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Plating for Pleasure: Culinary Tricks to Impress Your Date, Feign Competency

When you cook for a potential significant other you need to display two things: effort and competency.
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Josh Scherer


They say the way to someone's heart is through their stomach. According to WebMD it's through the thoracic cavity, avoiding the ribs and breast plate if at all possible.

Who are you going to trust, the internet or an overwrought cliche? When you agree to cook for your date, you need to get all that abstract, heart-and-soul-nonsense out of your vocabulary.

You're not trying to show her how sensitive you are by cooking up grandma's 95-year-old recipe for shepherd's pie, you're not trying to show her your risk-taking, edgy side with the latest Asian-fusion poutine recipe, and you're definitely not trying to show her how not-actually-wealthy you are by spending half a paycheck on spot prawns. Your goal should be much, much simpler.

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When you cook for a potential significant other you need to display two things: effort and competency. It's crucial you exhibit both -- one without the other and you're a useless sack of man-flesh.

Effort without competency and you're that Neanderthal husband from the Yoplait commercial who's smashing yogurt containers with a rock trying to figure out how they fit a whole apple pie into a 6.3 oz container. "WHY IT CALLED APPLE PIE IF THERE NO PIE!?"

Competency without effort and you're the embittered, negligent partner who sits on the couch for months, binge-watching Top Chef and binge-slamming Miller High Lifes while screaming obscenities at the screen. "MY GRANDMA CAN MAKE A BETTER TORCHON AND SHE'S BEEN DEAD 20 YEARS."

That being said, when cooking for your date, take taste completely out of the equation; taste is the last thing you should worry about. What you do need is a wide array of foods to display competency in multiple arenas. If you can cook a vegetable, starch, AND protein and make them edible, that's the dateable trifecta right there my dude. Chicken breast, jasmine rice, sauteed spinach, no need to get cute here. Reduce some balsamic if you really feel like classing up the joint.

To show that you're willing to put in the work, use as many pseudo-classy plating designs as you can justify being on a single plate. Anthony Bourdain lays out three such tricks in his opus Kitchen Confidential, which you should be reading like the Bible. I carry mini copies and hand them out to needy strangers on the street. Someone has to spread His (Bourdain's) word.

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First, use ring molds to make everything into circles. People are naturally attracted to symmetry in food. Think about it, all the best foods are symmetrical: burritos, quesadillas, all-you-can-eat pasta bowls from The Olive Garden, et cetera. Rings molds are also clutch for layering different foods and textures on top of each other.

Second, plate all your food as vertically oriented as possible. Horizontal plating is for plebes and bachelors who have given up the good fight. The higher her plate is stacked, the more effort it looks like you put into the dish, and the better partner you're likely to be. Use super glue if you have to, this is important.

Third, use squeeze bottles to unleash the incredibly mediocre artist in you. Put whatever sauce you've thrown together into one of those clear plastic God-sends and draw a bunch of arbitrary squiggles on the plate. If asked, say you drew your inspiration from a 17th-century abstract artist, because you're super into art and other cultural things.

Josh Scherer is a 5th year, zero-time All-American at UCLA and author of the blog Culinary Bro-Down. He thinks cheesy gordita crunches make the best mid day snack, and his life's greatest achievement is eating at three Guy Fieri restaurants in one night. Loves Matt Damon movies.

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