Gastrosexuals. Blame Jamie and Gordon. Or should we thank them?

Retro man cooking

Men who cook used to be called….nothing. They were just men. Who
cooked. But these days everything needs a name or market researchers
become unemployed. Enter the Gastrosexual. When I first heard this
word, I thought it referred to the way many men still want to have sex
with their partners even when suffering from an upset stomach. But no,
although sex is sometimes involved – more about that shortly.

Trend spotters have turned their attention to blokes who cook.
Metrosexuals, it’s time to put down your exfoliant and pick up a whisk.
The Gastrosexuals are coming to cut your grass. With lemongrass.

In a study into the changing kitchen habits of men, market researchers
The Future Foundation have identified the Gastrosexual as: “masculine,
upwardly mobile men, aged 25-44, who are passionate about cooking and
the rewards it might bring – pleasure, praise and potential seduction.”

Did you catch the word “rewards” in there? This is key. Because there
are two types of cooking. One involves the daily preparation of meals
for yourself or your family. The other type is motivated by personal
gratification, either to impress others or to wallow in the novel
pleasure of the act itself. Like a hobby.

So while the majority of women cook out of necessity, the Gastrosexual cooks for acclaim. And sometimes? For sex.

Apparently, 23 percent of 18-34 year old men say they cook to potentially seduce a partner. These single Gastrosexuals are getting busy in the kitchen in the hope it will help them get busy in the bedroom. In a modification of the old cliché “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, these blokes believe “the way into a woman’s pants is through cooking her a tasty risotto.”

And they may well be right. 48 percent of people say being able to cook makes a person more attractive.

Now that macho chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have injected testosterone into the kitchen, there’s a new alternative to oestrogen-rich food celebrities like Nigella.  Shows like Iron Chef and Hell’s Kitchen have turned the preparation of a meal into a high-pressure, competitive sport. Extreme cooking. Suddenly, discussing the relative merits of fresh versus farmed salmon is starting to look a whole lot more manly.

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Perhaps that’s why 25 percent of women under 34 say their partner is the better cook. “There’s nothing sexier than a guy inviting you over for a meal and watching him cook it,” agrees a single 30-year-old friend whose current boyfriend did exactly that on their first date. “My idea of cooking is adding milk to some cereal and eating it in bed after work so the fact he can make real meals is a huge bonus.”

For the Gastrosexual already in a relationship, his motivation is said to be “pleasure” and “praise”. He is likely to wheel out his kitchen skills conditionally. You know, when friends come to dinner. Birthdays. Special occasions. He’s extremely comfortable in the kitchen, speaks fluent food and describes cooking as a hobby. Or a passion.

But prepare to be shocked. The research shows the Gastrosexual’s newfound enthusiasm for cooking doesn’t extend to other domestic chores like ‘cleaning, vacuuming or grocery shopping’.

Frankly, I can’t imagine why this is. Because women receive so much praise, acclaim and worship for performing these tasks every day. Between the commemorative stamps and the ticker tape parades in our honour, it’s a wonder we find any time to actually DO the housework.

Want to annoy a group of mothers? Raise the idea of Gastrosexuals – men who cook for rewards –  and watch their heckles go up. “What’s it called when you have to churn out meals every night of the week to ungrateful children?” grumbles one working mother friend who struggles to accommodate a family of picky eaters and a husband who rarely makes it home from the office before 9pm.

No rewards for her except perhaps that her children don’t have scurvy and her husband can re-heat his dinner in the microwave while she wrestles the kids to bed.

My father was an early Gastrosexual, decades ahead of the trend spotters. Back in the eighties, my mum decided that everyone in the family should help with dinner. She was working long hours and was tired of shouldering the full responsibility of the evening meal. “It’s time you all learnt to cook so we can share the load as a family,” she declared. And she was right.

What happened next was interesting. While my brother and I got busy teaching ourselves how to make schnitzel and fry chops, Dad decided to leap-frog over the basics to pursue loftier culinary goals: dessert.

Early on, he realised that even a dessert prepared badly would be well received. “It doesn’t matter if a soufflé collapses or a chocolate pudding is a bit lumpy, everyone is always happy to see dessert – and then eat it,” he observed. And he was right. “It’s cooking for applause” he admitted. And it was.

These days, he’s broadened his skills far beyond sugar and now boasts several signature dishes including an annual Oxtail Soup that takes several days to complete. When it’s ready, the family gathers, we open a nice bottle of red to toast the chef and his soup. It’s not quite a ticker-tape parade but it’s enough to guarantee a repeat performance next year. Round of applause for that.

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