Food & Wine
Her mission: 17 dates in 17 days. Wellington blogger and burger-lover Delaney Mes reports from the frontline.
It all began a little more than a year ago after a particularly emotional breakup. From my small, cold and lonely kitchen in Mt Victoria, I started a blog called Heartbreak Pie. A food blog which saw me cook and write my way through the various stages of heartbreak – from uncontrollable sobbing, to inappropriate drunken antics, to eventually embracing singledom.
The blog took off and led to live stints cooking on Good Morning, and reviewing restaurants for Fishhead magazine. When it came to this year's Wellington on a Plate, I wanted a fresh approach. Not content with just reviewing a few restaurants, I wanted to do something exciting and different.
The idea of 17 dates in 17 days was born, partly due to the fact that Heartbreak Pie appeared to be equally popular for my relationship status updates as for the recipes. It seemed like a fun excuse for a few legitimate dates, and burgers were decided on as the meal of choice, as 50 restaurants and cafes had put at least one on the menu especially for the 17-day event. And so I went on 17 dates and ate a burger a day for a sizeable chunk of August.
To find the lucky 17, I enlisted the help of friends and workmates. I also put the word out to the Wellington on a Plate PR team, and a few key emails meant that pretty quickly we had restaurants and dates on board. I figured at least one date would be a dud, but they started off very, very well. SuperSize Me film-maker Morgan Spurlock was in Wellington promoting his new film, my PR person asked his PR person and he was keen. He was date number one and a great way to start; he even offered up date number two in New York.
I was sort of stood up by Stephen Fry on my birthday – we were to meet at an event at Coco at the Roxy, but alas he was held up in snow. Like the fearless and independent woman I am, I ate the burger anyway.
Things were on the up and up when I managed to snare British actor James Nesbitt for lunch at one of his favourite Wellington cafes. He took a break from filming The Hobbit to woo me with his Irish charm. If that date confirmed nothing else, it was that laughter is crucial. Being able to relax and laugh together is no doubt a solid foundation for a relationship, but it also just ensures that you have a really good time on a date.
It wasn't all famous types though; a sprinkle of single blokes in their 20s, a handful of guys from the food industry, then an older man's perspective on date number 12. The youngest, date number 11, offered refreshing conversation over Sunday lunch: he was my colleague's eight-year-old son and was the only date who showed up with flowers.
What I didn't expect, and what the project became, was an exploration into dating culture, in which I gauged opinions on ladies, love – and whether a burger really does require a lid?
WE DON'T tend to date that well in New Zealand. Almost everyone had a get-drunk-and hook-up story, often at the start of what turned into a serious relationship.
One admitted the worst date he'd ever been on was his entire most recent long-term relationship. Another confessed, on the topic of one night stands, that it was always awkward when "they" wouldn't leave in the morning. Charming.
One date got off on the wrong foot by saying that his workmates didn't realise I was going on 17 dates for "journalistic" purposes. They just thought I was a slapper. It most definitely wasn't a "husband hunt", as one friend suggested, either. I was the guinea pig in my own experiment, and living the inquiry.
The dates that I found the most enjoyable were often ones where no expectation existed – no grey area of whether it would end in bed – such as with my gay friend at date 15. What I found is that you still make an effort – wanting to impress with wit and charm regardless.
Asking each date about whether chivalry was dead was interesting, but actions spoke louder than words. Date eight dismissed chivalry as unnecessary today, because men and women are now equal. This same date was a total gentleman though – at 4am when I face-planted on Cuba St he was extremely quick to help me up and check whether I was OK.
Date four argued that chivalry was, in fact, alive and kicking, and, like a good dinner jacket, never goes out of fashion. I got into deep discussion with restaurateur Martin Bosley, date 14, who argued any action that you'd perform for your mother – such as pulling out her chair – you should do for a date. And any woman who gets offended by such polite gestures is just plain silly. He also argued that men aren't terrified of woman (as James Nesbitt suggested), but there is a huge grey area about the role of men these days, and that, in itself, is apparently terrifying.
That was offset nicely by date 11 with the girls. Relax, we wanted to tell the men of New Zealand, but also man up and just ask girls out. If we remove expectations from the equation, and just appreciate a date for what it really is, which is just two people getting to know each other and enjoying (or not) each other's company, then you're never going to lose anything from the experience.
Easier said than done? Maybe. I say we start a dating revolution. Stop looking for Mr Right and start dating a hundred Mr Wrongs. It'll be fun!
And what did I get out of it? Five kilograms, lots of delicious meals, some beautiful wine, a cheeky pash, a stint on live TV, and about 80 gin and tonics. That, and stimulating conversation, dating experience and plenty of food for thought.
Delaney's blog is at www.heartbreakpie.com
- Sunday Star Times
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