Relationships

What Do You Cook on a First Date?

What Do You Cook on a First Date?

When I was in grad school, I had a crush on a boy in the history department. To impress him…

…I invited him over to my shoebox apartment and cooked him a ridiculous multi-course dinner: We started with lots of white wine and maple-candied toasts, topped with soft-bellied Camembert; next was the soup course, a creamy tomato number, followed by whole trout en papillote with minted pea puree and sautéed pattypan squash; the finale was homemade vanilla ice cream with raspberry coulis (which I was, thankfully, able to prep the night before). We balanced our dinner plates on a tiny side table and kept our wine glasses on the floor by our feet. It would’ve been romantic had it not been so extravagant. To make matters worse, the conversation was stilted, since I had to run back and forth from the kitchen to dole out each new course.

As impressed as History Boy was with the meal I had cooked for him, on a graduate-student budget no less, he immediately fell asleep on my bed. The food had put him into a stupor. When he awoke from his nap, he kissed me on the cheek and took a cab home, leaving me with a sink full of dishes and an empty bed.

I’ve certainly eased up on my date-night entertaining in recent years*. Not least because I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin and don’t feel the need to prove my worth through my cooking anymore. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I’ve found that it’s through the nape of his neck (more on that later). It wasn’t until I met my last boyfriend, who was also a very good cook, that I learned to streamline what exactly a table for two should look like: There should be one main dish, especially something you can make in advance and reheat later; no appetizer, but maybe a side salad or crusty bread to go with. Dessert can still be vanilla ice cream, but store-bought. These days I’ve been especially fond of making my own butterscotch sauce to go atop, which is just butter, brown sugar, and sea salt melted in a saucepan, then blushed with heavy cream and boiled together until thick. It’s divine. The last boy I made this for was clinking his spoon against the parfait glass like he was digging for gold.

The point is that you should make it easy on yourself — because the focus should be you, not the food. Not to say that the food doesn’t matter; it certainly does, but only in that what you cook should be something that doesn’t get in the way of conversation, something that isn’t too heavy or too messy to eat, and, perhaps most of all, something that leaves plenty of time for making out later.

So what do you cook on a first date?

When I asked my friends this question on Instagram, I got a slew of responses:

“Roast chicken. You can tell a lot about someone by how they eat chicken.”
“I would just do crudités, cheese, and charcuterie with wine.”
“Tacos. Easy and everyone likes them.”
“Something fun and playful, like pancakes or cinnamon rolls.”
“Pizza because it’s fun to make and you can do parts of it ahead.”
“Something you don’t have to look down at a lot to eat. Maybe something on toast?”
“Something to show off your sweet pan-handling skills. Nothing says keeper like someone who can flip things in a pan with one hand.”
“Oh, wow, I do not cook on a first date unless it’s scrambled eggs in the morning.”
“If I cooked for a first date, I wouldn’t get a second.”

These were the anomalies. Most people said the same thing: pasta. Why? It’s comforting and familiar, not to mention easy to cook. And I might agree, but with one stipulation: Make sure it’s a shorter shape, so you’re not slurping around and waiting to chew and swallow a big bite of noodle before you answer your date’s next question.

Case in point: One time, years ago when my then-boyfriend was flying in from Atlanta to visit me in New York, I made a small casserole dish of fusilli, which I had layered the night before like a lasagna: crushed tomatoes straight from the can, dollops of sweet creamy ricotta, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a little dried oregano. When he was 30 minutes out, in a cab on his way from La Guardia, I popped this into the oven, made a simple green salad, and opened a bottle of red wine. Dinner was ready by the time he got to my door. We ate the pasta straight out of the pan, the two of us sitting across from each other on stools at the kitchen island, catching up and getting drunk on wine. I’ll always remember what he told me about that pasta: “It tastes pretty.” He said the prettiness came from how simple it was; relaxed, but balanced.

When we finished eating, he got up from the kitchen island over to my side, where the sink and the dirty dishes were. Before insisting that I stay seated while he washed the dishes, he kissed the nape of my neck and said thank you.

* Especially in this time of social isolation, I’ve been laying off the dating apps (though, admittedly, not without enjoying a virtual date or two over FaceTime).

Eric Kim writes the fantastic Food52 column Table for One. He also wrote about his rescue dog. You can find him on Instagram.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow.)

  1. Kathryn says...

    Cute post! Thoroughly enjoyable read.

  2. Caroline says...

    Love love love this post, beautifully written, and made me think. As a woman, I have been told to never cook for a first date because then you set their expectations to that, so save cooking for a little way into the relationship. But Eric, I think you just talked me into flexing some cooking skills on a first date, not anytime soon, however. One Day!

  3. Lizzie says...

    Loved this story! Hope we’ll hear more from Eric! Xx

  4. Olivia says...

    Such a perfect post, and I love the way he writes! I found myself scrolling when I reached the end of the story, still ready to hear more from him!

  5. Becca says...

    Such a lovely post. Makes me think of the hum of excitement I’d get while getting ready for a date with my husband during the early days of our dating.

    It’s so impressive that Eric makes dinner for first dates. He must have a long, elaborate getting to know you process before them. I know I did. I remember telling my husband that I needed to be able to talk to him on the phone and charmed before I would agree to a date, because otherwise it would be torture with a side salad present.

  6. rachel says...

    I would never have someone over for a first date…way too intimate! unless I had known them for a long time. Sharing my home and meal with someone that I cooked, is too much for a 1st date, that feels more like a 10th date…

    • CS says...

      I was thinking the same thing! I guess everyone is different! Lol For me, though, dinner at my home is way too intimate for a first date. I want to hang out in public areas first to make sure that I want to spend more time with you (like a whole evening alone together!), that I want to be more intimate with you, and that you are actually a safe person to have in my home!

  7. Veronica says...

    Like the hopeless romantic (and roast chicken lover) I am, I made Ina Garten’s Engagement Chicken the first time I cooked for him. Right before quarantine, we went engagement ring shopping. I need to write that thank you note to Ina like I’ve been meaning to.

