As a chef, caterer, and "pleasure activist," I can tell a lot about a couple's relationship by the food they serve at their wedding celebration. Even more so if they've requested a live demonstration of the edible, naked-body performance art that conveys my core philosophy: that there is a fundamental fusion of food and touch with sensuality and pleasure. (An apropos, loving message to share on a wedding day.)
But even if the couple simply wants a menu with fresh, beautiful, tasty food representative of their personalities and lifestyle, I can still perceive their ability to communicate and compromise, for example, or staunchly defend each other, or develop as individuals and as a couple.
As a farm boy in Southern Italy, I realized that food and touch are the two basic ingredients of life. I now know that the perfect diet -- the perfect existence -- includes food and touch. Healthy, nutritious food fuels our bodies. Touching and being touched provides nutrition of a different sort, which means we can reproduce and show love.
Food nourishes the body from the inside out, and sex feeds it from the outside in. Together, they create life.
Three basic ingredients are needed for a memorable celebration: the couple, their loved ones, and the food. Those ingredients, and how they're blended and presented, are what makes each wedding celebration -- each couple's relationship -- unique.
Food is on this short list because if it is lovingly prepared and emotionally satisfying, it touches everyone's senses -- with alluring fragrances, pleasurable sights, tempting textures and temperatures, the sounds of guests savoring the food, and the sublime taste of love.
Last fall, an adorable young couple, totally in sync with each other, asked me to cater their wedding and to create sensual body art on one of their friends during the celebration.
I asked the couple if they were concerned how the 230 guests might react to my art (which Americans sometimes find risqué).
"It's our wedding," they both assured me, "and we want it exactly as we've envisioned. We completely trust you to know what we need."
Everything proceeded flawlessly on the wedding day. At last it was time to surprise the guests with my performance art, so I set up a table on which the nearly nude friend -- wearing only small panties, her breasts exposed -- reclined in the position we'd discussed ahead of time. I applied freshly sliced fruit to her body to create a beautiful and colorful sculpture, much like those pictured and discussed in my book, La Figa: Visions of Food and Form.
Almost every wedding guest loved it; only a few felt uncomfortable. The bride and groom said to them, "You don't have to watch this, but today is our day, and we want all of you to be here to enjoy the food we like and the art we appreciate."
Wow. I was so impressed with how this couple stood together, unified in their desires, and created a really tasteful celebration.
My job is very important because I am responsible for the pleasure of everyone at the wedding. I take my role of pleasure activist very seriously.
When I first meet with an engaged couple, I usually invite them to my home, where I make and serve a random variety of dishes. I try not to talk about the wedding. Instead, we chat about how they met, who proposed to whom and how, and what the couple does together for fun. It's important I get to know them and create a connection between us and the food. Based on our conversation and their reaction to the food, I learn more about them and their mutual tastes in food. The process quickly moves us to the next level, where we're all on the same page. From here on out, the couple feels good about the decisions we make.
Unfortunately, other dynamics -- parents, budget, site, social status -- sometimes come into play and can adversely affect the food, the mood, and the celebration itself.
For example, parents who sponsor a wedding often feel entitled to make decisions. In one situation, the parents wanted the wedding held at a prestigious, five-star hotel. The couple, on the other hand, strongly preferred a simple, unpretentious celebration.
This could have caused a serious disagreement between the bride and groom, but they stuck with what was important to them on the biggest day of their life: being married in a public park with a natural setting near the water and hiring me because they loved my food.
Consequently, the wedding ceremony was meaningful and lovely, the food was a huge success, and everybody finally came together. The day epitomized how well the two people worked as a couple to overcome challenges and to respect each other's needs. They chose to honor their union above all else and were an inspiration to everyone. That is what I call a good start.
One of my favorite weddings was one I initially had doubts about. A former lover invited me as her guest to a friend's wedding and mentioned, "By the way, it's a potluck."
I was shocked. What type of wedding celebration is this?
It turned out the couple had requested that guests make their own favorite dishes to share at the buffet table in lieu of showering gifts on the bride and groom. The couple preferred a celebration with food -- prepared with love and personality -- over receiving presents they might not even want or need.
What a memorable example of how a low-budget celebration can be more successful and fun than a big-budget event that likely has less of a connection between the food and the people it touches and nourishes.
And that is the most significant role of food: to enhance everyone's pleasure in the relationships between food and touch, sensuality and good health, family and friends, and the couple recently united in marriage.
There are really only two things you must remember in life... eat well and make love.