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Alone in the Kitchen

Don't we all think about the experience of dining alone in restaurants? Women tend to both romanticize and fear it. We have a shared image of an enigmatic woman pulling off a solitary dinner with style, perhaps in Europe. I think men have less trouble with it, though I'm not sure. It's certainly easier if you sit at the counter, or if the hour is off—three is a nice time for lunch by yourself; lunch is easier than dinner—or if other patrons are eating by themselves, or if you have a book with you, or better yet, two books.

My friend Rachel won't do it, not under any conditions. It's because, she says, her family moved around so frequently when she was growing up and she spent a lot of time worrying about sitting alone in the cafeteria.

With the exception of a recent barbecue chicken salad at T.G.I. Friday's in the Detroit Metro Airport, I tend to enjoy solitary dining. I like sitting at a sushi bar by myself, watching the chef work. Or at a counter, where I can have an omelet and a bottomless cup of coffee and stay a long time.

The more interaction with a waiter required, the more challenging it becomes for me to maintain my cool. In truth, it doesn't take much—one couple seated too close, an intrusive waiter—for the experience to spin me off into the murk of self-pity.

As mentioned, my boyfriend was anywhere but here. He was in New York, acquiring and editing books. He was always on the lookout for new projects. I told him I had a great idea, either for the imprint where he worked or for another imprint at his company that published cookbooks: an anthology of essays on cooking for one and dining alone that could function as a cookbook as well as a lifting-off point for readers to follow their instincts and create their own idiosyncratic meals.

I wanted someone to create this book so I could have a copy. I imagined it as a friendly presence in my kitchen for those nights when I cooked for myself. When my boyfriend suggested I put the book together, as a kind of summer job, I was surprised and resistant. It sounded like a lot of work. It sounded complicated. But eventually I was persuaded. Who could make the precise book I imagined better than me?

The more I thought about it, the more surprised I was that a book like this didn't already exist. A quick search on Amazon turned up some books on cooking for one, but they tended toward the pragmatic; their focus was logistical and dietary, and not on the rich experience of solitary cooking and eating. I noted with a mixture of amusement and trepidation that based on my search words—"cooking for one"—the website suggested I might be interested in books on the subject of cookery for people with mental disabilities. I didn't find a single book on the subject of dining alone. It started to seem as if we were talking about a phenomenon that hadn't yet been recognized as a phenomenon. It started to seem like anthropology. Or sociology. Or something that belonged on the Discovery Channel.

The boyfriend, on a weekend trip to Ann Arbor, drove me to the library, where we pored over indexes looking for the words one, alone, solitary, single, etc. I wrote a proposal and found an agent, and early in the summer the project sold.

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Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

Jenni Ferrari-Adler

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