Why Every Third Date Should Be a Cooking Date

After years of awkward, uncomfortable, and occasionally laughable Bumble and Hinge dates, I had developed a three date system. First date: coffee, a low stakes, casual get to you know in a public place. If we survived an hour of chit chat over cappuccinos, then we moved to a dinner date at a local spot, but nothing too fancy. To move to the all- important cooking date, the guy and I had to moderately like each other, and there had to be no conspicuous red flags. One of the worst second date red flags was the guy who negged me all evening, insisted on walking me to my car, and attempted to initiate an unwanted make out session, all of which resulted in me lightly- I emphasize lightly- hitting him with my car door to escape.

For the third date, I would invite the guy over to my apartment and we would cook something together. Beforehand, I’d send him a few recipes that I loved to make, and then run with the one he liked best. The recipes I chose also always served to impress him a bit, of course. We’d make homemade gnocchi, lamb meatballs, pesto, or baked ziti- anything that would communicate that I knew my way around the kitchen.

However, the cooking date was always about more than just the food. It allowed us to engage in conversation in a more relaxed environment and if the conversation stalled, we always had something to talk about. It also enabled me to see how he responded to me attempting to teach him something. How would a guy react if I, in the most polite and nice way possible, told him what to do? If a guy was not okay with me taking the lead in the kitchen, an area in which I excelled, it gave me pause. Once, when baking salted chocolate chip cookies with an engineer, he questioned every move I made. “Why are you using that sugar- why not the brown sugar? I like cookies with milk chocolate better than dark chocolate- why can’t we do that instead?” He evenly blatantly ignored the instructions- refusing to let the cookie dough chill in the fridge- which unsurprisingly, resulted in a sheet tray of cookies that blended together into one massive, undercooked, slab of dough.

Cooking was something I was deeply passionate about; I had learned how to cook from my mother and it was something I took great comfort and pride in. How would a guy respond when I shared something I loved with him? Would he engage with me about it and reciprocate with his interests- or act distant and indifferent? And, after all, since it was a date, cooking was also a way to engage in casual physical touch, whether it was resting my hand on his shoulder while he stirred a sauce or touching his arm when I passed by him in my tiny kitchen. I have made and shared a variety of cuisines- Indian, French, Italian- with men, but making a mushroom pasta dish with a man named MJ was the best cooking date of them all.

MJ and I had been seeing each other for two weeks and it was time for the make it or break it date. It began with a bit of a misstep: we planned to go the farmer’s market to get some ingredients for our meal. We walked half an hour there with my dog, only to realize we forgot face masks, which the market required for entrance. After another hour of walking, we returned with masks and bought tomatoes and some fresh morel mushrooms. On our walk back to my house, I researched what recipes we could make with our vegetal bounty. This was not my usual M.O.; I always had the plan and ingredients beforehand- but MJ wanted to let the market decide for us; I liked his spontaneity. I found a mushroom and prosciutto dish on Bon Appetit’s site, and we agreed on that, plus caprese salad with the tomatoes. After waiting outside an Aldi, in the blazing sun for another half hour, we had gotten all the necessary ingredients. He had come over at ten, it was now 12:30, and we hadn’t even cooked yet.

Even though I knew I was starving, I did not seem to mind. MJ was charmingly enthusiastic about getting the ingredients; he was so patient and never complained about the delays. Coming from an Italian family, caprese was always a go- to appetizer for me. I suggested it, only to find out that MJ had no idea what it was. After remembering that not everyone was as obsessed with Italian cuisine as I was, I explained it to him. I appreciated how decisive and affirmative he was: he only had to hear the words tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil, and he was on board!

The cooking started with me, as it usually did, geeking out over something in my kitchen: this time, it was my newly acquired Dutch oven, our vessel for making the pasta. He let me nerd out as I listed all the different things I planned to make in it: pasta, bread, braises, stews, fried chicken, oh my! MJ never hesitated to do what I exactly needed him to do in the kitchen, from chopping to stirring to measuring. He also excelled at one very important task for Italian cooking: being the parm b#tch. My family lovingly refers to this as the person whose primary job in the kitchen is to grate mounds and mounds of fresh parmesan cheese. The meal itself was fantastic: linguine with herbs, crisped mushrooms, fried prosciutto, and a light cream sauce. I felt like I had done my job in trying to impress him; my not so subtle message always was: continue to date me, and you’ll get more great food like this.

The best moment from the entire day did not involve cooking at all, however. While we were waiting for the pasta to boil, MJ pulled the most unique “move” I’ve experienced on a date. He brought up the seminal classic film, Ratatouille, asking if I’ve seen it. Wondering where the heck he was going with this, I affirmed that I have; then, he whipped out his phone, put on some French song that he said was from the movie, and started to “waltz” with me, in the middle of the kitchen. It was a very loose interpretation of the word waltz. Looking back on it now, I find it charming and sweet, but at the moment, my skin crawled. Coordination and dancing are low on my list of skills and I was concentrating all of my energy on avoiding stepping on his feet. Even though I felt awkward and kept asking myself when the song would end, I was also glad. I had been wondering if MJ really was that interested in me or not and I felt so relieved that he was giving me as obvious a signal as possible. The whole three minutes of that French song I thought that this would be when he kisses me for the first time. While that had to wait another thirty minutes and me to initiate it, this dance was our first intimate moment. And to think it was all brought on by the prospect of eating a dish of mushroom pasta.

MJ and I are still together, and have cooked many meals together since this one. He has many roles in the kitchen now, but first and foremost, he’s always the parm b#tch. I relate all this to advocate for the cooking date. Even if you are not a great cook, go for it. Everyone has at least one dish they love and know how to make well. Doing this type of date broke the tension and awkwardness that can come early on in dating, showed me a lot about his personality, and let me show him some of mine. And best of all, even if the guy or girl doesn’t end up being the one, you’ll probably get a tasty meal and some good leftovers out of it.

Historian, writer, and enthusiastic home-cook