September 2, 2009 | 6:46am
Traditional dinner dates started to get as boring to me as reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond
, so I suggested that my Saturday-night matchup and I try something different. Hmmm, maybe a cooking class would be fun, I thought. Seemed a win-win to me; If he's a dud, at least I'll be entertained bantering with fellow classmates, and if he's not, then I'll get to explore his level of confidence in the kitchen. I always say there's nothing sexier than a man who knows his way around a mixer and skillet.
So I went online and found a deal that couldn't be beat. For only $20 a person, the Whole Foods Lifestyle Center in Fort Lauderdale
offered "Date Night: Mexican Fiesta" from 6 to 8 p.m. The course description mentioned it was going to be a hands-on experience, and I couldn't help envisioning my dream date and I wrist deep in salsa, reenacting that pottery scene from Ghost
. OK, so I'm a bit strange. Let's move on.
I arrived amid a torrential downpour and was welcomed by the adorably spunky Chef Lynn, who teaches a great deal of the cooking classes there. She was already in the middle of having a conversation with a guy in jeans who seemed about my age, so I ventured to guess he was going to be my right-hand man, since the only other person in attendance was a much, much older gentleman. My matchmaking friend didn't have that sick of a sense of humor, I supposed. Assuming I was flying solo, the older man introduced himself and claimed he came here once a week to watch. He didn't even know how to fry an egg, he explained, but he liked the company, and the eats were always good.
Eventually my date and I made our way toward each other and got the usual 20 questions out of the way (Where do you live? What do you do for work? Yada, yada, yada...) as we sat at one of three tables set up with white and blue corn chips, guac, salsa, and sour cream, along with a big jug of water. I found out he was Muslim and thought for a moment how great it was to be living in a country where a Jew and a Muslim could be on a date learning to cook Mexican.
Eventually two really cool cougar-types who had become weekly regulars joined us and another older gentleman joined his friend so they could both sit and watch the action. My date whispered something in my ear about Statler & Waldorf
, which elicited a giggle.
Soon I was put to work stirring chorizo and kidney beans into a large vat of chopped vegetables while my date got the honorary task of being lead tortilla flipper. He seemed rather confident with that duty -- it's all in the wrist, you know -- and asked me to take a photo so he could prove to his mother that he actually cooked something. Cute. As Chef Lynn sliced away at two huge jicamas for a slaw, the other class cooks seasoned some mahi for fish tacos and fluffed the rice.
Time seemed to fly as we swarmed around the kitchen. And just before my stomach began protesting, the chef and her helper were busy plating.
I drizzled some chipotle ranch dressing on my fish taco and went to town, alternating bites with forkfuls of smoky chorizo and beans. Before I knew it, my date had polished off his second taco (he skipped the chorizo, being a practicing Muslim and all), and soon we were presented with a lovely bowl of caramelized plantains with shaved almonds and ice cream to cool our palates. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to watch dessert preparation, but it was a worthwhile tradeoff to enjoy some interesting conversation about my date's experience living in China and his attempts to learn salsa in Miami.
Was it a spicy evening? Not so much. But that didn't matter. Even if I had been a cucaracha doing the hat dance in an abandoned bodega, I couldn't have had more fun.
Freelance writer Riki Altman eats everything that won't try to eat her first (with exceptions, of course) and dates younger men, older men, and older men who act like young men, along with locals, tourists, illegal aliens, and just plain aliens. Love Bites is a compilation of what happens when her dining and dating ordeals collide. Sometimes, it just ain't pretty.