  8. Tanya rana says...

    I read your blog it is really amazing

  9. Nicole A. says...

    Before the first dinner date with my now-boyfriend, I was craving hotdogs. I told him to bring whatever condiments he wanted for his, and I would get the meat and a few toppings, as well. He told his friends about our plans, and they were like, “Bro! You can’t bring sauerkraut! Your breath will smell and she won’t kiss you at the end of the night!” Haha. So he didn’t bring any. I had bought some, though, not knowing about their conversation. So when he arrived and saw the jar, he laughed and confessed their words of warning to him. Despite their concerns, we kissed at the end of the night, funny breath and all! I even used the leftover sauerkraut to make reuben sandwiches for our second dinner date! Now the rest is history!

  10. Tshego B says...

    First thought was meatballs! Then I thought mmhh…maybe roast chicken? I think my first thought was correct: meatballs are simple, delicious & everyones favourite. A whole roast chicken on the other hand, thats kind of an I love you meal.

  11. Abby says...

    I am missing that butterscotch sauce recipe! :)

  12. AJ says...

    Yes Eric’s back! Joy to see your byline Eric. Ha this rings so many bells. And boy I can’t wait to cook dinner for somebody again (and make out after)… how sweet that time will be.

  13. M. Christie says...

    Great post, gave me the warm fuzzies, so romantic! My boyfriend, now husband over 30 years and counting, was the first guy I’d dated who didn’t like to picnic in bed so I didn’t cook for him for many months in the beginning. He had a memorable reaction when one morning after an overnight visit, I went grocery shopping while he slept. Had bacon and easy- over eggs waiting for him when he finished showering. Terrific moment! His favorite and finding out I could cook.

  14. Rachel says...

    I love this. The trying-so-hard meal, the simple loving meal, the kiss on the nape of the neck. This whole post “tastes pretty”. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Leah says...

    My now husband made homemade paella on our first date at his place. He had never made it before and took a leap of faith and it turned out DELICIOUS. We now eat it on special occasions and it brings back all the memories of our first months spent together :)

  16. Alanna says...

    What a sweet post.

  17. Katie says...

    OMG this post made me giddy with excitement. So sweet. I love food, cooking, and cooking for others, and didn’t realise my faux pasta in not knowing how to roast a chicken!!! I can say I’m one excellent baker though – a flourless chocolate cake with homemade vanilla bean ice cream definitely impressed the guy I was smitten with. And when he washed the dishes immaculately after, I WAS SOLD. Dreamboat right there. Regret not marrying that guy!
    Now to head back to planning and practicing go-to date meals for future times when we’re back to the fun and games of dating life.

  18. Gaby says...

    17yrs ago, my husband made me spaghetti with meat sauce – Prego with added garlic salt and ground beef. He served me a massive portion and later we danced to Brown Eyed Girl. He still makes us this often, but we use a cleaner sauce, no garlic salt, add mushrooms, and too with pecorino romano. Perfect then, perfect now.

  19. Alice says...

    My first date with my boyfriend was at a gorgeous wine bar, where we drank two bottles of Cote du Rhone and ordered a cheese board a couple of hours in. While we were waiting for our cheese to arrive, a homeless woman walked into the bar, straight to the table next to us and took all the bread and packets of butter from the bread basket on their table! It was a massive shock, but I think we both realised how excellent the other person was when we both reacted with surprise, amusement, and sympathy- I turned to him and said “Gosh, she must be really hungry, poor thing” and he said “I was thinking the same thing!!!”.

    The first thing he cooked for me was an Ottolenghi stuffed aubergine dish which I still insist he makes for me at regular intervals. But I can’t remember the first thing I made for him! Heartbroken. Oh well, we’re using lockdown to cook incredibly time consuming and delicious food that we never normally make the time for. It’s the best bit of lockdown!

  20. Kay says...

    Not a first date but the first time I cooked a meal for a boyfriend, I was grilling salmon and having it ready for when he arrived. I pulled the tray out from under the grill to check the salmon (English grill, you might call it something else) and dropped the whole thing on the floor. He was due any minute and I was devastated as I had nothing else I could possibly offer him. So I picked it up and carried on cooking it and he never knew until I told him the story years later. I married him.

  21. Makbawehuh says...

    Carbonara, Nonna-style, with the eggs curdled and not goopy, seems to have been the winner. Nothing says laid back comfort like pasta with bacon and eggs, especially when the date turns into a late night turns into a sleepover and the lines between the days blur. Something about 1 in the morning demands it. 7 AM demands it equally.

    Seven years on and I never found my way back to my old apartment except to grab my things. The first date never really officially ended.

    Our doctors have obnoxiously requested in the strongest terms that the carbonara stop, but, at one in the morning, the siren song of carbonara still occasionally calls… Just from much smaller bowls than it did that first night.

  22. SB says...

    My second date with my most recent ex – he offered to cook for us at his flat. For starter – just some simple crudite and baked tofu fingers and the most AMAZING peanut dipping sauce. Then this really elaborate thai curry recipe – but he didn’t have enough coconut milk so added regular milk and it curdled and got all weird (but like the flavour was still good??). It was adorable at the time how bummed he was (you could tell he normally had successes in the kitchen!). But we had so much wine and then after dinner whiskey and chocolate and it was all good.

    Throughout the relationship whenever we wanted to have a night in just us and trying to figure out what to eat…I’d always cheekily ask for the peanut sauce. Anything with the peanut sauce! I make it on my own now – who says you don’t learn from past relationships? haha

    • Caitrin says...

      Do you have a recipe for this peanut sauce?! I am a sucker for any kind of peanut sauce and I am intrigued….

  23. Emma says...

    Only commenting to say I loved this so much. What an excellent writer. More! More!

  24. Abbey says...

    Oooh this is the best. Food and flirting. There is no better combination for light reading right now. This made me think of how immensely lucky I’ve been that several of my dates and lovers over the past few years have wooed me somehow with their exceedingly good cooking skills. A simple garlic toast with crushed roasted tomatoes. A pasta puttanesca first course, with sous-vide tuna steak as the second course. Zucchini cream penne and whole pan-fried fish, with fresh fruit as dessert. It’s especially sexy when it seems effortless and yet well-prepared.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked for a *first* date (at least not memorably). But my go-to in warmer months is a stupidly simple and delicious chilled pea soup poured over crunchy pan-toasted chunks of bread (this comes from a Mario Battali cookbook I believe. Look it up. It practically runs through my veins in late Spring and Summer).

