My substitute lover

Melanie O’Reilly on why food is better than men

Now before any of you think this is going to be another one of those soppy love poems or a reference to Estelle’s latest album, think again.

We have all had at least one moment when our taste buds were seduced and brought to gastronomic nirvana by a dessert, chocolate, meat, vegetable. At that moment there is nothing else, but the heavenly use of texture, flavour, appearance and odour. The beauty of the world of food is that it is a very personal experience, everything is subjective. There is no right or wrong, no revenge, no complications, no heartbreak – well only when you repeatedly fail to perfect making a certain dish, which shall remain nameless. But other than that there is nothing quite as unique and pleasurable as cuisine.

I have always had a keen interest in food: eating, cooking, baking, you name it and I gladly did it. My gastronomic love affair took root in France, when my family moved to the Paris region. I was 12 going on 13, with all the awkwardness that implies, and then some. Nevertheless, a whole new world of textures, tastes and tongue-tantalising ensembles were now within my grasp, when everything else remained out of my control.

A simple trip to buy bread was an experience in itself. Unlike back home, I was exposed to all kinds of wonderful delicacies and I discovered how I preferred my baguette (not too crisp), when the croissants were fresh out of the oven, where to get the best pain au raisin (mmm… crème pâtissière), and the orgasmic experience of my top class boulangerie-pâtisserie’s croissant aux amandes. The combination of a traditional croissant that is softer and flatter with almond paste inside and flaked almonds on top with a sprinkling of icing sugar to finish it all off – this was reserved as a special treat. The twice-weekly markets and all the delights they offered were another experience that I can safely say has spoiled me for any man – in the best kind of way. During my time in Paris I discovered all kinds of new fruits and vegetables, but also the importance of developing a good relationship with the marchands – they know which of their selection is at its very best, and you will be glad of making their acquaintance. It was also thanks to talking to the marchands that I discovered true crème frâiche. It comes from Isigny, and should be quite thick and more yellow than the generic supermarket versions. If you get a chance to try it, take a moment to savour its splendour.

Now, if all these temptations were not enough to convert me, then restaurants sealed the deal. There is something unique about dining out in France, no matter the region, the passion about gastronomie is forever present. It is true that in recent years the younger generation is veering away from tradition, but I can recall many a conversation where a dish was discussed in great depth with people my own age. That is one aspect from my life over there that I dearly miss. However, it must be said that I have met one or two other aficionados with whom I can recount endless kitchen mishaps and who understand the concept of a gastronomic orgasm (it involves blissful moans and a delighted glazed expression).

The return to Ireland was a rude awakening, I was an outsider. The Irish students did not consider me as one of “them” and the foreign students considered me as Irish, I was in limbo. My interest in food dwindled the longer I was back home, until I rarely even baked a cake. But then I started on the slippery slope of dating.

This is when the world of food became my solace. As things became worse and worse, my dishes became better, more subtle, I paid more attention to presentation, and I began to experiment more and more. Although the romantic part of my life was a disaster zone, cooking for friends and family gave me such pleasure seeing them licking their lips and asking for seconds. I was slowly becoming more Martha Stewart than Monica Bellucci. Until, one day about six months ago, I decided, after my last war zone of a break up, to go on a dating sabbatical. Now, I would like to think I am no two-bagger (although beauty is indescribable), but the sabbatical was actually fairly easy to implement as I have an ice queen veneer. So, instead of pouring every last ounce of my energy into men (with the same disastrous results), I started to focus on cultivating more knowledge about different food types. I applied for an editorial position in Trinity News, in the hope that the editors would not think I was absolutely barmy, and realise that I was in love with food and drink. Luckily for me, they chose me as editor (momentary insanity may be what they are thinking now) and to be perfectly honest, life is pretty sweet when you get to write about, and put in print, your passion. The most surprising aspect to my love of the culinary world is the positive response I have received from friends after reading the section, and their excitement about what will appear next. This excitement around my great passion was and is my goal. I just hope that each issue will open unto the students, lecturers, and staff, a new and interesting take on the infinite pleasures in which food plays the lead. Let the love affair continue.