Serving Up Seduction
Aphrodisiac: It’s a term that immediately invokes a healthy curiosity. Etymologically, it stems from Greek mythology; it is a derivative of the name of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and sexual rapture. It’s no wonder that the word sparks a certain playfulness that makes it almost impossible to ignore.
So, given that it’s Valentine’s Day, we thought it best to steal a page straight out of Aphrodite’s playbook. What follows is a spotlight on some of the more sensual aphrodisiacs, all supported by some degree of research. Yes, we know that there’s an ample amount of research to discredit the notion that any food contains aphrodisiac qualities, but it’s more fun to play along. We’ve also pointed out noteworthy restaurants that are serving these ingredients in elegant and memorable ways.
Cardamom is believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, and because it’s high in the ether cineole, which is known to increase blood flow to areas where it is applied, the spice is also thought to be a topical cure for impotence. What you do with that little-known fact is up to you. If ingesting the spice can have similar effects, we recommend a visit to Michael Mina 74 in Miami, where chef Lincoln Carson takes a whimsical approach to dessert. Each of his sweet creations is bursting with color and various textures, which effectively cap off a meal with a big finish. For a generous dose of cardamom, we recommend the coconut–pineapple pavlova, which features roasted pineapple, cardamom syrup, chantilly, pineapple sorbet, pineapple syrup, and lemon verbena.
Oysters are likely the world’s most famous aphrodisiac, but given that we address their virtues elsewhere in this issue (click here for that story), we’ll simply point you in the right direction to enjoy them. Chef Eric Ripert has cultivated a career around his skillful preparation of seafood, and you can taste the merits of his life’s work at Le Bernardin in New York. Yes, you can order a variety of oysters on the half shell, but we prefer Ripert’s chilled Beausoleil oysters, served with sea grapes, pickled shallot, and a “seaweed water” gelée.
By now you may have heard the stories of Emperor Montezuma II, ruler of the Aztec Empire during the early 16th century, who consumed chocolate in copious amounts before visiting his wives. Researchers have found that chocolate contains tryptophan, which is necessary for the creation of serotonin, a chemical responsible for sexual arousal, though many believe that the amount found in chocolate is not enough to measurably alter our serotonin levels. We’re willing to experiment all the same. Central Restaurante in Lima, Peru, is run by chef Virgilio Martinez, who embraces chocolate, in particular locally sourced examples of it. Dishes that Martinez serves may include a mousse topped with Tocache chocolate and crisps of lemon verbena. And then there’s the chef’s Cacao and Coca Forest, a parfait of Gran Pajatén chocolate topped with coca-leaf crisps and accented by cacao and muña-mint powders.
Any food rich in elements that can positively affect testosterone and estrogen levels is certain to be considered an aphrodisiac. One such element, boron, is found in rich supply in honey. Chef Enrique Olvera, whose passion for creative and artistic cuisine has fueled an entire culinary movement in the south-central region of Mexico, puts honey on display at his Restaurante Pujol in Mexico City. The dish in question features nixtamalized papaya, yogurt, honey ice cream, and crystallized lemon.