Dinner Date

A local cooking school helps singles heat things up.

The slogan for St. Paul-based Cooks of Crocus Hill is “Life Happens in the Kitchen.” And if Cooks has its way, your love life will transpire there, too. This winter, alongside such classic classes as “Hands-On Bonbons,” “How to Boil Water,” and “Fat Is Flavor,” the shop debuted a cooking program for singles seeking a food-minded mate.

On a Friday evening in February—a night cold enough to put most libidos on ice—“30s Singles” gathered at Cooks’ Grand Avenue store. (In all, four singles classes were offered: 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s/60s.) Most guys arrived solo, dressed in T-shirts and fleece, looking more like they were making a trip to the Home Depot than headed out for a night on the town. Women tended to come in pairs, and wore stylish, carefully accessorized outfits—designer jeans and tight-fitting tops that seemed a shame to cover with aprons.

Some participants were new to singles events, while others had suffered through speed dating and setups. But an interest in cooking united the group, which included a nurse practitioner, a military reservist, a real-estate mogul, and a self-described computer geek. One female participant, at least, was aware that the potentially sensual hobby can’t always keep couples together. She had purchased a Cooks gift certificate for her boyfriend; when they broke up, he gave it back and she signed up for the singles class.

Luckily, she registered early. Women generally maxed out their quota for the gender-balanced classes in just a few days, while discount rush seats were needed to entice more men. Cooking school coordinator Aleisha Dudley says that many single guys expressed hesitation about their ability to woo women with their skill at the stove, telling her, “I don’t want to make a fool out of myself in front of a bunch of girls.”

After a few drinks, however, everyone appeared to be at ease in the Friday class—even the guy who admitted to owning the humorous/pathetic cookbook, A Man, A Can, a Plan. Chef Jonathan Kaye, a native Australian who teaches at Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights, split the singles into groups to prepare such finger foods as Coriander Ginger Shrimp with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce and Balinese Beef Satays.

As the fritters sizzled and tapioca cooled, voices seemed to rise in direct proportion to drink ticket redemption. Midway through the cooking process, women rotated to new groups. In contrast to the shy 20s group, which stayed quietly on-task, the thirtysomethings mingled about the kitchen. In fact, some abandoned their cooking partners in search of another beer or a new person to meet. Conversations seemed to stay at a simmer, though, mostly focusing on work or travel, not erotic uses for eggbeaters.

As class concluded, the group finished off the last of the asparagus rolls and pot stickers. (When one man’s batch stuck to the pot due to bad advice from another male classmate, sabotage was suspected.) Dudley passed out a list of everyone’s e-mail addresses and encouraged the group to head down the block to Billy’s on Grand, an area “meet market.” A brunette held up her remaining drink tickets and asked, “Do you think these will work over there?”

About half the singles moved on to the smoky bar, which was packed with young people. The class attendees already had an opener, at least with each other: “So, what did you cook tonight?”

No word yet on how many graduates have registered for Cooks’ newest class: “Bridal Registry 101.”