    Also risotto is a great option. It’s thought of as so fussy, but it’s not complicated. It just takes time. There’s some charming bonding that goes into taking turns stirring and pouring wine, snacking on olives, hanging out barefoot in the kitchen while getting to know each other.

  25. Such a treat to find Eric’s posts here! Thank you!

  26. Neha says...

    Loved it!! 🤗😂🤗

  27. Ginny says...

    Love this!! Mine is Risotto! It takes 30 minutes to make, but it isn’t difficult. It gives you time to talk and drink some wine, plus it’s something to keep your hands occupied so you don’t seem as awkward. And you can give your date a simple task to do to help, like grate the parmesan or chop up tomatoes and cucumbers for a simple salad. I still love making risotto for my husband and it’s one of his favorite meals!

    • Abbey says...

      Agreed! I didn’t see you comment and just posted the same idea. Risotto is perfect for kitchen bonding.

  28. Kelsea says...

    My boyfriend made me a roast chicken on our third date (our first date at one of our places). He bikes everywhere, and I think I will always remember the sight of him pulling the ingredients out of his backpack one by one, ending with a whole chicken. There was something so sweet and silly (in the best way) about him biking across town with a whole chicken in his backpack to cook for me! We drank wine, listened to music, and shared more than a few kisses while the chicken cooked – it was so romantic. Two years later, we love to cook all sorts of meals together, but my favorite will always be a roast chicken.

    • Kimberly says...

      This so adorable, Kelsea! He’s so thoughtful. I love the image of a guy wanting to cook dinner for someone he loves, biking home from the grocery store, and pulling a whole chicken out of his backpack.

  29. Laura Herrmann says...

    What a delightful piece! Today was a hard day, but now I’m remembering how my husband cooked food that “tasted pretty” on our first dates, and looking forward to cooking some “pretty food” with him tonight. Thank you, Eric. I look forward to hearing more from you.

  30. My now-husband won me over with his roast chicken. It was our third or fourth date, at his studio. I’ll forever remember walking inside, Buena Vista Social Club playing in the background, candles lit, and the warm aroma of a roast chicken atop rosemary laden potatoes and caramelizing onions finishing in the oven. He had his kitchen towel slung effortlessly so over his left shoulder, greeting me with a glass of wine and soft kiss. He timed it perfectly so the chicken could rest while we started with a frisee salad and light conversation. The meal continued, the conversation deepened, the roast chicken – the best I’d ever eaten – performing center stage on our wine crate table. I learned that night how he loves through food and cares with his hands, all through the process of serving others. Ten years later, I still consider his roast chicken the foundation of “us.”

  31. AE says...

    I went ahead and made butterscotch after reading this! It’s SO good.

  32. Dom says...

    Loved this article – so sweet and warming to the soul xx

  33. Erica Nicksin says...

    I love this post and the comments. It got me thinking, I don’t think I’ve ever cooked for someone on a first date because I don’t think I’ve ever had a “first date”. I’ve always met people who were friends of my friends or lived near me and it’s always been instant hanging out all the time. No actual dating. It I realized that when I met my ex he had no idea how to cook anything and when we would hang out, I taught him to cook. (I also taught him how to dress properly and tie a tie.) I am glad to have left him with those lessons and to have met a guy who likes cooking as much as I do.

  34. I love this! I don’t remember what my boyfriend and I cooked, but our third date – our first “serious” date (as in not a “let’s get beers date”) – we decided to cook dinner together at his house. Rather than getting the ingredients ahead of time, we decided to go grocery shopping for the ingredients together. I remember telling him, “I LOVE grocery shopping!” To which he replied, “Me too!” That’s when I knew it was serious.

    • Would love the recipe for that butterscotch sauce!! :-)

  35. kiki says...

    One of the first meals I cooked for my now husband was grilled chicken. Which – true to my risk-taking self – I had never tried making before. I DROWNED it in olive oil terrified it would be dry. Like, basically deep-fat fried it. But, it was just a naked chicken breast swimming in oil. It was really, really terrible. And, no sides for some reason. It actually became a joke in our marriage early-on that I never made a side dish, but would tackle these elaborate main-courses. At the time I was legit SHOCKED that it wasn’t good. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of failure. I like food, had tons of exposure to it, surely I could cook it! Turns out…nope! You need to practice that ish. Oh to have the blind confidence of a 19yo again. LOL

  36. Abbiemirand says...

    This was such a sweet piece! I was grinning as soon as you mentioned a way to man’s heart is the nape is the neck. Hope to hear more from you, Eric!

  37. Emily says...

    This made me so hungry! And it was warm and enticing. It read like Heartburn, a favorite. I want recipes for everything he mentions!

  38. Jessie says...

    My husband wooed me with banana bread <3 It escalated to dinners (I brought the beer). He cooks the majority of the meals to this day, and we can't wait to have friends over again for dinner.

  39. Anonymous says...

    This has sent me back down memory lane to a date I had maybe 12 years ago. A guy I had been on a few dates with offered to cook me dinner and came over with a pasta machine to MAKE HIS OWN PASTA and a Frank Sinatra CD, along with wine and the ingredients to make a smoked salmon cream sauce. I had kind of been lukewarm on him up until this point but I found his whole shtick irresistible and we ended up having GREAT sex despite bellies full of pasta.

    It didn’t work out that guy and I am now married (and expecting a baby with) a beautiful guy who barely cooks at all but I enjoyed the memories this morning!

    Food and its surrounds is always such a trip down memory lane.

  40. Sara says...

    My husband and I always joke about the breakfast I made after his first sleepover! Microwaved eggs with frozen peas and a slice of Kraft cheese on top. I thought it was genius and a quick. Years later I was surprised to hear how disgusted he was. He ended up throwing it in the trash when I had to leave for class. My cooking skills have improved 10 years later, but I still think I have some meals he forces a smile through. :)

  41. AM says...

    Love love this! Thank you Eric for making me smile:)

  42. First dates for me are usually out at a bar for drinks because I need to vet them in person from online dating. But if they make it into my home for a meal it’s probably (and has been) Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken and a side of broccoli and rice. It’s delicious and simple. Also I’m an exhausted grad student so you can’t really ask more from me. I do like like to actually cook but unlikely I’ll put that much effort into someone until I know they are worth it. And if they are worth it they won’t care about my lazy meal and love it as much as I do. Also I really love this meal and eat it regularly with my current SO.

