“You taste like truffles,” he told me, when he came up for air after kissing me. We were standing on the end of a pier in Seattle, golden light bouncing off the grey water, at sunset.
We had been at a wine tasting, on a rooftop deck overlooking Puget Sound. The first sunny Seattle day, and tables of free wine. We meandered through the afternoon, slowly, laughing and talking. And after an hour and a half, just after telling me how much he loved reading this website, he leaned over and kissed me. We ran across the street, holding hands, skipping in the sunlight, suddenly children together, happy and laughing. At Union, we ate perfectly sauteed branzino, some gorgeous soft cheese with fig marmalade, and dishes of fabulous food I just don’t remember. I don’t remember because he kept leaning in for kisses, playful and affectionate, at the table, with his hand on my leg. I don’t remember the food.
We walked down to one of the piers, with that golden light bouncing off the water, and kissed and kissed and giggled. We looked each other right in the eyes. We were so comfortable with each other that it felt as though we had known each other much longer. We talked, a lot, about nothing much at all. And at one point, he reached out his hands, and pulled me into him, and started dancing with me. No music. Just dancing. I was happy to let him lead.
We walked up the Harbor Steps, holding hands, in the moonlight, kissing at every new level. He walked me to my bus, and he held me. He didn’t hug me. He held me. And he said, once again, breathlessly, “You taste like truffles.” “But I haven’t eaten any truffles,” I said. “I never have.”
“Oh, we’ll have to take care of that,” he told me. We both grinned. Somehow, we both knew. We were in this, together, for a long time to come.
Those of you who are regular readers may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much at all this spring. Well, there’s a reason why. Certainly, the end of school precludes writing here often. The Food Network shoot took up energy, gladly. And as I revealed in my last post, I now have a literary agent, and I’ve been working on the revision of my book proposal, in preparation for a possible book deal. However, as joyful and exciting as those realities have been, they have not kept me from this site. There’s really only one reason, one stunning, too-amazing-to-be-true-but-it-is reason that I have not been filling the pages of this website.
This has been the most spectacular year of my life. After being diagnosed with celiac disease last spring, and finally cutting gluten out of my life, I have never been healthier. This website has brought me consistent joy, a new world of food, and a plethora of incredible friends. There have been material gifts and honors. And finally, my lifelong dream — to be a working writer, creating books and seeing them published. How could I ask for anything more than what I have been given?
But, in one of those rare twists of fate that yields only happiness, I have been given more. This spring, the most spectacular gift of all: the Chef.
We met, improbably, online. Even though I wrote on Valentine’s Day that I didn’t really need a boyfriend, I realized I was just trying to convince myself. Everyone needs someone. I’ve had my share of relationships, each of them teaching me something essential, but not one of them stuck. For whatever reason, I had not met a single man who seemed like my match, someone with whom I could dance and cook and laugh, and envision myself doing it for the rest of my life. Over the past few years, I have tried online dating a couple of times. In this strange, internet world, who has not? But each time, it turned out to be a disappointment. After the last time I tried it— and a retinue of horrifyingly funny stories — I swore I would never do that again.
Several friends of mine are now in loving, committed relationships with men they met online. When I visited New York in February, those friends urged me to try again. So, I surrendered. I put up a profile on the most popular online dating site, with the following headline: “I’ll make roast chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and flourless chocolate torte. You do the dishes. We’ll dance in the kitchen.” To my surprise, I was flooded with responses. Write about food, and the men come calling. But the problem was, they all turned out to be disappointments. There were cups of coffee and glasses of wine with men who didn’t know how to laugh, or who weren’t really alive or interested in food, or men who seemed interested but turned out to be confused. It felt the same as before: strange and untenable. One man even wrote to me, after a volley of interesting emails, upon finding out that I cannot eat gluten: “I’m sorry. You seem great, but I really love bread, and I just can’t imagine dating someone who cannot eat wheat.” Oh god. After six weeks of trying this— and signing with my agent — I decided to devote my energies to my writing. Who needed this? I gave up. I vowed to never look again. I quit.
When I told the dating site to not renew my subscription, thank you, they informed me I still had five grace days left. Who cares? I thought. They’re all going to be the same. I vowed to not even look at the emails piling up in that account. But, curiosity grabbed me, the day before my subscription ran out. I flicked through all the people who had sent out requests, and even felt a small tug of self-satisfaction that I had made the right choice. No, no, no, no.…wait.
Something in his eyes in that photograph looked familiar. In spite of my loudly voiced intentions, I clicked on the rest of his profile, and found out he is a professional chef in a well-respected restaurant in Seattle. Damn. Well, now I had to answer. But I expected nothing. I sent off a little “wink” back, imagining that I would not hear from him, ready for my dating days to finally be over.
