"There is logic and order to cooking. What you put into it has everything to do with what you get out of it. With love, it's not so cut and dried."
Giulia Melucci's memoir, I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti , follows the former Harper's Magazine public-relations vice-president through 17 years of failed relationships, as well as the recipes she used to lure men, sustain her romances and comfort herself when they faded away.
The boyfriends, whose identities are all concealed, include an "affectionate alcoholic" who prefers tallboy cans to Ms. Melucci's angel-hair pasta; a "classic New York City commitment-phobe" for whom she cooks an equally arduous risotto; a "hipster aged past his sell date" who shuns the vanilla in her pancakes; and "not one, but two novelists with Peter Pan complexes," one of whom manages to make her a mean rigatoni with eggplant.
Food also extends to her boyfriends' ex-girlfriends: Ms. Melucci is not troubled by "visions of complex acrobatics performed in bed" - she is haunted only by her predecessors' cooking.
But when she's single, food becomes a salve: Ms. Melucci makes herself pastina, tiny pasta stars that Italians feed their children when they fall sick.
Ms. Melucci spoke with The Globe and Mail about food and men from her Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment.
You write that food was the thread between these men because the only thing you were truly confident about was your cooking.
From the minute I left my mother's house, I got my first boyfriend that same week and I started cooking. To me, that's what being an adult and having your own home was, and men came along with it.
Ultimately, food doesn't bond men to you. But you write that you got what you were looking for from each of them. How does that work?
Even though I fantasized about commitment, I had my own fears. I could just scare them away because I'm overly accommodating. It is a curious thing and it's the frustration that led me to write the book. I worked in publishing: All I did was enable people to write. I started writing about men, but I had a book when I realized that the food was the thread, and that was a beautiful thing. Cooking was also something that I'd been working on all these years.
What was the common denominator between the types of men that you dated?
I think everyone I found are people who can't commit. I'm lucky in the sense that there are a lot of women dating men for 10 years and they don't want to marry, and then two weeks later, he gets married. I really found the ones who genuinely don't want to get married.
You were cooking for these guys but you also had your own job. Was there the sense that because they had nothing left to provide that you weren't stirring any protector urges?
It could be. I performed this traditional role but it's not like they provided for me. I was usually picking up the tab.
Who are you cooking for now?
Mostly just myself. I made spaghetti for a man from Vancouver a couple weeks ago. I think he liked it. Men are easy to please.
How do you feel when you cook for yourself?
You should cook nice things for yourself. A glass of wine and a nice piece of fish, it feels good. I don't believe in takeout, there's nothing more depressing than that.
Was Lachlan, the Scottish author who used you to land a book deal, also the only man who cooked for you?
Pretty much. He could really cook. He wanted to be taken care of, too, even though he could take care of himself. He liked being babied.
So when you were dumping him you bought him takeout instead of cooking from scratch? That's generous.
Yeah, it was premarinated pork tenderloin from Dean & DeLuca. I wouldn't go so far as takeout.
You said your mother was always available for cooking tips, but didn't have so much to advise on love.
My mother too is a person who gives and gives. Over the years, it's always been a fun thing to call my mother wherever I am to ask her how to do something. It's another reason why I cook, not just to please men, but to have a connection to my mother. It's a really strong one and a really conflict-free one.
So what happens to women who never cook for men?
They probably have a better life. Certainly, I'm here to say, it doesn't do anything. I have dinner parties and all the married women don't cook a thing. Most of the men cook for the women. Maybe I just like to cook and I've been using the men as a reason to cook. It's not going to make someone who doesn't love you love you, even though I guess I've tried.