  43. Deanna says...

    I mean, I’d never cook for someone on a first date because I didn’t want them to know where I live, but the first meal I made for my husband was a chicken quesadilla, but I knew he was a keeper when he made me nachos (one of his 5 recipes at the time). My mom and dad met at one of her Friday nacho parties, so it seemed like a good sign.

  44. Addison says...

    My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly eight years. We met in college and, on our first date, we made fresh spring rolls and peanut sauce. It was the perfect meal for a first date because they’re fairly easy and fun to make. Neither of us had made them before, and we both had zero knife skills, so we carefully worked together to julienne all of the vegetables. Now we make them every year on our anniversary!

    • Sarz says...

      You’ve just named my favourite food of all time. I’ve never really gotten the hang of rice paper wraps. Sounds like you two need to make a YouTube tutorial! 🤩

  45. omg Eric Kim from Food52! I had to double check this was the same Eric Kim as I loved some of his prior pieces on Food52 but I’m so happy to see him on one of my favorite blogs, CoJ!

  46. Amy says...

    Biscuits. I used my roommate’s boyfriend’s kitchen for months to make from-scratch biscuits at least one night a week for a few months (our dorm room didn’t have a kitchen). The boyfriend’s roommate’s mom was always sending him homemade jam, which worked out nicely as a midnight snack for the four of us.

    My roommate and her boyfriend didn’t stay together, but I’ve been married to his roommate for 10 years now – and his mom still sends us homemade jam ;) Guess I know what I’m making with dinner tonight!

    • molly says...

      Adorable!! xo

  47. Lucía says...

    I love this post! My go-to is braised short ribs/pot roast, mash potatoes, freshly baked Parker House rolls. And wine! But regardless of what I decide to cook, I always leave something for my date to help out with (set the table, finishing touches on the mash potatoes, beat the whipped cream for dessert, etc). I find that it’s a great icebreaker and helps ease any nervousness we may be feeling.

  48. Nina says...

    First time I cooked with my now-husband it was a disaster. We ended up going out (it was that bad). I don’t think I’ve cooked for many other people and it seems people prefer that. Haha

  49. Tara says...

    Yes. i am full fucking martha stuart during quarantine. homemade meatballs. grandma’s cake. omelettes. all day stew, I AM HERE FOR IT. usually, I would never cook for anyone until 3rd date or unless they are VERY good kisser. i met a man before quarantine and then we were thrown in this faux relationship. he never did do the dishes and or brought dessert/ wine/ etc. I had to say thank you, next. now my meals are alone. cooking with someone you learn so much. do they offer to do the dishes? who is their mother? will they wait for you to sit down before eating? Tonight on the menu is NACHOS for dinner.

    • Jenny says...

      I love this comment! Do they offer to do the dishes? Who is their mother? Enjoy your nachos!

    • Kristen says...

      Absolutely, Tara!!

  50. Chantal says...

    When I was 19, I was having a boy over for dinner for the first time. It was our 3rd date. I microwaved Salmon in a steam bag, and put it in a pan in the oven before he came over. I also microwaved rice and took it out of the Uncle Ben’s bag and put it in a pot minutes before he arrived. I hid the evidence at the very bottom of my garbage can and covered it with paper towels. He was SO impressed and talked about it for weeks. Never told him that everything was nuked.

    • Sarz says...

      Hey, the majority of points should be awarded for concept and presentation, anyhow! 😉

  51. Bess says...

    Loved this!

  52. Wendy says...

    I spent such a big part of my early twenties being a nurturer of others- always cooking big, elaborate, comforting meals for friends (and dates!). It felt good to show my love through food. This was also a metaphor for other aspects of my life- I was a huge people pleaser, overly generous to a fault, but never took time to nurture myself, let alone allow anybody to nurture me in return. By the time I reached my late twenties, I was exhausted, burnt out, and had forgotten how to value myself. I needed a change. I moved to a tiny town in a completely different state and started a new job and a new life. I quickly met a tall, handsome guy from New York who happened to be a chef. On our second date, he asked if he could come over to my place for dinner. I assumed he was going to pick up a few tacos on his way over. An hour later, he showed up with his entire knife kit, kitchen tools, and grocery bags full of supplies, turned on some music, and spent the next 3 hours cooking me the most elaborate home-made foraged wild nettle lasagna completely from scratch – in my kitchen. I’ll never forget the feeling of being truly nurtured for the first time by someone else or the fact that my heart was won over by lasagna. 5 years later and we still share a giant place of fancy lasagna on every anniversary.

    • Sarz says...

      😻 Gosh, that’s romantic. I’m so happy that you two found each other. And now I’m going to have to Google wild nettle lasagna!

    • AM says...

      This resonated with me.
      Love love your story.

    • Eleanor says...

      Bowled over by this memory. You grew, and someone found you who matched your growth. Beautiful.

    • Jenny says...

      I cried. You deserve the beautiful things you give others!!!!!

    • makbawehuh says...

      That is so sweet! Lasagna holds a special place in romance, I think. :)

  53. Jen M. says...

    The first time I cooked for my now husband, I made tofu-stuffed shells. (I was vegetarian at the time, am (still) dairy free, and wanted to avoid garlic/onion for obvious reasons.) Knowing him as well as I know him now, I know what a stretch it was for him — he loves BBQ more than anything! He eyed them skeptically, put a couple small shells on his plate, then went back for seconds and thirds because they’re delicious.

  54. Julie says...

    I made my now husband chicken piccata with pappardelle when we first started dating and he still requests it once a month 11 years later. In that time we’ve eaten just…so much piccata. I’m half caper now.

    • Erica Nicksin says...

      That’s my go to nice dinner dish! My husband had never had it and he’s hooked. It’s damn good. I always have multiple jars of capers waiting in the wings.

    • Jessica says...

      Haha – “half caper” – so funny!

  55. This was the sweetest way to start my day — thank you! Eric, I love your writing. Delicious is the perfect word.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i agree <3

    • Cassandra Casey says...

