Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cooking-class tip from exec: Add right spice, get blood boilin'

THERE ARE people who love to cook.

And then there are those who see cooking as a form of foreplay.

Shari Stern, by day the director of natural and organic products at Haddon House, conducts couples cooking classes-with a twist.

Bulletin: Dessert may be served in the boudoir.

Starting as a fill-in for another chef in 2003, Ms. Stern conducted a couples cooking class, and one thing led to another. "At the time I was reading 'In the Devil's Garden' by Stewart Lee Allen, which contains history and folklore on aphrodisiacs. I thought it would be a relevant topic. … It was a success, and word of mouth spread, and soon I was getting called to do the classes for private parties.

"It wasn't long before a certain spice began being referred to as 'naughty nutmeg' in my classes. It's a heat-producing spice … gets the blood moving."

Class participants are encouraged to bring a sense of humor to the front burner. "I once did a class called 'Latkes With Libido' where I took traditional foods for the Hanukkah holiday and made them sexier. I made Latkes With Libido [potato pancakes] with a ginger curry coconut sauce, Let's Get It On Kugel [a noodle pudding stuffed with goat cheese, rosemary and honey-soaked figs] and Tooty My Fruity Jewish Apple Cake [traditional Jewish apple cake with brandy and cardamom-soaked apples]."

It's not like this is new ground, the 32-year-old foodie said. "I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to culinary history and nutrition. I always have been.

"As I started to look more into aphrodisiacs, there are cultures all over the world that linked food to fertility, sex and love.

"I do believe that aphrodisiacs had a place in history. In the days before Viagra, fertility drugs … people had to seek out foods that had nutritional properties beneficial for reproduction. Or they may have needed a stimulus to get them in the mood. We know today that infertility is a common problem. … If you've been on a diet of potatoes and onions, how likely are you going to conceive a healthy child?"

Beyond her cooking classes at the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, Ms. Stern also conducts classes in homes.

"I bring a four-course meal. Luckily, the trend is big, open kitchens that lead into another room with no separating wall, which makes cooking demonstrations easy.

"In between each course, I talk about the aphrodisiac properties and talk about how the foods were prepared. Everyone gets to take home recipes. This way has been working well because I find that people attend mostly for the food and the fun aphrodisiac stories."

Ms. Stern related the story of a dessert called A Little Less Conversation-bananas with chocolate rum sauce. One participant, "a guy in his 70s, who had been devoted to the bottle of wine he brought along, explained he and his wife had actually signed up for a Mexican cooking class but somehow ended up at the aphrodisiac class instead.

"Then he said something he probably shouldn't have: 'I'm not sure about these aphrodisiacs, because at my age you just use hope.'

"The class laughed hysterically, but his wife shot him a glare and elbowed him. … He'd be spending the night on the couch."

Ms. Stern recommends small portions and lots of color.

"Mixing colors and flavors … and sharing off a common plate is good," she noted. "I prepare a sexy Ceviche, which I serve in a champagne glass topped with lime wedges and tortilla chips.

"The colors of seafood and bright vegetables, burst of citrus and heat from peppers is very invigorating," Ms. Stern noted with a wink.

• Devoted to a worthy cause? Found a great summer hideaway? If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.

Shari Stern
Director of natural and organic products, Haddon House

A recipe that will make you feel good all over:
Pasta: 1 lb. fresh or frozen fettuccini
Cook according to instructions, al dente
1/2 cup strawberries
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
Five fresh basil leaves and three for garnish
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Salt to taste

By: Ryan, Mike, Advertising Age, 8/28/2006

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