Very few things within this precious, fragile life of ours evoke a more primal, unequivocal passion than that of the quest for and gratification of a perfect taste sensation. Civilizations were both built and destroyed over the quest for this taste. Wars were fought, territories expanded, cultures advanced and colonization spread; not for the pure need of basic necessity and existence, but for the pursuit to nourish the soul, which triggered the advancement mankind itself.
As far back as history has been recorded, men have always been providers for the family when it came to putting food on the table. Since the beginning of time (long before recorded history) Australopithecenes man, who roamed the plains of Africa since over 4 million years ago; there have always been hunters and collectors within the family unit, with man’s main responsibility as the hunter to go out, find, hunt and kill in order to feed his family. More often than not, he would leave for long periods of time, only returning once a successful hunt was achieved. With food now in hand it was his responsibility to transport and butcher it so it could be consumed by all. It was only with the appearance of fire used for cooking roughly 1.8 million years ago that man began to change in many ways, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. Without fire, meat was consumed raw and had a greater physical effect on the human body. Raw protein was very difficult to break down and digest, which in turn, took a large toll on the body. With the invention of fire and the cooking of one’s food, the human body began to evolve and change into what we now today as a more efficient and practical operating machine. Biological evidence supports that approximately 1.8 million years ago; Homo erectus (upright man) arose with larger thinking brains and bodies and smaller digestive tracts, stomachs, jaws, and teeth; changes both constant with the switch to a more tender and turbo-charged diet of both rich and cooked foods.
Cooking food is what sets man apart from all other living creatures, totally making us an oddity in terms of actions, wants and needs. Cooking food made human more – well, human! Historical timelines show that cooking with fire had a direct impact on human culture.
Cooking created and distinguished new social bonds on not only the family front, but between man and women as a couple. It created a new system of ethics, a family hierarchy code and created role development within the family unit, giving us a direct concept of individual purpose and validated reasoning for bonding. Men entered into relationships to have someone to cook for them, freeing them up for socializing, economic pursuits and advancing their social standing. Women benefited from men’s protection, safeguarding their food from thieves – it was at this time that man and woman’s roles became developed within the home. Homo sapiens remain the only earthly species where theft of food doesn’t happen on a daily basis even though the act itself could be a very simple task.
Cooking is a consistent act the world over, it is “the” universal language, even more so than love as we use it to meet new people, hence the act of “breaking bread” as an introduction into a new relationship. It is biologically, anatomically, philosophically and socially as important as a means to interact and function with others in today’s society. It makes us who we are, determines our moods, thought processes and even physical being. Just think of how food has affected you in your life? The distance travelled to acquire it, the experiences and conversations created around it; and the dependence of it in times of love, depression, happiness and excitement – food is truly the one thing that gives us life on so many and different levels.
It is no coincidence then that the primal urge for men these days is still to seek out, prepare and cook for both family and friend. However as man became more educated, civilized and colonized, the plains, rivers and fields of antiquity were replaced by that of butchers, fish mongers and grocery markets; making it much easier to hunt and scavenge for food.
Man’s role as a “professional” chef within the restaurant industry has always been a topic for debate. If the saying “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”, then why are only 1 of 10 individuals in the restaurant world female? Perhaps one reason is the model of the kitchen brigade itself, and being militaristic in so many ways. A great friend of mine always joked – “restaurant kitchens are where a construction site meets prison”. It takes a special kind of mentality and mettle to work in a commercial kitchen; hours are grueling, pay is lousy, work can be demeaning at times, and tempers do flare; a place not for the faint of heart. The fact that a kitchen is a brigade system of militaristic hierarchy it is no surprise that it attracts mostly men, it seems to fit their subconscious and feed the male ego much better than the more calm and reserved psyche of the female.
The many considered great leaders of our time all recruited and brought with them on their exploits; brilliant and talented chef brigades (some extremely numerous and complex) as it was believed that a well fed army won victories. The passion to both conquer land a cuisine has seemed to go hand in hand throughout military history. From Alexander the Great to Attila the Hun and from Charlemagne to Napoleon; who was quoted as saying “an army marches on its stomach”; the need for militia to be accompanied by great food during grueling, hard fought battles and blood-drenched wars was necessary for moral, unification and overall performance. Consumption of food via lavish banquets became synonymous with victory itself; to the degree of creating both pre and post battle superstitious practices became the norm. At times the amount of ingredients dragged in tow from the homeland along the invasion route was an immense task in itself. The great minds of these military leaders understood what a taste of home in a cold, dark far off place away from loved ones and familiar surroundings could evoke in the hearts, souls and minds of their valiant troops. It became the difference between victory and defeat, a simple choice to make at the end of the day for the sake of an empire.
With the rise and increase of the male chef after World War II when men were used extensively to cook behind enemy lines, it gave birth to a whole new style of man. In the years that followed male chefs began taking on the role of executive chef in many of the finest restaurants around the world. It sparked a flame in the male thought process to further peruse the act of cooking as not a necessity, but as an art, something one could truly become proud of. Man has always tried to impress a woman buy buying lavish jewelry and luxurious gifts. The concept of a restaurant (where food and beverage was exchanged for money) was first born in ancient Rome. The full-service modern restaurant concept we know and all love today came to be in France in the 18th century. It was at this time where the social aspect and association of a restaurant within our society was born. Restaurants didn’t just give people a place to eat, they evoked and inspired conversation, dreams, theatre, therapy and the need for social status. It created a new psychosis in man and womankind. It also gave man a new forum to entertain, engage and court a woman, as a way to everyone’s heart is truly through there stomach. With this the common man began to understand the importance of cooking in social terms where is pertains to love and lust.
Today men take to the kitchen to showcase their talents by creating multi-course meals that are complex, flavorful and full of elegance. Like an alpha male silverback beating his chest it with pride and conviction; cooking for a woman allows the man to communicate without words, but with sensitivity and action. As a prelude for the physicality to follow, cooking has become man’s vehicle into a woman’s sexuality. Food has found its way from the table and into the bedroom, it is both sexual as it is nourishing, filling not only our stomachs, but our sexual appetites and libidos.
According to a British study by Food Company PurAsia 48 per cent of people cite that cooking skills makes a person that much more attractive to them. It shows that 60 percent of British men now cook for friends and family on a regular basis and also states that the number of families where men help in the kitchen has risen from 27.5 percent in the post war period to 66.5 percent in 2008.
With this increasing trend, we notice how the role of man in the kitchen is changing as time goes forth. With the increase in technology and the ability to remotely run a business, many men have given up the cost for the office rental space for the comfort and ease of the home. With this shift, more time can be devoted to being the “house-husband” in many ways. Men are becoming more responsible for meal preparation as the wife in many cases still holds an office or off-premises job – long gone are those days of a single household family income. With this domestic need and newfound role, man’s desire and longing to cook has not only become that of a “BBQ baron” amongst bonding sessions with his male friends; but one of provider for the entire family. It is said that greatness can be achieved by doing well at something you truly hate, whether or not this is the case in many a man’s newfound role – who really knows? What it gives the modern man in today’s home place is balance, something we all seek and strive for in our lives. Perhaps the one place we can truly long for and find that balance is in our homes and backyards with family, friends and loved ones, not just as an entertainer, but as a provider.