted two, because if you’re going to roast one, why not roast two? So now all he needs is some crab and a few herbs and seasonings to make an incredible chowder. That’s what it will be tonight. Crab, chicken, and sweet corn chowder. How nice.
Why let the trivialities of the world like traffic jams get to you when you can dream of chowder and then in a couple of hours make it into reality?
And yet, for the first time in U.S. History, Americans spent more money in restaurants this past year than in grocery stores. Somehow in the last half century, home cooking went from being a necessity to an option.
Lots of things contributed to the shift. The industrial revolution made convenience foods the norm, there was the advent of the two-income household, an extreme proliferation of every kind of restaurant including fast-casual, grab-and-go “groceraunts,” and even delivery apps that will have food in your lap in fewer than 30 minutes from tummy rumble to first bite.
We all know that cooking is probably healthier, cheaper, and ultimately more satisfying than the alternatives. But so what? So are a lot of things. The question is: Will the obsession with our own home kitchens ever have the place in the American collective consciousness that the latest chef’s does? Will home cooking ever be sexy again?
Interestingly, when I made this inquiry, most people’s responses were that cooking never stopped being sexy. Cooking is very sexy, said my merry band of Facebook followers, most of whom are skewed towards cooking anyway. So, if it’s so sexy, why aren’t we doing more of it?
Maybe the same reason we aren't having more sex. We’re tired, we’re in a hurry, we gotta work.
When I ask friends what the biggest impediments are to their cooking at home more regularly, time constraints and uncooperative or picky kids get cited the most. Standoffs at the table and harried races to the finish line: definitely not sexy.
For Bannon, a self-professed Francophile, the French way of cooking and dining makes the whole experience a lot more desirable.
“Kids are expected to get involved. They’re expected to serve. They’re expected to converse. They’re not upstairs in the bedroom playing Pokeman. They’re at the table.”
When Bannon suggests that even the cleanup after a meal can be a time of quiet contemplation for him, another friend with a small child responds: “That sounds lovely... You must not have little kids at your feet needing to have a bath, brush teeth, read books, etc., etc.”
If Bannon were to tell her to get the kids involved, French-style, she might say: Easier said than done. But then, if we don’t get them involved, will we simply be raising up another generation of non-cooks?
There is no road map here. Every person’s reason for not cooking is personal and individualized. But I do think the food media is at least in part to blame for the slow demise of home cooking. Chefs and professional cooks get put up on a pedestal in their crisp white coats and arsenals of blades with Japanese etchings.
“Hey!” We laypeople cry. “I haven’t got any Japanese etchings! Surely I can’t do that.”
Bannon says he gets called things like “Mr. Fancy Pants” far more often than he would like, because he attempts to prepare rabbit terrine, duck rillete, and ground cherry custard tart in his home kitchen. He does these things because he loves it and it is his passion. But there is an unfortunate aftereffect for him. People are reluctant to invite him into their own home for a meal. They’re intimidated and afraid he will judge their efforts.
“But I’m not coming to see their cooking,” he says. “I’m coming to see them. I don’t care if they fix me a brat.”
The pressure to be perfect is a sad aftershock of food media and food-as-competition TV shows. Now, cooking isn’t about sustenance and sharing. It’s about who can do it best, fastest, most efficiently with the most conscientious ingredients.
Tod Brilliant lives in “foodie” Sonoma County, California, where, he says, “Every forkful is scrutinized.”
“Dinner parties seem a huge endeavor where food snobs will judge mercilessly the source and type of food. If we could relax our gluttony and make it more about the evening and less about the dinner I think it would be much more appealing.”
So how about you, readers? Is home cooking sexy? What will it take to tip the balance back from restaurants to the home? Or, are we destined to be a culture of food consumers instead of food creators?
“I think there needs to be more talk about the joy of cooking, the joy of sharing what someone has created," says Bannon. "There's great satisfaction in sharing part of yourself. You become vulnerable. You open yourself which to me is very sexy. Giving of yourself is sexy.”
So, you want more sex appeal? Leave that Dolce & Gabbana cologne on the shelf and pick up that rusty-ass kitchen knife. Or fire up the grill for a few brats. Brats are sexy.