      Agree! Great story.

    • Sarz says...

      I must agree! The tone of your essays feels like that of a (very kitchen-savvy) friend. 😁

  56. Claire says...

    Awwwww, this was too sweet. :)

  57. C says...

    One of my sweetest first dates was hand-making mozzarella with an extremely cute bike-boy a good handful of years ago. It was his idea, and a very clever one. It even involved a short bike jaunt to the store to grab some more rennet, which was perfect on this particularly sultry summer evening. We made mozz, listened to some music, chatted and drank tea.

  58. Sarah says...

    I don’t remember the first time cooking for my now-husband, but he had a birthday right after we started dating and I brought him a mini carrot cake with cream cheese frosting from a local bakery. He says it was one of the early signs I was a keeper. I do remember we had an eventful evening in which we attempted to cook together for a friend of mine, a couple of months into dating. We were making latkes, which refused to come together, and having our first fight in whispers (over whether or not he wanted kids someday – he wasn’t sure, I was, and I wanted to know if I was wasting my time) while my friend sat in the living room eating cheese and waiting for us to come back from the kitchen. Luckily everything worked out, we are expecting our first baby this fall and have not attempted to make latkes from scratch since!

  59. nadine says...

    This makes me think, what do you think is the best way to announce any dietary restriction when invited for a date or a meal with someone you don’t know well?
    I’m vegetarian and I had a few uneasy situations, they weren’t dates but once it was an elder relative that invited me for lunch when I moved to a new city, another time a new neighbour I had just met offered an impromptu dinner after gardening together..
    I don’t want to control what others eat (you do you) and I want to be appreciative of the effort but I also feel uncomfortable to be in the situation of refusing food. In a few situations I sucked it up and ate what was served anyway, but I felt so bad afterwards, that even if my host may not have noticed, it didn’t feel appreciative at all.

    • Amanda says...

      I find the easiest way to do this is to get the info out right away AND also offer to bring your own dish for those particularly stumped on how to accommodate. Also, a helpful “I’d love to go eat, I’m vegetarian so I can offer up some places that would work for both of us if you want”. I have many vegan friends who have brought their own faux-meat to grill outs and one who even told me not to worry about getting them a vegan entree at my wedding bc she understood (I did anyways, I’m not a jerk!).

    • nadine says...

      Thanks Amanda!! I like a lot the way you formulate the invitation to go out.
      I did bring emergency snacks at weddings, and I am the friend who says not to worry, haha It’s nice of you for thinking of your friends entrees!

  60. Alison says...

    Love this! I would usually say pizza too. But with my current boyfriend, we’d been on three dates before I had a two week trip to California. We texted a little throughout the trip, but with a few years of NYC dating history under my belt – I wondered if I was ever going to see him again. When I got back to New York, I texted him saying that I brought fresh artichokes and avocados back with me on the plane if he wanted to be spontaneous and come over. We ate steamed artichokes with lots of butter and avocado toasts and, now, a year and a half later we are living together and cooking each other lots of treats to make this pandemic more bearable.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so cute, alison!

  61. Wow, I love Eric’s writing!! That was so enjoyable to read, I only wish we could have a taste of his cooking too. :)

  62. Oh Eric, I’ve loved your writing for a while now, and am so glad you are on Cup of Jo!! Welcome!! (I say that as if CoJ is “my” corner of the internet to welcome someone to, which I guess it sometimes feels like it is!)

  63. Amber says...

    Love seeing posts from Eric! I found him on Food 52 when he was last featured here. I wish he would put a cookbook together (along with his stories of course!). Would love to see more from him on Cup of Jo too!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      he’s working on a cookbook right now! so excited :)

  64. Meagan says...

    I enjoy reading Eric’s writing on food 52, and I’m glad to see him here sometimes too. I second the other comment about a book. I would buy it!

  65. maria says...

    i don’t cook, never have and probably never will. that said, i DO make pasta – on occasion. pasta doesn’t require “cooking” skills. boiling water and heating sauce = success! i also married a man who is an excellent cook, so there’s that.

    i always say i am an excellent “assembler” – you want a beautifully turned out buffet? i do that and more! most of our parties are assemblies of cold foods with a few homemade items from my husband – hummus, pasta salad, etc. all else is charcuterie, cheeses, olives, nuts and our guests always LOVE the food. copious amounts of wine and beer helps too.

    i also excel at finding great recipes, and suggestions on how to make them better, haha. perhaps deep down i am a cook? i don’t think so. i’m merely an idea person. ;)

    bottomline, someone makes ME pasta on a first date (or ANY time) is a winner! i LOVE pasta. LOVE. i do grow our own tomatoes, basil, etc. so my husband can make us sauce to last a year (using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as inspiration) i also adore Michael’s pf Brooklyn Arrabiatta sauce. Pasta, sauce, crusty bread and red wine = PERFECT date. period. you don’t need to show off for me in the kitchen, just whet my appetite. :0

  66. Fiona says...

    loooooove everything about this! I would love to hear more from Eric!

  67. Cait says...

    Oh hi, Maggie’s gorgeous apartment in the background (which COJ should totally feature)!

    • Angie Poss says...

      Yes! That bookcase – I need to know more.

    • Amy says...

      Love this. Thank you for featuring diverse points of view. More Eric!! I’ll be first in line to buy his cookbook.

  68. Lindsay says...

    Eric Kim I love your voice and your writing gives me so much inspiration! Thank you time and again!

  69. Cara M says...

    This is my dream come true – Eric Kim on Cup of Jo! I love his essays on Food 52, they are my absolute favorite. He’s my dream writer.

  70. Christina says...

    love love love this post, love Eric’s writing. and what a darling illustration by Alessandra!

    It must have been our third or fourth or fifth date, somewhere in that ballpark, but I had mentioned that my tv was broken and I didn’t really want to buy a new one. (I think I actually went on a rant about how things just don’t last like they used to.) He said confidently, “oh I bet I can fix that.” So we made a date.

    I panicked about what to cook, but a good friend said, “Do mussels in white wine sauce! They’re so easy and quick!” and I bought some crusty bread and burrata, and made a little salad to go alongside. Turns out, he was just as panicked about whether he could actually fix the tv. (He did.)

