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Omnivore - Paul Luna chats about sex and food

Atlanta's frankest chef knows the erotic power of food

Image As I noted earlier, my next Grazing column is about food and the erotic. It's one of those subjects that could easily be a book — surprisingly few have been written — and I was only able to include a fraction of my research. I'll occasionally post more on the subject here.

I thought this brief email interview with Paul Luna would be of interest. Luna, owner/chef of Lunacy Black Market, has long been famous in our city for his frank ways. He had a huge impact here in the '90s, moved to Las Vegas, wrote a children's book, biked across America and came back to Atlanta to open Lunacy.

Do you see a specific connection between food/dining and the erotic?

Absolutely. The body is beautiful and so is food. To be able to select a pineapple, to be able to play with a platano, you can't tell me that the sensory experience doesn't arouse the same feelings of pleasure in the mind. I have always thought that food and sexuality are one in the same. You lose yourself in both in the creative moment.

What about touch and food? On the one hand, there seems to be a powerful sensual effect of eating with one's hands (and licking the fingers!). But I remember as a kid that "finger food" was considered fancy and kind of stuffy. What needs to be present to add sensuality to the experience of touching food?

Close your eyes. Smell. Taste. You need to be present. Visually, you need to be absent—let yourself go to the experience aroused in the mind.

What about mouthfeel? Are there particular textures that add sensuality?

Eggplant with the seeds at the back of your throat. Passionfruit on the tip of your tongue. Any type of liquid, gelati, coconut. It covers the salivary glands in your mouth. It creates a sensory overload. Obviously, spicy food, too.

What about tastes? Have you found that any in particular have an aphrodisiacal effect? There's chocolate of course and the long-rumored oysters, but do you know of others?

Yes. There are hints in wild mushrooms, like hen of the woods. At one point, porcini mushrooms were also known for this. There's a liquor called mamajuana in the D.R. that's rumored to help with a man's vitality. Two people when they want to play with food and sensuality, the best is when they can play with each other naked.

Do you find that erotic appeal of food differs by location? Was Las Vegas more interested in it than Atlanta? What about European sensibilities?

Absolutely, and the reason why I say that is because... say, in Las Vegas, you go there because you are going to release yourself of your own personal (cultural) inhibitions. (You have heard the expression, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," I'm sure.) Sexuality and erotica play essential roles in exploration and self discovery. These elements seem to be culturally suppressed in Atlanta and Southern culture—at least, overtly.

In Europe, the way people relate is a little different than it is in the states. For example, when two people go out to eat, they get dressed up. They're beginning a seduction. They're not simply "fueling up," they are beginning a dance that may continue through to the morning. A little sprucing up, a different cologne, a backless gown, suggestive conversation, these are the ingredients—ingredients that touch upon every one of the senses—to an experience that all play a role in an evening out. The very act of sharing food is seductive.

Is there a food that you find especially sensual?

It's the one I touch—-I lose myself in each ingredient I come into contact with. So there is no single food I can think of that's more erotic than any other.