There are a lot of clichés when it comes to putting food on film. Almost always, food is shorthand for sensuality. Show us a woman who rolls a tomato between her palms at the farmers' market, licks her fingers in the kitchen, or closes her eyes and moans when anything tasty ends up in her mouth, and we know we're meant to believe that she's a tiger in bed. If she does that to a tomato, the reasoning goes, imagine what she'll do with...
The food inspires the sex, or stands in for the sex until a lover enters the picture. If you know how to cook and/or eat, the reasoning goes in films like Eat Pray Love, I Am Love, Chocolat, and Like Water for Chocolate, then you know how to love, or at least how to get it on up against the fridge. And if you don't know how to love, learning how to eat will take you there. (Restaurant movies, like Big Night and the upcoming documentary about Danny Meyer, The Restauranteur, are a different story: more men, more competition, a lot more stress than sex.)
Of course, like most cliché-ridden things, some of this is true. Don't you have a foolproof dish or two that never fails to lure an attractive stranger home? (Thank you, peach pie!) I've been wooed with dim-sum dumplings, challah French toast, coffee in bed, cheese grits, a boat full of sushi, a perfect steak.
One of the frankest and sexiest of all food stories is still Dorothy Allison's "A Lesbian Appetite," in which she writes, "I remember women by what we ate together, what they dug out of the freezer after we'd made love for hours. I've only had one lover who didn't want to eat at all. We didn't last long. The sex was good but I couldn't think what to do with her when the sex was finished. We drink spring water, and fight a lot."