    I should buy some mussels and make them again soon! (we’re engaged.)

    • Christina says...

      p.s. we still have the tv too.

  71. Lauren E. says...

    I’m embarrassed to say I suspected this was Eric Kim before I got to the end. It’s my dream that he someday write a book like Ruth Reichl because his writing about food is SO FREAKING DREAMY.

    I made my now-husband pasta with pancetta the first time I cooked for him, and he said that was the night he knew he loved me. It was also the night he discovered Pippy Longstocking on my DVD shelf. Who knows if it was the pasta or the Pippy that made him fall.

  72. Brigette says...

    My first date with my boyfriend we sat on the beach for hours talking about his work as a winemaker, how much we loved Anthony Bourdain, and found that we both get excited to try new recipes. For our second date we had talked about going to a movie or maybe a hike, but then he asked if I wanted to come over to his house and make pasta from scratch. It was perfect, no rush on time because the whole point was enjoying the process. While the dough rested we had time to sip wine, talk, and learn more about each other. By the end of the date cooking together showed me how well we worked as a team. After we ate we ended up sitting on the floor discussing our favorite classical music and enjoying his wine into the early morning. Two years later cooking with him is still one of my favorite things to do.

    • Wow, that sounds so dreamy!

  73. Jenna says...

    I love Eric’s writing! Thanks for sharing!

  74. liz says...

    seriously tho what’s better than homemade pizza!?! : )

  75. j says...

    Love this and very much agree with the advice.

    On maybe our third or fourth date, my now-husband cooked for me at his apartment. He picked up fresh pasta from a local place, which we cooked/sauced, threw together a simple side salad, plus plenty of red wine. Simple and perfect!

  76. Sarah says...

    Table for One is awesome! Loving this cross-over.

    When I started dating my now-husband, I found out he was a vegetarian, so I made him a brothy, ginger-lemongrassy tofu with mushrooms dish for our first homemade dinner together. Come to find out, he’s more of a nachos-and-pizza type vegetarian. He was very pleasant about it.

  77. Amy says...

    Probably I’d go with lasagna—it’s relatively easy once you’ve got the knack, can largely be prepared in advance, and can be varied to please different preferences (meat sauce vs vegetarian, cheese types, spicier or more mellow, etc.) Plus it feels simple and homey, yet utterly decadent at the same time. How many things can you say that about?

  78. Camille says...

    The first time I invited my then date now husband for a home cooked diner, I was so overwhelmed that I let the “tarte aux pommes” burn in the oven.
    Catastrophe.
    12 years later we still joke about it and when I say at diner : “there is a dessert today!”, he always asks : “a tarte aux pommes brûlée”?

  79. Erin says...

    For one memorable first date, I made Salad Nicoise. It worked well because it’s nice but not crazy-fancy. Also, you can prep all the components ahead of time and then spend 5 minutes putting them on plates when your date arrives. It’s a good thing to make for a small-ish dinner party for the same reason.

    Eric’s dog is adorable!

    • Karen says...

      There’s a story, I think here, ab out how Eric came to the dog. It’s Great

  80. Jo says...

    I was a teeny bit on the fence about my husband when we first started dating, and then somewhere around our fourth date he made me nachos with lime-marinated chicken and here we are, 11 years later.

  81. Lilian Field says...

    Thanks, COJ, for featuring a queer perspective so prominently–and publishing a piece about queer love, romance, and domestic life, not just queer sexuality. It was so comforting to load the blog and see an illustration of two men kissing while making dinner. (Writing as a gay woman here.)

    • Elizabeth says...

      I completely agree, Lilian! I am a heterosexual woman and I rejoice in any and all sorts of hard-won progress for humanity. Kudos, Cup of Jo. I loved the writing, as well.

    • Karen says...

      Ya know, I’m straight, but that was my first thought, too!
      Karen

  82. shannon says...

    For our first cooking date, we were at my husband’s apartment…we were in college and I still lived on campus, with no kitchen. We went to the grocery store together to buy the ingredients. It was steak with blue cheese crumbles on top and angelhair pasta. Later I made boxed vanilla stovetop pudding for dessert. He played John Legend music (it was 2009 and I hadn’t heard it before!). It was perfect. He even recreated the meal a few years later for Valentine’s Day.

    For our second cooking date we “grilled” bratwurst on a George Foreman and ate Chex Mix. Ha!

  83. Lee Ten Hoeve says...

    Great food is great but if the company isn’t good then it doesn’t matter. My husband is a great cook but it wouldn’t even matter, everything tastes better when enjoyed with the love of your life.

  84. Twyla says...

    When I first met my husband he was an extremely poor college student subsisting on ramen noodle packets and toast. He absolutely loved and devoured anything I made, so it didn’t really matter what I cooked, although my homemade pizza was always a hit. But if I had to give advice on what to serve for a first date, I’d say don’t serve anything with polarizing ingredients (meaning either people love it or hate it) like cilantro, olives, or anchovies. You might be watching your date try to choke something down that they detest in an effort to be nice. And for the love of Pete – don’t serve overcooked steak!

  85. Amanda says...

    Love this and think it holds true even for those that are coupled in the time of quarantine. Trying to sort out how we go from the exhausted oh no you have to eat again response I’m feeling toward my family right now and find a moment to appreciate each other and this advice works for that too!
    Welcome Eric to the Cup of Jo community – so nice to have your voice join the team!

  86. Em says...

    Love this piece – it led me down a wonderful Eric Kim rabbit hole of essays and other pieces, and now I am craving kimchi fried rice! So happy to have his voice on the blog :) More please!

    By way of first date recipes, it wasn’t our first but maybe our third date when I decided to make a very complicated risotto (despite being a poor chef and never having attempted to make such a thing before). Adding to the mix was that I insisted on making it at my boyfriend’s apartment where he lived with his law school classmates rather than at mine, where I lived alone and could have attempted this complex dish without three other guys in the kitchen watching my every move. It miraculously turned out fine, but it took me almost four hours from prep to completion, so we didn’t get around to eating it until midnight. We’re still together though, so he must have kind of liked it! :)

  87. Toni says...

    My now husband made dinner for me on our fifth date. He prepared salmon, asparagus, and a garlic bread. But everything was…not cooked. I asked how he’d cooked the salmon and he said he put it in the oven for an hour and a half (!!) but then had to microwave it for a bit because it wasn’t done in time. Years later, when I moved into his place, I went to use the electric stove/oven only to find that they were not plugged in!

