And he cooks, too

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The Independent Culture
IT IS NO longer enough for food to be delicious, appetising, complex, hearty, mouth-watering, aromatic, lip-smacking, dainty, juicy, succulent, tangy, tasty, tender, savoury, salty, sweet, spicy, pungent, fragrant, mouth-filling or fall-off-the-bone.

Instead, it has to be sensuous, seductive, voluptuous, full-bodied, loose- living, lust- worthy, luscious, wicked, desirable, seductive, sultry, satiny, silky, dreamy, flirtatious, naughty, racy, tantalising, teasing, provocative, and sex-on-a-plate. Well call me a party-pooper, but I don't want sex on a plate. Don't we have enough trouble with sex in the bed, on the floor and against the wall, without having it off on our plates, too?

I'm not talking about powdered deer horn, Spanish fly, ginseng, deer's penis, or the testicles of a bull fresh from a bullfight. Aphrodisiacs are good for a giggle every now and then, and for a few limp gags around St Valentine's Day, but that's about it. I'm not even talking about chocolate. I'm talking about the family dinner, pea-and-ham soup, lamb chops, mashed potatoes and peas. The average five-year-old does not yet look up from his or her beef stew with potatoes, and say "Thanks, Mum, that looks pretty sexy", but it can only be a matter of time.

Last week, a top-flight chef described a new dish on his menu as better than sex. This says more to me about the chef than his cooking. My mind still curdles at the memory of a junior food reviewer, who was unable to describe the excellence of the house-made pumpkin ravioli in any terms other than that it caused him to have an orgasm at the table. Not only do I feel enormous sympathy for his fellow diners, but I've been unable to eat at that particular restaurant since.

Then, when they put Marco Pierre White on the cover of the now-defunct Taste magazine with a headline that read "And he cooks, too", it was the beginning of the end. It is now an unspoken rule that chefs have to be sexy. Talent scouts hang around the dishwasher waiting to spot the next Marco, Giorgio Lactelli, Jean-Christophe Novelli or Stefano Cavellini. Hotel kitchens don't poach staff from each other any more, they simply ring a casting agency and get chef's books sent over. Here he is holding a fish. Here he is leaning suggestively over the bananas. Here he is, his long fingers dripping with melted chocolate.

In America, it has got out of hand with a series of ads showing famous chefs naked with their blenders. The first features the 54-year-old Jean- Louis Palladin in the buff, save for his strategically held Vita-Mix. "You are a chef, you are a sex symbol, it is a part of life," he told the New York Times. So goodbye balding, paunchy, jolly chefs, and hello skinny, sexy, charming, glamorous media stars who can cook, too. After hundreds of years of being the anonymous, sweating, underpaid slave out the back, the chef's revenge is to be steamier than his puddings, and more desirable than his petits-fours.

After all, you can gain access to a chef far more easily than to a rock star or a Hollywood actor. Your desire can be sated. You can simply book a table and go and eat his food, if not his body. You can lurk by the kitchen delivery door, hoping for a glimpse, maybe snaring a used dishcloth as a souvenir. My wife has an old pinafore of Marco's that he threw at her across the heads of his diners in Harvey's many years ago as a token of his esteem. She laughs about it, but I notice she has kept it, and - even more telling - she has never washed it.

Now chefs have agents, for heaven's sake. You can book them for personal appearances and TV shows. Then there's the culinary equivalent of an autobiography, the cookbook. Just look at the titles: White Heat, Your Place or Mine?, The Naked Chef. Are you starting to feel manipulated yet? A little aroused, maybe? Of course, we believe Jamie when he says the naked bit refers to stripping food back to the essentials. Sure it does, Jamie. Now button up your shirt, there's a good boy.

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