What's Cooking?

Recently, while performing a random Web search, I stumbled across a gift item labeled "The Ultimate Guy Food Crate." The promo copy read: "For the guy who loves football night, send a bit of savvy that he'll really enjoy. Beef jerky, nuts, pretzels, chips and salsa...and the all-time favorite, crispy potato chips." Jeesh, you'd think men and their Dorito-loving palates hadn't progressed an inch in the last five decades. But c'mon. Our relationship with, er, grub goes beyond junk food. The kitchens that were once foreign territory to our dads are now places where many of us have been spotted in full apron regalia, broiling salmon and chopping, you know, vegetables.

And as it happens, a guy's eating habits and his relationship with cuisine reveals a lot. "If you watch someone eat, you'll learn everything you need to know about them," says chef Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential and host of the Travel Channel's No Reservations. Easy enough to say if you're a professional foodie. But when it comes to the lawless world of dudes and food, where pizza equals breakfast and cereal equals dinner, what if you don't possess such behavioral acuity? For insight into the most puzzling guy food habits, I checked with a shrink, some food pros, and a couple of regular joes. What they said may surprise you. So grab a brewski and let's find out what's cooking?

Why do guys leave all the ingredients, pots, and utensils on the kitchen counter when they cook?
We approach cooking from an angle we can understand. It's not just making dinner, it's a construction project. And we're going to make it bigger, messier, and more complicated than necessary. Heck, if we could get a crane to lower in the ingredients, we'd do that, too. We want to see everything laid out beforehand like we're assembling an Ikea desk, and then lord triumphant over the shambles as if admiring the wake behind our powerboat, a testament to the amount of work that went into this glorious meal. Of course, that's not the only reason we don't hang around to cuddle with the dirty bowls after having our way with them. "The average guy is only trying to reach the finish line," says David Joachim, author of The Tailgater's Cookbook. "And the fastest way to do that is to just plow through."

What's up with grill lust?
We love to play with fire, okay? "You see this pattern in very young boys," says Leon Rappoport, Ph.D., psychology professor at Kansas State University and author of How We Eat. "And not in girls, which argues for it being an instinctive tendency." Instincts aside, we like to see what's going on when we cook. (X-ray vision would be nice too.) "With a flame, you can see and feel the heat; there's no mystery to it," Joachim says. "It's a simple equation: Food plus heat equals cooking."

Why do men hate recipes?
Because any schmuck can follow one. "There [is] an inborn tendency, traceable to our hunting ancestors, which emphasizes the survival value of self-reliance and independent judgment," Rappoport explains. Translation: The Cro-Magnon dude who didn't rely on the rest of the clan to find the best mammoth-hunting grounds may have gotten the best bounty — and probably had more of it for himself. Plus, following a recipe to a T slams the door on our creative side, which we sometimes want to show off. "I always feel like I can improve on a recipe with a couple of tweaks," says my buddy Kevin. "I like to think of it as a jumping-off point." Add a pinch of cayenne (or half the bottle) to chicken Kiev — et voilá, chicken Kev!

Why do men like knives so much?
"Because they're dangerous and empowering," Joachim says. You can mince a garlic clove with one as easily as you could, well, kill someone — if you had to. It's the perfect multitasker. Who needs a Leatherman if you have a Ginsu? "You can even open a bottle of beer with it," Joachim says. "That is gold for a guy."

Why do men go for extra-spicy wings, hot peppers, and "challenging" foodstuffs?
When it comes to the truly bizarre, like Rocky Mountain oysters (aka bull testicles), there's a good chance it'd never be eaten if there wasn't a group of guys standing around goading one another, or if someone wasn't still harboring a grudge from the pickup football game earlier that day. In a social setting, "consuming an unusual or 'dangerous' item proves one's nerve/manhood/courage to others or to oneself," Rappoport says. Um. Exactly. Plus, we believe that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, which is why we'll order the blowfish sushi or pour on the habanero hot sauce until it scorches our eyeballs. "Spicy foods elicit the same response as danger, causing the brain to release endorphins, which is pleasurable," Joachim explains. "And, like riding a roller coaster, your body feels the rush but your mind knows you're ultimately safe." Which, okay, makes the whole thing sound a lot less macho.

If a guy is a picky eater, does that mean he's not adventurous in bed?
I always say, "Passion for food means passion for life." And for the record, ahem, I'll try anything. But there's no easy answer to this. My friend Doug loves exotic food loaded with flavor — Indian, Thai — because "it's like an amusement park, the culinary equivalent of a funplex with batting cages, a driving range, go-karts!" And drum roll, please, he claims legendary status in the boudoir.

Joachim is willing to give picky eaters the benefit of the doubt — something about them possibly unleashing their inner wild man in private. But Rappoport points out that, apart from food and drink and the incidental oral pacifier like cigarettes or chewing gum, the only other things we willingly take in our mouths are body parts of our chosen sex partners. Well, duh. So where's he going with this? (Stay with me here.) "Someone who has experienced anxiety about eating, which may go back to difficulties breastfeeding, is likely to be anxious about food consumption in general, and thus cautiously defensive and picky," Rappoport says. "Accordingly, they'll associate oral intimacies with anxiety." Yikes. Or just heed the wisdom of our man's man, Bourdain: "If [a guy] is not willing to try new things, I feel sorry for [him]," he says. "It makes [him] a bad guest, a bad traveler, and, most likely, bad in the sack." Whatever the case, there's one course most guys will never pass up — and that's you, for dessert. If you want to bring along some chocolate sauce or whipped cream, be our guest.
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