    • Cooper says...

      Oh my gosh! This is equal parts hilarious and horrifying, haha. I love that you discovered this YEARS later!

    • LK says...

      Oh my god!

    • Erika says...

      Oh my word. Hilarious.

    • Sarah says...

      This is hysterical! Dying over here!! 😂

  88. Maywyn says...

    Great post. Love butterscotch sauce!
    However, sugar, especially brown sugar can cause people with sugar intolerance to become irritable, angry. Not a first date mood to encourage. Sugar based alcohol, like rum, does the same when a sugar sensitive person drinks a few.
    I’d hold back on sweets until you get to know the person better. I’m sugar sensitive. Love a well made Zombie, but only a small one.

    • isabelle says...

      I would hope that an adult with a food intolerance would share that information. Having sugar in a dessert is not exactly a surprise.

    • maywyn says...

      A sugar sensitivity was a sad surprise to me. Not everyone realizes they have such a condition until they hear or read about it, put two and two together thing.

    • AE says...

      You could say this about literally the entire post (don’t make *any* food for *any* date because *someone* *somewhere* could have an intolerance). I’m not sure your comment is helpful or appropriate here. It’s also a bit of a reach— true “sugar intolerance” is actually very rare.

  89. Kate says...

    This was lovely to read! It’s such a strange, wonderful, stressful audition when you cook for someone for the first time. I love Smitten Kitchen’s date-night tag, and when I first cooked dinner for my now husband, I made her mushroom marsala pasta bake. https://smittenkitchen.com/2015/01/mushroom-marsala-pasta-bake/

    It was a perfect prep ahead of time meal, and thank god because steaming green beans to go along with the pasta nearly made me break down from stress! It all worked out though (and I’m reminded that maybe I should make that meal again in quarantine!)

    • Sarah says...

      I love this recipe! Great choice for a date night.

  90. jane says...

    This kind of thing must be why I’m single but the thought of kissing someone after they’ve eaten without brushing, or at least rinsing, is not something I can deal with. Yucky. But I still greatly enjoyed reading this article and the stories Eric has told and can’t wait to hear more. And that photo with his dog is a gem.

    • Emily L says...

      Haha, I tell my husband ALL the time to go brush his teeth before I will kiss him!

    • Gill F. says...

      Simple dishes that pack a punch always go over really well. I’ve had luck with a really good soup (sexy soup) and spaghetti with homemade sauce (made beforehand) and even rice and beans (college students are cheap). I think anything works, messy or not, simple or not, because cooking for another human is really what matters. The minute you feed someone you say ‘i like you enough to feed you’ and that says so so much. Food, to me, is love, and I think anything goes because I really only cook for those I want to have around for meal #2, 3, 4, forever.

    • Jane Jonathan says...

      But Jane, wouldn’t that preclude you from being able to go on any dates involving food? E.g., at a restaurant, do you imagine the people you go on dates with whip out their toothbrush and toothpaste in the restaurant bathroom? Or categorically any food is a no no for you on dates if kissing is a possibility?

  91. Tenley says...

    I once made lasagna for a not-quite-date with a guy I wanted to impress. It turned out perfectly–crispy, bubbly cheese, balanced flavor in every bite–what does he do? ASK FOR RANCH. Ranch dressing. Drowning my excellent lasagna. I wish I could say I learned my lesson, but I made homemade pizza for the same guy. Never again!

    • Elisabeth says...

      RANCH! Shudder. I am offended on your behalf. What a baby-man.

    • Bri says...

      This is AWFUL!

  92. celeste says...

    This was lovely – I felt as though I was there. The first guy treated the dishes incorrectly, and the second correctly – it was full circle. :)

    I don’t remember the first time my husband and I cooked for each other, but I do remember him driving 2 hours to my apartment to surprise me with beef stroganoff after a flight, only to have my connecting flight cancelled and he drove 3 hours to pick me up.

  93. Lisa says...

    On an early date with an ex, he made me dinner at his flat. I can’t remember what he made, apart from an avocado and orange salad, which sounds weird but was amazing.

    Kind of connected, I noticed recently (isolation Friends rewatching), for her first official date with Ross, Rachel wears a really great first date outfit. High waisted trousers and a crop top. It sounds odd, but it looked a good combo of comfy and kind of sexy (periodically there is a gap of skin between the trousers and top) without being too much It does help that Jennifer Aniston is gorgeous, but still. https://images.app.goo.gl/K5pmUcwVwcMu64op8 (from when she giggles when Ross touches her butt).
    If I wasn’t married with two kids I’d be trying it out some time (with Spanx to support the post partum belly)

  94. Jill D says...

    Eric Kim your voice is a delight. When I see your name on a byline I smile, make a cup of tea, and revel.

  95. Agnès says...

    My now husband would cook a lot for me when we first started our relationship (he still does. A LOT). I was so charmed and touched. Cooking means so much, time, creativity, sweat, mess… Love!

  96. Lo says...

    Oh, I love this, and so nice having a fresh voice! That first date dinner sounds absolutely incredible.

    I made shrimp and grits (using my – southern – mother’s recipe, as I thought it would spark a good conversation on our families/childhood) for my “first dinner at home” dinner but love the idea of a roasted chicken.

  97. Sarah says...

    Eric Kim is my FAVE. His ‘cooking for Timothée Chalamet’ fantasies on IG are life and his pup is the cutest. Hope to see more from him on CoJ!

    • K says...

      Just looked up his IG on your recommendation. Thank you and thank you Eric! This is my new favorite thing! Can’t wait to read more of these essays!

  98. Cynthia says...

    Maybe not quite a first date, but the first meal I prepared for my boyfriend was duck that a friend had shot and dressed. I had never cooked duck before but I thought it would be a romantic meal. My boyfriend gamely picked his way around the pellets still embedded in his bird. I realized that anyone who would do that was a keeper. I was right. We have been married for 45 years.

