It is not common to receive an invitation to “an evening of aphrodisiac tasting.” Yet I received one recently, from two pleasure activists who were the uncommon host and hostess of this sensuous event. These two are committed to pleasure as a way of life, and inventive parties as a social backbone. Their aphrodisiacal festivity was the culmination of a year of unforgettable parties in their East Village home, at which they constantly bid to outdo themselves with new and creative methods of making their parties memorable. But this sumptuous celebration of the senses was a grande finale, their last hurrah before they take off to other parts of the globe to explore new life paths—the party to top all of their parties.
They had enlisted the help of a five-star chef and pastry chef, friends of theirs, to co-create this tantalizing banquet. Each guest contributed to the party’s cost and, per instructions, brought a specific wine. Although we dressed to the hilt we all took turns washing dishes and silverware between courses. This unique feast was both decadent and participatory.
Isabelle Allende wrote in her book on aphrodisiacs, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, of the dinner parties she hosted as part of her research. She reported that a menu of aphrodisiacs, when presented without word of their amorous properties, would yield standard dinner behavior. The same menu, however, when introduced as “an array of aphrodisiacs,” had the guests flirting like crazy, nibbling on each other’s ears and making wild passes at each other. It’s all about the power of suggestion, she implied.
Yet, I wonder. Perhaps the difference in the behavior exhibited at Allende’s aphrodisiac dinner parties was due to her identifying the food as aphrodisiacs, thereby granting the guests permission to be affected in passionate ways. One thing is clear the motive behind hosting an aphrodisiac party is not to take stock of your friends’ table manners or networking skills. It is motivated by a longing to see their erotic guards lowered, their faces flushed with pleasure, to gauge their flirting prowess. The guests at this East Village party certainly took that bait.
The menu consisted of six courses, each with an accompanying wine. We began with hors d’oeuvres and a rosé. These exquisite morsels were bursts of flavor and energy: Twice-baked baby potatoes with a smoothly textured stuffing; tomato confit, red and fiery; olive and mozzarella roulade, tangy and smooth. It was a cavalcade of mouth bliss! We were off to a good start. These opening delicacies took the edge off of my hunger and hinted at pleasure to come.
Oysters, the most famous aphrodisiac of all, were the first sit-down course and were served with delicious, sparkling prosecco. Two oysters graced each plate, one flavored with grapefruit, the other with horseradish, both topped with salmon caviar. Packed with libido-fortifying nutrients, their salty tastes stimulated our desire for more libations, further loosening our control over our dinner table manners a dangerous and effective combination!
Conversation turned to the lovely spring weather and the flowering trees. “Ahh, the blossoms out in the spring are like a slow-motion orgasm,” the hostess commented with fever in her eyes. Nothing could keep the dialogue away from the erotic.
We were on to the next course: the uncommon pleasure of morel mushrooms stuffed with English peas served with ramps. Ramps, I discovered, are an unusual type of spring onion that is available only a few weeks of the year and are a blood purifying aphrodisiac. These came bathed in a pool of delicious “mushroom foam,” an original creation of the chef whose delicacy inspired us to toast his brilliance. The morels were literally mouth-watering.
By this point the guests had started fawning all over each other. At one side of the table, fortunately the side I was sitting at, massaging and neck biting had begun. As delicate and petite as the courses were, our appetites for the pleasures of the flesh became more robust and pronounced as the night progressed.
The next course was definitely the most exciting for me. Dishes were handed out with melt-in-your-mouth truffled risotto, fava beans, and scrumptious seared diver sea scallops. The mere aroma of the ensemble was enough to get me hot under the collar. For some reason when the forks were given out I did not receive one. About to point out the oversight, I stopped myself when I realized that the two handsome men I sitting between both had forks, so why look any further? They could feed me instead.
This was a brilliant idea. One fed me a forkful while the other fed himself. They switched back and forth and did a magnificent job of feeding me. Being fed in this way heightened my senses and magnified the splendor of the food. I became acutely aware of the coolness and sensuality of the fork entering my mouth. The flavors were more pronounced. I chewed slowly and with delight, entranced by the gorgeous men and the ritual we had invented. Not surprisingly, I was the last to finish my plate.
A spontaneous digestive break introduced dancing between courses. Our host played DJ from his computer, delivering tracks with irresistible beats. In the living room we shook and shimmied, grooved and gyrated, jumped and jostled each other around our dance floor with abandon and style. Any trace of shyness had been diluted by the aphrodisiacs. We felt wild and alive as could be, dancing up a storm as if the living room was a club!
Then we sat down again to enjoy the cheese course. The two cheeses, one of sheep’s milk, one of cow’s, struck me with their fragrance. Cheese had never smelled so enticing before. Equally a feast for the eyes, they were visually stunning.
“The Créme de Bourgogne melts like butter, but as it crosses your palette it will taste better than butter. It will give you an orgasm,” one on the chefs piped up cheekily. Certainly an orgasm of the mouth, I would happily contest.
The wine to match the cheese course was a pinot blanc. Again, we passed our glasses around to be filled.
“Are you OK? That glass is a little dirty!”
“She likes it dirty,” another voice chimed in.
Giggles erupted. No opportunity to exploit innuendo was missed in this flirtatious feast.
Proceeding dessert kissing began. No clothes came off; this was no more than dinner party after all, but the room did steam slightly. The guests that were couples were not shy with each other and those who were mere acquaintances had lost their inhibitions three courses ago. So many pleasures for the mouth in this aphrodisiac tasting soiree!
As dessert was handed out, an anthology of poetry by Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet whose life’s work won him a Nobel prize, appeared at the table. One of the guests opened it with an experienced hand and read his favorite poem. We swooned at its romance and cooed at its closing line, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Every one of our senses was being assaulted by an aphrodisiac of sorts.
The grand finale was a duet of chocolate soufflé and hazelnut créme brulée served with an Australian cabernet sauvignon that I had brought. “Oh, Jena, you have brought the best wine of all!” someone exclaimed joyfully as the glasses were refilled anew. I smiled knowing that the effect of five other wines that proceeded it likely influenced his judgment.
As the sweet course passed appreciatively past my lips I thought with wonder about food. Is the claim of an aphrodisiac, that such food sensually arouses us, true or is it fiction? Food, on a basic level, boils down to a bundle of chemicals that affect the body’s biochemistry in a variety of ways, so why wouldn’t this claim be true?
Certain foods make us feel sexy since their high nutritional value can boost hormone levels in both men and women. For example, high quantities of zinc can stimulate and increase blood flow, which in turn enhances alertness and desire. Chocolate, for example, contains serotonin and phenylethylamine, substances that are found naturally in the human brain when we feel love, passion or lust, inducing feelings of well being that border on euphoria.
Knowing the extreme pleasure chocolate gives me, I saved the chocolate soufflé for last. I simultaneously savored its delightful taste as I witnessed the beauty of my friends relaxing in the candlelight around me. Food is potent, and when mingled with a sensual atmosphere and time to enjoy, there are no bounds to our heights of pleasure. Swallowing the last succulent bite, I let out a deep sigh: “Aaahhh, what sweet satisfaction!”