Jennifer Iannolo really loves food.
The Culinary Media Network's co-founder isn't just a lady who enjoys a good glass of wine and a steak; she's also an informed, thoughtful food activist who clearly sees the cultural relationships that exist between food and life, or more specifically, food and sex. The New York-based Iannolo, an author, broadcaster, consultant and fiercely ambitious entrepreneur, is about to launch Sex On A Plate, an event that will leave attendees drooling in body and soul. What began as a simple observation on food turned into a bigger passion that many relate to. I mean really, food? sex? What's not to like?
More than just a suggestive moniker, Iannolo connects various sensual experiences -sights, sounds, smells, touches, textures, tastes -with wider ideas around what good food is, and how its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment is a powerful agent for change, both inside and out.
What I love so much about this fierce, fabulous foodie is that she can so clearly understand, appreciate, and promote the sensual aspects of good food and its enjoyment, along with its connection to wider culture and women's body images. Sex, like fat, is mainly in the brain, and it's only through the senses that we come to truly embrace ourselves and our relationship with food with unbridled joy. Iannolo chanels that joy, and serves it up -luscious, succulent, sexy.
Where did the idea for "sex on a plate" come from?
I've been fortunate to spend much of my career working with the culinary greats, including chefs like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy and Eric Ripert. The more time I spent observing them, getting past the "who" to find the "what," the more I began to see that a sensual quality permeated their food. Each of them had his own unique philosophy, but the root of it was far deeper than merely feeding people -it was about making love to their senses. When eating their dishes, I began to have those food moments that would take me to another place, with nuances of flavor and texture I didn't realize were possible.
After experiencing food in that way, I wondered where to go from there. What do you do with yourself after Alain Ducasse has prepared a special meal for you at the chef's table? Rather than head in the hopeless direction of the food snob, I decided to go back to the roots -- to the ingredients themselves: the perfect fig, the ultimate tomato. It became a quest for my senses.
As I was mulling over such things (in early 2004), I took a recreational cooking class to determine whether I wanted to cook, write or both. We were making roasted strawberries with zabaglione one night, and as I watched the custard being poured over the strawberries, I was somewhat overcome by the sight, and blurted out: "That, right there, is sex on a plate." It set the tone for my manifesto On Food And Sensuality several weeks later, and the rest has unfolded from there.
How do you think the ideas behind Sex on a Plate fits with the foodie scene, especially online?
I'm still finding that out. I've got an amazing team of people working with me to plan Sex on a Plate as a series of events around the country, and we are deep in planning for Napa at the moment. There are about seven cities that have approached us to do the event, so we will take it where the food lovers will welcome it. We had planned a launch here in NYC for Valentine's Day, but there was so much else competing for dollars and attention on that day, we decided it was best to postpone that for a quieter time, if there is such a thing in NYC.
Online, the concept seems to swing a number of ways (pardon the pun). It straddles a number of topics (I'm killing myself here), from sex to sensual indulgence to food. It started one day when I threw a #sexonaplate hash tag in a Twitter update, and it's become a fun meme, with people posting Twitpics of fabulous desserts, perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, or whatever it is that turns their senses on. It's one of the things I love about the idea: each of us experiences "sex on a plate" differently, so I get a kick out of seeing what it means to people.
In terms of blogging, I've started doing guests posts and content sharing with a couple of sex blogs, and have really ramped up my discussions on sensuality on my own blog as it relates to everything we eat, and the way in which we approach food. I love that people are engaging and talking about this, because I find that food lovers really get it, and those just discovering food want to. This makes my soul happy.
For the events themselves, how will you go about planning the menus?
This is where the events get most interesting, because in each city, I'm leaving that piece up to the chefs. I want to know what excites their senses, and I'm challenging them to wow us with those dishes and flavor combinations they might not get to put on the regular menu. They tend to get excited like kids at Christmas when I say that.
Who are the events for?
The events are for anyone who wants to have an indulgent, sensual food experience. I mean that not in the sense of overly heavy foods, but a food experience that focuses on how each taste indulges the senses through flavor, color, texture and smell. Even touch.
More importantly, I've decided that in each city where we do an event, a portion of the proceeds will go to the local food bank. It seems fair to balance the scales that while we're indulging ourselves on the finest of food, that people struggling for basic survival are also taken care of. This makes my soul even happier.
How much of a subtext is there of women accepting our bodies? This feels like a theme in your "food philosophy"-ism.
Can I get a "Hell, yes?" The first line of my manifesto, On Food And Sensuality, is from Federico Fellini: "Never trust a woman who doesn't like to eat. She's probably lousy in bed." Sensual appreciation extends to everything, from head to toe, inside and out, from farm to plate.
I do believe we should take good care of ourselves, and eat foods that are good for us; but in my mind, this means less about broccoli vs chocolate than it does chemicals vs no chemicals. We need to eat a little bit of everything to be satisfied as humans -- we were built with the capability to enjoy pleasure, so why on earth should we deny ourselves? And I'm sorry to break it to the ladies, but Fellini's right. I'm carrying a little extra padding, and I have yet to experience that as a hindrance for either attraction or action.
The wonderful thing about human beings is that they self-select. Be who you are, and those who like you will find you, whether it's for friendship or romance. If you have a big butt, the men who like that will find you. Trust me. And this delights me on all fronts, because I don't want to dine with men or women who live on lettuce and tofu. No fun.
What's the ultimate "sex on a plate" dish for you?
Macaroni and cheese made with fusilli, mascarpone cheese, duck confit, foie gras mousse and truffle shavings. Oh my, yes.
All photography by Kelly Cline, except for head shot of Jennifer Iannolo, by Renata DeAngelis.