Volume 18 • Issue 4 | JUNE 17-23, 20

James Warrick

“Sensual Cooking Diva,” Shani Castri.

Seducing in the kitchen

By Amanda Kludt

Did you know anchovies are a potent aphrodisiac? So are pine nuts, chili peppers, parsley, and one of the supposed intimacy-spoilers, garlic. “Garlic is the best thing created by God,” says Shani Castri, after expounding on its legendary use as an aphrodisiac and its scientific ability to improve blood circulation and therefore, sexual performance.

Castri, self-described “Sensual Cooking Diva” explains the wonders of garlic, along with numerous intriguing fruits, vegetables, spices, and sea creatures, to her 10-person cooking class, aptly named Appetite for Seduction. “The goal is to take a meal and try to seduce someone,” she says, encouraging her students to plan an entire evening of seduction—alluring invitation, music, attire, and all.

Castri teaches the classes through the Learning Annex at her husband, Dino’s, East Village restaurant, Evviva. She teaches five different three-hour classes, “Insatiable Italian,” “Mucho Mexican,” “With Love From France,” “Marvelous Mediterranean,” and “Give Me More” Brunch, each with their own menu and aphrodisiacs. Shani also does bachelorette parties and private lessons.

Classes begin with an introduction by Shani on why cooking is such an effective method for seduction. Castri has managed some successful restaurants in Manhattan, including il Buco and Tuscan Square, and Café M, co-hosted a demonstration on a cooking show in Italy, and is in pre-production of her own television show right now. But she says, with this class she is combining her two passions: food and cooking.

Castri says she was inspired by her own relationship and her love of food and sensuality. She says that while she and her husband have many different interests, cooking was something they had in common. “Nobody refuses eating out or having someone cook for them,” she says. “It’s the easiest and most secure way to seduce someone.”

After Castri’s introduction, she brings her students back into the kitchen, encouraging them to bring their wine glasses, since many of us drink while we cook at home. What follows is part cooking class, part tutorial on the history, legends and scientific uses of aphrodisiacs, and part lesson on being more sensual in the kitchen.

“What is your food fantasy?” she posits, after revealing her current fantasy of eating an immense amount of caviar at a nice restaurant with her husband. Throughout the four courses she takes breaks to encourage the students to open up about their own fantasies, experiences, and opinions involving food and seduction.

Opening up also involves experiencing food in a new way. She encourages paying attention to the texture of food as well as the taste and the smell. “It’s good to step back and feel your food,” she says as she rubs a tray with olive oil with one bare hand. “Close your eyes and use your imagination,” she says as she passes around the class’s newly made anchovy and pine nut puree to smell.

Students take turns performing different tasks such as chopping up parsley or pureeing basil leaves and oil or decorating the cooked crostini with tomatoes. They also identify which vegetable or fruit looks like which reproductive body part. While Castri does give the class pointers on some mechanical aspects of cooking such as how to cut certain vegetables, where to buy the right ingredients, and oven temperatures and times, the focus is more on the experience of the food and the love going into it. “I want to teach people so they’re confident in their kitchen,” she says, “but I want it to be more about seduction and learning that food can be seductive.”

After getting wrapped up telling her students how spicy foods are the S&M of the aphrodisiac world, Castri realizes the Tomato and Smoked Mozzarella Napolean has been in the oven too long. The mozzarella has melted and spreads bubbling all over the pan. Castri laughs it off, saying, “That’s what happens when you flirt too much.” The couples and friends still enjoy the tomatoes and mozzarella, even if slightly melty.

While Castri explains the different types of aphrodisiacs—those that emulate sex, those that visually remind one of sex, and those that help with blood flow and circulation—she says the key is to find what you and your partner enjoy eating and making. “If the person you love says Mac and Cheese gets them off, then that’s your aphrodisiac,” she says.

For couples worried about their lack of cooking prowess, Castri says it’s all about the mood. “Imagine cooking for a chef,” she jokes. Castri asserts her husband will know when food is undercooked or overcooked or not salted, but that it’s the way she makes the food and presents it that leads to the real seduction.

Castri is currently offering private classes. Please call 917-294-7021 or visit www.appetiteforseduction.com for more information.

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