What I Learned About Marriage Watching Master Chef

Marriage: that strange social construct which demands we love only one person for however long it takes to reach happily ever after. It goes against nature, it goes against biology. It’s downright anti-Darwinian. The idea of finding one mate who you can grow old with, have sex with, eat 10,000 dinners across the table from–it’s a tough sell. Even swans, the status symbol of monogamy, the animal kingdom’s answer to Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, even swans stray.

Marriage. It shouldn’t work. Most of the time it doesn’t. But sometimes it does.

I don’t pretend to know the secrets of a successful marriage. I won’t claim to know the secrets of a happy marriage. In fact, I’m not even sure they are one in the same. The kicker though? I’m in one.

So where does Master Chef fit in? After all, a reality cooking program seems a pretty unlikely source of marital advice, doesn’t it? Yet my husband is mildly addicted to Master Chef and it’s on in our home a lot. Usually I peer over the top of my laptop to watch contestants slice and dice their way to success, sometimes losing the better part of a thumb in the process. Even still, it was only as I sat down to write this that I realized there was plenty of advice of the heart mixed in with the artichoke hearts.

There is no one way to do things when it comes to relationships. There is no list of ingredients or recipe which will dictate whether your relationship soufflé fluffs or falls flat. That said, there are some loose guidelines to make sure your marriage is as full of harmony as it is umami.

Your marriage needs protein. Relationships need something that satiates and satisfies. If your marriage is nothing more than platings of coulis and dribbles of balsamic reduction it’s going to look pretty, but you’re going to leave the table wanting something more filling.

You’ve got to let your marriage prove. Relationships need time and space to rise to their potential. It’s tempting to cut corners, to shave off a little time here and there, to start baking before it’s ready or take it out of the oven too soon. Don’t. Have you ever tasted the difference between fresh-baked bread and the stuff you buy in the store? Let your marriage prove.

Don’t try to make bouillabaisse out of kangaroo meat. You can’t change the base element of what you’re working with. You can’t take a kangaroo and make it into a fish, no matter how much you try. If all your dreams and aspirations are based around seafood, don’t marry a kangaroo. No matter how much you beg, cajole, demand and wish, Skippy is never going to be Shamu.

Your marriage needs a strong foundation. Your profiteroles could be to die for. Your custard cream the bee’s knees. But if you don’t have a solid base to build on, if you don’t have things that bind you together, your bird’s nest croquembouche is going to topple and fall. Spun sugar and fairy tales only get you so far.

Foam and nitroglycerin are no substitute for hard work. Fancy tricks and promises don’t make up for hard work. All the foam and dry ice in the world won’t mask the fact the plate is empty. Mutual respect and admiration, appreciation, listening–really listening. The rest is all smoke and mirrors.

Don’t get stuck in a cuisine rut. Everyone likes Italian. But even Italians eat Thai take-out once in a while.

Never take your sous chef for granted. That’s the person standing next to you, helping and guiding and often, doing all the grunt work. In a balanced marriage, you’ll sous for each other. Don’t take that person for granted. Thank them. Listen to them. Make sure you keep your fingers away from their knives if they’re peri-menopausal….

Marriages don’t come with Michelin stars. There is no rating system. Don’t compare yours to someone else’s.

Marriage needs to refrigerated. If you leave your marriage out in the sun too long, it’s going to spoil. If you leave it unrefrigerated, it’s going to go moldy. If you don’t take time and care to look after it, not only is it not going to work, it’s going to give you Salmonella. No one likes a Salmonella marriage, trust me.

Marriage works best when all the ingredients work together. The duck breast is going to taste just fine on its own. The aioli garlic mash, all by itself, would be just as creamy. But it’s the combination of flavors that makes it work together, that makes the whole better than the sum of its parts. The best marriages are made up of individuals who fly on their own but who soar together.