Cooking with Your Valentine

The Natural History Museum Explains How to Eat Something Sexy

Most days, there’s no better place to bring the kids than the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. But Sunday, February 10, isn’t most days. That’s when the somewhat staid museum loosens its metaphorical tie (and maybe more) for Eat Something Sexy, the latest installment in its popular Natural History of : series. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the museum will revel in aphrodisiacs. And people have to be older than 21 to attend.

The program will be hosted by John Cleese, perhaps to offer the full Monty Python. But the major attraction for the evening will be Amy Reiley, author of Fork Me, Spoon Me: the sensual cookbook. (It’s so hot, it exhausts the capital letters in its title before it gets to the subtitle.) Here’s how Reiley puts it in the book’s intro: “The idea is simple-the act of eating is a multisensory experience, and when combined with the right ingredients and intentions, food becomes positively sexual.”

Reiley sets the tone by describing a delightfully dirty dozen ingredients and their seductive powers-almond, chile, chocolate, fig, ginger, honey, mango, mint, peach, rosemary, saffron, vanilla-and then provides just enough recipes and more than enough double entendres to get anyone hot and bothered. In a recent phone interview, she admitted it’s impossible for her to think in single entendre at this point, which is no surprise when a recipe has instructions like, “Pour honey over your nuts on a foil-lined baking sheet. Fold up the edges of the foil to prevent your sweet honey from oozing all over the oven.” And when she gets to mint butter and discussing a “smear campaign” and “divine lubricant,” you almost find yourself re-writing scenes from Last Tango in Paris.

Reiley’s palate took a turn for the sexy because, she said, “I was working in the food industry and as a journalist and wanted to get people excited. It comes from the food side first. So I decided to get them excited about food by getting them excited.” She has serious food chops, too: In August 2004, she became the second American to earn the title Master of Gastronomy awarded by France’s Le Cordon Bleu. Her approach to the study of aphrodisiacs is a wide-open mix of mythology, physiology, food science, folklore, hearsay, and experience. So much so that she even knows what foods aren’t titillators of other hungers. “I’ve done some research and writing, and beer isn’t an aphrodisiac,” she said. “Some ales can be seductive, but your average beer leaves you quite bloated. : I wouldn’t call a Diet Coke an aphrodisiac.”

Despite my protestations that someone taking the care to cook for you is always somewhat of a seduction, Reiley shot back, “Well, my grandmother used to make me a great meatloaf, but I certainly didn’t take it as an aphrodisiac. It depends upon the messenger, the intention while you’re doing it. I’ll bake cookies for my boyfriend and it’s just a gesture, not a come-on.”

People also shouldn’t think of aphrodisiacs just as one-a-day supplements. “There are some gender differences,” Reiley informed me. “If a couple wants long-term great sexual health, they’ll eat different foods. But if they want one very sexy evening, they should go for chile and both get that flush to raise their heat.”

As for what an event-goer can expect coming to the S.B. Museum of Natural History event, Reiley suggested, “It’s always fun. People start letting down their guard pretty quickly. They get into that fun, flirtatious mode. It often clears the room pretty quickly, maybe more so than it should, but it does. Hopefully everyone will learn something and be inspired and go home and get cooking.”

Tasting Path

After the presentation by Reiley and Cleese, event-goers will have the opportunity to explore the world of aphrodisiacs along a tempting Tasting Path lined with purveyors of delectables sure to entice. Some of the participants of the Tasting Path include: Alexander & Wayne Winery, Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, Arthur Earl Winery, Au Bon Climat, Barcliff & Bair, Beckmen Vineyards, Cambria Winery, Carhartt Vineyard, Cellar 205, Chocolate Maya, Chocolats du CaliBressan, Christine Dahl Pastries, Costa de Oro Winery, Crumbs, Elements, Fiddlehead Cellars, Jaffurs, Jessica Foster Confections, Kaleidoscope Flowers, Lafond Winery & Vineyards, Lazy Acres Catering, Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards & Winery, Melville Vineyards & Winery, Michael’s Catering, Mondial, Palmina, Presidio Vineyard & Winery, Pure Joy Catering, Purrmission, Qupe, SBCC School of Culinary Arts, The Chocolate Guy, and Whitcraft Winery.

4•1•1 Eat Something Sexy, part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Natural History of : series, takes place on Sunday, February 10, from 2:30-5:30 p.m., at the museum (2559 Puesta del Sol Rd.). Members $45, nonmembers $60. Call 682-4711 x170 or visit


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