To my surprise, he sent me an email the same day, with his real email address within it. (The dating service uses a double blind function, so that you never see each other’s real email address.) If he had not sent it to me that day, I would never have met him, since my subscription was about to expire. And his email had only one question: “If a man was to prepare a meal for you, what would you consider the ideal meal?”
Ay, that was hard to resist. So, in spite of my resolve, I sent him this answer: “Honestly, it would be this: one he made with love. With his own hands. In
season, beautifully seasoned. Made to connect, every taste an experience,
meant to be eaten mindfully. Surprising tastes. Wholly unexpected and
familiar at the same time. It would taste of laughter.”
He wrote back, and we started writing to each other about food, pouring out our favorite tastes and memories from childhood and places to eat. I kept my guard up — after all, I was done, right? — but he kept knocking it down.
Technically, we met through an online dating service, but truly, I feel like we met through this website. Within the first couple of days, I sent him the url to this site. And frankly, I did it to ward him off. Too many men had read this site and been intimidated by my writing, by my passions, by the length of these posts. I expected him to be the same. But he first grabbed my heart when he wrote a long email to me, telling me how much he loved this site, my writing, my enthusiasms for food. And the one post he loved most? The essay I wrote for my nephew’s third birthday. Oh, he really knows how to get to this gluten-free girl.
And so, we finally met. I walked into one of my favorite coffee shops, prepared to be disappointed. But he made me knock down my guards and give in to what we both knew within a few moments. In one of those improbable, once-in-a-lifetime ways, we both fell in love, immediately. For some reason, we both felt familiar to each other, within the first minute. We talked about food and touched each other’s hands and beamed with joy just looking into each other’s eyes. And we laughed and laughed and laughed. By the end of that first date, we were both goners.
Our second date was the wine tasting, kissing-at-sunset-at-the-end of the pier night. And then we spent the afternoon at Pike Place Market, where he bought me tulips, and we bought grapes, and fed each other triple cream cheese off the ends of our fingers as we sat in the park. We talked every day, he calling me from his restaurant to tell me what he was cooking that night, me telling him stories from school and what I had written that day. We never really dated. We just started our lives together. There were no games, no veneer, no wondering or hesitation. We just started loving each other.
We go to cheese festivals, eat brunch at French restaurants, look at food magazines together, walk downtown holding hands and stop at every restaurant to look at the menus of the day. We cook dinner together and eat langorous breakfasts on the weekends. We make plans to cook stocks and make salsa and shop at the farmers’ markets all summer long. We wake up in each other’s arms, happy and warm. And then we spend the morning listening to the Beatles, drinking coffee with our legs intertwined as the sunshine falls through the blinds. Then, we look at menus online of restaurants we love and wonder what they are cooking right now. It’s official. We’re food geeks, goony in love.
This is a man who knows how much his 79-year-old father loves tomatoes and so sends heirloom tomatoes to him in Tucson by Fed Ex during the summer. This is a man who comes to my house at 11:30 at night, after working at his restaurant for ten hours, and cooks us a spectacular dinner, happily. This is a man who always makes sure that my cup is full of hot coffee. This is a man who makes potato leek soup with wild truffle honey at his restaurant, saying that he thought of me when he made it, then spoons some into my mouth and makes me want to cry, because it is the best soup I have ever eaten. This is a man who ran from the length of my kitchen to the the other side of the living room when he first ate my roast chicken, whooping and hollering at the taste of it, then stopped to do a jig on the kitchen floor. This is a man has a stack of pink post-it notes filled with all the different variations of mashed potatoes he wants to make. This is a man who makes the best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten in my life. This is a man who eats three bowls of my Moroccan lentil soup. This is a man who calls me from his restaurant to tell me, in excited tones, about the basil oil he made that afternoon from the Thai basil we bought at the market that morning, and how he swirled the dark green liquid through the chilled tomato soup he made just after. This is a man who loves his food. This is a man who never makes me feel like the rank amateur cook I am, but who says he will teach me everything he knows.
There is, of course, so much more to him than his food. He is, truly, the sweetest man I have ever met. He adores his family: his mother and father; his four brothers and sisters; his nine nieces and nephews. He looks up at me in the mornings and I see pure adoration in his eyes. He is unabashedly goofy — we talk in stupid voices and make fart jokes and watch South Park together. He is a lifetime member of Amnesty International, and he believes in the dignity of human beings. He listens deeply. He pays attention to the world.
But food is central to him, as it is central to me. He is, without question, a sensualist, alive to his senses and living in his body. (And because this is a family website, I will say no more on that matter. But — yeah.) And as he told me within a couple of weeks of meeting me, the reason he has been cooking in restaurants since he was twenty years old? Because in making food, he can give people such joy.