  99. Hillary DeJong says...

    I haven’t dated in over 15 years (!) but I apply the same principles to dinner with friends. Keep it simple, but tasty. People want to spend time with you, and yes, eat tasty food but that’s secondary.

    Pasta is great but can sit heavy (perhaps not ideal for a date night.) My alternative is roast meat, especially something affordable like pork tenderloin. Most people don’t make it frequently so it feels special but it’s very easy and versatile (stuffed, marinaded, etc.) I serve that with a crusty baguette, roast or grilled veggies (prepped in advance), and light apps like olives. Dessert is something that can be made the day before or earlier in the day (Ruth Reichl’s chocolate cake comes to mind.)

    I also prioritize easy to eat foods. I don’t like food on toasts (like bruschetta) because unless it’s ONE bite, it’s a little awkward. I also don’t serve salad because green stuff in the teeth can be a buzzkill if/when it happens!

    Let’s say you’re more of a baker than a cook – let that shine instead! Bake a delicious loaf of bread (everyone’s new skill apparently!) or make a beautiful cake. If you’re happy and having fun, your date/guests will, too.

  100. Emma says...

    I love this, I particularly LOVE Eric’s writing. He’s so delightfully captivating. More please! :)

  101. AM says...

    Absolutely love this!!

  102. Paulina says...

    I have been loving your writing lately Eric, on insta and Food52, and I am SO HAPPY to see you here on CupofJo. I’ve been a longtime lover and follower of the blog, but am so excited for this new perspective. Can’t wait to read more :)

    • Anita says...

      Isn’t his writing so wonderful!? I always let out a little glee filled yip when I see a new article of his pop up on Food52. When I saw this on CoJ today, I thought “Oh, of course! He’s a perfect match!” I hope we see more of his writing on here too. I love seeing other people in the CoJ community get excited about the things I’m excited about too!

  103. Shannon says...

    Love this article! Now in quarantine, I’d love to try some more elaborate dishes, but I have no idea how to search for recipes/recipe books — everything that pops up in Google feels kind of predictable, like ratatouille or beef bourguignon. Any tips on searching out whole trout en papillote and other crazy-good sounding fancy things?

    • sasanda says...

      Go to bon appetit – they have great recipes at every skill level and are on fire lately. Saveur is good too. Or if you’re super courageous – try my favorite blogger and her new cookbook: Lady and Pups. Seriously amazing recipes very well explained.

    • Danni says...

      Maybe order or pick up a physical cookbook that appeals to you and select a few recipes to try! When I get overwhelmed by the millions of recipes available on the internet, I turn to my little stack of cookbooks. I love the Ottolenghi books, but there’s truly something for everyone.

      Or ask your friends and family for their tried-and-true recipes! My aunt is an excellent cook and I love asking her what she had for dinner and if she’ll send me a picture of the recipe.

    • Shannon says...

      Lady and Pups, what a find! Thank you for the suggestions.

  104. Alyssa says...

    I loved this! This was the perfect few minutes of release from everything going on in the world. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked on the first date, but I was definitely known to bring out the cooking skills on the third or fourth date. Really loved this post today!

  105. AT says...

    I LOVE this lovely writer and article. Made me remember that I made fish tacos the first time I cooked for my now-husband 12 years ago, and somehow during pandemic times this has come back into my cooking rotation. Even our little kid likes it and it’s relatively healthy and tacos are always fun.

  106. Samantha says...

    I love Eric’s writing! So nice to see him featured on CoJ.

    • Lara says...

      I remember on my first year of college I invited my then crush over .. ” to study ” . That morning I got busy making apple crumble . I was so excited ! Turned out he wasn’t interested in me .. he devoured his crumble without even looking at me once . He said ” thank you ” and left . I never saw him again .

  107. Andrea says...

    This was fine until I saw the photo of the dog and remembered this is the almost dead then not dead dog guy.

    I’m still emotionally scarred from that article.

  108. Emily says...

    The first time my now husband cooked for me, he told me that he was going to make me the most delicious steak dinner I’ve ever had…

    When I arrived, he presented me with JUST steak for dinner. No sides, no drink. Just a steak! To be fair it was probably the best steak I’ve ever had, but we still laugh that you need more than just meat for dinner. :)

    • Cooper says...

      Hahahaha, I love that! I did kind of the opposite and served my now-husband a pear gorgonzola salad for one of the first meals I made for him, delicious but JUST salad :)

  109. Ana says...

    I usually cook something from Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook. There’s loads of veggies, the recipes are really easy and they always impress everyone. Never fails!

    P.S. Can we get more pieces by Eric, please? Love your writing :)

  110. Alex says...

    Looking forward to reading more from Eric, what a lovely new perspective on CoJ!

    Welp, off I go to make a pretty fusilli!

  111. Allison says...

    Maybe it was too much for the first date, but that multi-course meal described at the beginning sounds DIVINE!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Agreed!

  112. Christine says...

    Awesome story, Eric! Now please post the butterscotch sauce recipe! :)

    • Claire says...

      Yes, please share the butterscotch. You can’t just describe something that fabulous and then walk away. Now we all want to make some!

    • Anya says...

      Agreed! Recipe please!

  113. Morgan says...

    This made me swooooon! Also made me hungry.

  114. JMarie says...

    My husband was 45 minutes to pick me up for our first date so we ended up skipping dinner to make the opening act of a play we had tickets for. By the time the play ended we were both super hungry and couldn’t find a place that was still serving food. We ended up going back to his apartment and threw together some pasta, black beans, canned diced tomatoes, frozen corn, and some cheddar cheese. He ended up proposing over the same meal several months later.

  115. Lisa says...

    Oh I LOVE this. Love the refreshing voice, and love the idea of what I would cook for a first date. Not sure if any first date would warrant the love of a roast chicken …. or as some would call it, “engagement chicken” ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I always think chicken smells so cozy and even a little grandmotherly which is great but maybe not the best for a first date?

  116. J says...

    Well, this was delicious in lots of ways!

  117. Sarah says...

    Mmmmm I loved this. Thanks.

  118. SKW says...

    I love this writer! A fresh, charming, warm male voice on CoJ and I’m so smitten. Thank you for the lovely, warm pick-me-up article. (And for the links to his writing and Insta). So charmed!