Hartford Courant Foodie Article

I agreed to help out a friend (Fun With Carbs) for an article on attractive, intelligent and funny couples who cook together. Okay, just “couples who cook together.”

Anyway, this was in the paper along with a picture of us cooking. There were more pictures online, but I waited too long to grab them, so they’re all lost for eternity. Oh well, they weren’t very flattering at all.

Story By LEEANNE GRIFFIN Special to the Courant
February 4, 2010

On his second date with Katherine Wasiuk at a Northampton, Mass., sushi restaurant two years ago, Benjamin Lapins was nervous — until he picked up the chopsticks. Unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine, Lapins concentrated hard on the experience and found that it helped ease the jitters.

“When you’re focusing on trying a new food, it kind of takes the formality out of getting to know each other,” he says.

Today Lapins, 26, and Wasiuk, 28, spend their weekends cooking, developing new recipes and dining at restaurants throughout New England. They are among a growing wave of “foodie couples” in their 20s and 30s who share a mutual interest in cooking, fine dining and culinary activities and excursions.

This new generation of food lovers grew up with the Food Network on their televisions, pad thai in their university cafeterias and an explosion of new ethnic restaurants in their hometowns. They know their ceviche, risotto, sashimi and aioli, and they can debate the merits of each one. And as they begin romantic relationships, food often becomes their shared passion. It’s a trend that local chefs and culinary experts seem to welcome with open arms.

“I’m very excited about it,” says Christopher Prosperi, chef-owner of Simsbury’s Metro Bis and food columnist for The Courant. “This is a group that’s really thirsty for knowledge.”

Prosperi says his customers have gotten so young, his servers have to be much more careful about checking IDs — “an issue we didn’t have eight or 10 years ago.” Metro Bis even attracts teenage diners, he says, thanks to its close proximity to the town’s several prep schools.

“Younger couples come in and ask a lot of questions about the menu and the ingredients,” he says. “And I love the questions that stump me. … Tt pushes us as chefs to try new things. Otherwise, you can get stagnant.”

Lapins, who works in shipping at H.P. Hood in Agawam, Mass., jokes that during his college days, his kitchen repertoire consisted of ramen noodles and Hamburger Helper. Now, in his Springfield home, the spice rack contains ancho chile powder and sweet paprika, and his DVR records “Cake Boss” and “Chef Academy.” He and Wasiuk think nothing of going out in search of crawfish or vanilla beans, then devoting an entire Sunday to crafting an elaborate meal. They even developed a signature dish together: a sweet potato shepherd’s pie with homemade barbecue sauce.

While Wasiuk, a kindergarten teacher, brought knowledge of ethnic cuisines and wines to the relationship, Lapins contributed his fascination with barbecue. The owner of a “Big Green Egg” smoker, he has learned to smoke his own meats, a style of cooking new to his food-savvy girlfriend.

“I’ve learned so much about barbecue,” she says. “There’s so much to it — techniques, tastes, sight.”

Food Can Be Sexy

The association between romance and food is a natural one, says Jill Nicolson, a chef, caterer and owner of Cuisine With Jill Nicolson, a cooking school in Torrington.

“Food can be very sexy,” Nicolson says. “Two people will bring their likes, dislikes and interests into a relationship and inspire each other to discover new flavors.”

For Stephen Wood, 37, a research analyst from West Hartford, it was the flavors of his wife’s birthplace, Vietnam, that broadened his horizons. Shortly after his first date with Hoang, 36, he tried to impress her by ordering a takeout bowl of pho from a Vietnamese restaurant near his home. It’s an intricate noodle soup best eaten on the premises.

“Of course [I know now] that’s absurd,” he says. “But that one dish opened my eyes to a whole new world of food. The pho had subtle flavors, herbs and combinations which I’d never tasted before, and I was so excited to tell Hoang about my adventure.”

As Wood learned more about his wife and her cultural background, his culinary interests continued to expand, especially as they traveled together. And as they welcomed son Damian, now 4, food remained a constant in their lives — but on a more local level.

Wood began documenting his family’s explorations of Connecticut attractions on his blog, CT Museum Quest ( www.ctmuseumquest.com). On the site’s dining section, titled “Ingest,” Wood keeps track of the Nutmeg State’s best eats, as well as visits to local vineyards, brew pubs and cider mills.

“The blog has taken us from the extreme northeast region of the state to [its] southwest corner,” Wood says.

Food As Adventure

Beyond just a table for two, young couples are also flocking to wine tastings and dinners, as well as cooking classes. While these events can be expensive, especially for foodies just beginning careers, both Prosperi and Nicolson say the “food as adventure” concept might help justify the cost.

Although couples “might not have the money or vacation time to head off to Italy for a week, they can get a similar experience closer to home,” says Nicolson, who sets the mood with details like traditional music, décor and native language speakers during her themed classes.

Cooking classes are even becoming the new “dinner date,” according to Deborah Miller, culinary program manager at Sur La Table in Canton. The cookware store hosts a full schedule of hands-on workshops, including a monthly “Date Night” class for couples. These routinely fill up so quickly that Sur La Table puts couples on a waiting list or schedules additional sessions.

“It’s much more active than just sitting at a restaurant table,” Miller said. “You’re still dining out, but at the same time, you’re learning to cook — and meeting new friends. At the end of the class, you’ve got a creation that you can enjoy together, and recipes to take home.”

While Sur La Table’s classes attract all ages, Miller says an influx of younger attendees has helped increase the popularity of the store’s ethnic-cuisine workshops. “Even three years ago, these didn’t sell that well,” she says. “Now they’re sold out and wait-listed. [This group] is just more curious and willing to try new things.”

And for budding foodies still shy about branching out beyond burgers? Just go out and try new things, the experts urge. “You may find something that you can’t live without,” says Miller.

Just ask Lapins, who pauses when prompted to name his new favorite cuisine.

“Indian,” he says, then stops. “No, sushi. No, both. … It’s hard to choose.”

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