On the night of the Food Network shoot, I went to his restaurant for the first time. He is the sole chef at a small restaurant here in Seattle, called Impromptu Wine Bar. This intimate place, with twenty-five seats and windows overlooking Lake Washington, is based around the impeccably chosen wines. Every three months, the restaurant changes the region of the world from which the wines come. And then, the Chef creates an entire menu, entirely of his own devising, and cooks the entire meal, from start to finish, every day. There are few chefs who can do this: maintain a relationship with the food producers, choose the cheeses, make the stocks and soups, create all the appetizers, grill and sautee the entrees, and conoct the desserts. And, after the first night there, I was amazed.
He had a table reserved for us, by the window. Every member of the staff had heard about me, so they all smiled when I said, “Hi, I’m Shauna.” On the table, a vase full of purple tulips. Stephanie, the waitress, said, “Dan bought those for you.” Oh. And in the arrangement, little squiggles of pea shoots, which he had bought at the farmers’ market with me that morning. (He was actually with me the day of the film shoot, but I couldn’t reveal that yet when I wrote that post.) That got me, hard. He had them send over two glasses of red sparking wine (so good! you’d never expect it), then a bottle of wine. And then.…a cheese platter, with three of the most delicious cheeses I have ever eaten. This young, soft pecorino, unlike anything I have ever tried. A St. Robert, which melted on touching with the tongue. And a goat cheese, densely packed, light taste, clean. I was in tears. My friend couldn’t speak for the pleasure.
Then, a polenta dish, studded with roasted asparagus, topped with seared foie gras. For the entrees, he sent out a perfectly tender beef tenderloin, rare, on top of blue cheese mashed potatoes (the best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten), with a port-balsamic reduction. Ahhhh. (And he made sure the blue cheese had been made in the US, and thus gluten-free.) And then, a perfectly grilled piece of rockfish, with kalamata olives and a bacon vinaigrette. It took everything I had to not lick both plates clean.
After the entrees, I told the waitress to go back to the kitchen and tell the Chef I said one word: joy. I looked up a minute later to see him standing in the doorway, smiling wide at me, arms thrust in the air. Then he started jumping up and down like a little kid.
For dessert, there was a polenta cake with lemon syrup. And fresh-made strawberry sorbet, which he made just for me. How could I not love this man?
What can I say? I’m madly in love. And laughing at the same time. How improbable. How wonderful.
And wonderfully, beautifully, I have a restaurant now where I KNOW I can eat gluten-free, and not worry about cross-contamination. The chef is impeccably careful about it for me, teaching everyone around him to bleach down the cutting boards and avoid bread crumbs assiduously. And this means that every one of you reading, those of you who must be gluten-free, you have one restaurant where you can eat safely too. Just tell the Chef that Shauna sent you.
The Chef is, without a doubt, tenderly aware of what will and will not make me sick. After I educated him a bit about gluten, he has never made an issue of it. He has certainly never made me feel odd because I cannot eat wheat. Once, while we were eating a spectacular meal at Palace Kitchen, kissing each other over the table, he did something that knocked me out. We had ordered a duck breast dish, with duck confit, asparagus, and potato gnocchi. He asked for the potato gnocchi to be put on a side plate, so it couldn’t touch my food. We had also ordered a grapefruit margarita, and we were sipping it between us. Halfway through the meal, I was prattling on about something happily, telling a story to my new love. I reached for the straw and nearly put my lips upon it. The Chef grabbed my hand, gently, and said, “Nope. I just drank from that, after eating the gnocchi. Don’t touch the straw. I don’t want you sick.” I drank from the side of the glass instead, and gulped back my tears. It’s amazing how a gesture like that can make me feel loved. This man, this chef, he takes care of me, beautifully.
If you want to understand just how much I care about this man, let me share this fact. In my kitchen, there is a drawer next to the stove containing a cutting board and a loaf of bread. And in the refrigerator is a six-pack of beer. For an entire year, not a single speck of gluten entered this house. But as soon as the Chef entered my life, I decided to let gluten back in, too. He is meticulous about using only that cutting board, then wiping down the counters. And when he eats bread, or drinks a beer, he refrains from kissing me until he has brushed his teeth. Having to wait — and knowing that he is taking care of me — only makes me want to kiss him more.
So here we are, equally in love with each other, laughing and dazzling each other. No hesitation, no drama, no questions. I just love him. And he loves me. Recently, he said to me, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have never been this happy in my entire life.” I feel exactly the same. And it is all because of food.
We have plans to make stocks all summer, experimenting with food every day. I can promise you this — the food I create for this site is going to grow better. The Chef is going to help me improve all the recipes for my cookbook. Everyone is going to benefit from this man.
And when we stand in the kitchen together, dancing and kissing, cooking food together, it is familiar and wholly unexpected at the same time. Beautifully seasoned. Connected. Every moment a mindful experience. Honest. Made with love. It tastes of laughter.
And by the way, of course, the Chef has a name. His name is Dan — only I can call him Danny — and I love him dearly.