An interview with Bambi Smyth – author of Men on the Menu, 75 Delicious Affairs Around the World
SEVENTY-five dates in 81 days across 22 countries is a pretty good effort to find true love.
Most would feel faint at the thought, but not Melbourne author Bambi Smyth, 47, who describes herself as unmarried, unbabied and unimpressed with the idea of spending the rest of her life alone.
So she decided to do something about finding the love of her life while doing research for a food and travel book.
After never having much luck dating Australian men, she decided to look for love further afield.
“I spent my 20s through to my 40s lurching from one heartbreak to the next, growing increasingly jealous of my friends as one by one they found perfect mates and I was invariably left home alone on a Friday night getting stuck into Haagen-Dazs because there was no one left to play with,” she says.
So a penchant for European men over Aussies encouraged her to widen her search.
“European men seemed so much more sophisticated and I especially like the fact they didn’t have to scull five pots of beer to work up the courage to talk to me,” she says.
The author hatched an ambitious plan to head to Europe, meet locals by “interviewing” them for a book and maybe she would met the man of her dreams.
But she then thought why limit herself to Europe and decided to spread her wings even more and cover all bases in case she fell for a charismatic Cuban or a riveting Russian.
Smyth decided to combine her three loves — travel, food and men and compare the men’s personalities with their local dishes.
“I decided to find out if the Brazilians would be hot like their malagueta peppers and Englishmen stodgy like their egg and bacon pies,” she says.
She then organised “dates” with 30 men through friends, family and work associates and found the other contenders in bars, cafes and hotel lobbies.
“It was all a little surreal, going from a male famine one minute to feasting on a glorious smorgasbord of foreign men aged from 21 to 61 the next,” she says.
Her dates were as diverse as their ages from farmers to film producers, priests to photographers, cardiac surgeons to concierges and rock stars to restaurateurs.
The author of 16 children’s books has told her tale of her dates and dishes in a new book Men on the Menu. It’s an amusing account of her escapades that occasionally resulted in heart palpitations but also left her further appreciating the opposite sex.
So what were some of her dates like?
“There was Chico, who I met in a hotel bar in Rio, a famous TV anchorman, who spoke three languages — Portuguese, English, and Hands,” she says.
“There’s something very attractive about a man who makes a point by gently touching the inside of your wrist, or lightly stroking your knee, but never in such a way where I felt inclined to toss a drink in his face.”
She matched Chico with a local caipirinha cocktail.
“Both were a silky mix of sweet and sour, delivered in vibrant, refreshing bursts and extremely intoxicating — he was the perfect aperitif for the feast to follow.”
The delectable Russian entree was Artashes, an investment banker who was the part-owner of a bank.
“He was seriously rich but as much as his wallet may have been stuffed senseless, his ego certainly wasn’t,” she says.
“He was warm, funny and super intelligent, and for a teeny-tiny moment I contemplated what we would name our first-born — Vladimir quite taking my fancy.”
Smyth then matched Artashes with the local blinis (thin pancakes) with a variety of fillings — luxurious red and black caviar, wild honey and smoked salmon. A sophisticated yet simple dish, and certainly worth going back for seconds. But her most memorable main course was Ali in Switzerland.
“A paediatric cardiac surgeon, he was smart, sophisticated and looked like a playboy — one of those very stylish ones — and with his Iranian heritage he had an exotic edge that I found oddly exhilarating,” she says.
Then there was Jens, a young advertising executive from Frankfurt.
Smyth says she behaved herself well throughout all the dates.
She always offered to pay for the meal, coffee or drink but sometimes they paid and in return they will get a copy of her book and read about their 15 minutes of fame.
“The most unusual man she met was a gigolo in Monaco whom she compared to an octopus dish”
“He was oily and had grabby little tentacles,” she says.
Then there was a date with the sixth most eligible man in Scotland, named Lorne.
“He was a piper who went on tour with Madonna for six months in her 2004 Reinvention World Tour,” she says.
Smyth says her favourite question that produced the most interesting answers was: “If you wanted to impress a woman on a first date, what would you do?”
An Emirati said he’d write mushy poetry, a Welshman said he’d take a bath while the Russian banker couldn’t understand the question.
“That’s because in Russia if you’re rich, you’re home and hosed and don’t have to do anything — the Australian surfer said he’d wear shoes.”
So did she find true love?
“You will have to read the book,” she says.
But one thing Smyth did learn was to never judge a book by its cover.
“What looks sweet can be sour, and what looks stodgy can be real comfort food and at the end of the day, men are just as confused and vulnerable and lost as we women are but they are still pretty tasty.”
Men on the Menu is published by Five Mile Press. RRP: $32.95