Wooed By Food

Couples find taste of love is irresistible

Sharareh and Jason Bulkeley

February 09, 2000|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Food -- it nurtures, it soothes, it woos.

This sustenance of life has played a starring role in romantic literature, films and real life ever since Eve gave Adam the apple. Turn the pages of such books as "Like Water for Chocolate" (Anchor, 1989) by Laura Esquivel to find a lovers' tale laced with food.

And who can forget the sumptuous feasts of love in movies like "Big Night" and "Eat Drink Man Woman"? Or the tender scene where Lady and the Tramp share a strand of spaghetti and a kiss in the Disney classic.

Does life imitate art? Is the way to one's heart really through the stomach? With Valentine's Day approaching, we talked to four local restaurant couples to find out what the impact of food has been on their relationships. We found that not only are these duos passionate about food, but food has fueled their passion.

Sharareh and Jason Bulkeley

On their first date, Sharareh Kamouei, brought Jason Bulkeley to Orchard Market & Cafe in Towson to meet her mother, the restaurant's chef. And to taste the food. One of the dishes the couple sampled was shirin polo, a saffron-tinged chicken dish traditionally served at weddings. "It was propitious," says a smiling Bulkely, 35, who married his Iranian-born wife six months later.

Now, eight years later, the Bulkeleys are co-owners of the small Persian cafe near Joppa Road that is considered one of the most romantic restaurants in the Baltimore area. They bought it three years ago when the former owner decided to move to Florida.

Sharareh's mother, Nahid Vaezpour, still turns out exotic dishes from the family's native country. The Bulkeleys tend to customers in the front of the restaurant.

Working side by side, day in and day out, has not been a problem for the couple, says Sharareh, 29, who is staying home for a few months to care for the couple's new daughter, Sarah Lilla, who was born Jan. 16, and big brother Brandon, 6. "It was very good," she says. "We feel like friends."

Sharareh and Jason met through an acquaintance. At the time, Sharareh, who speaks fluent English now, only spoke German and Farsi. Jason, an Air Force veteran and language major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, luckily spoke German. "I knew she was the one for me," says Jason, who had traveled throughout the Mideast and was fascinated with the culture. "I was interested in the language and food. I came back and fell in love with a Persian girl."

Much of their courtship revolved around lavish feasts at family gatherings, says Jason, an only child whose parents are deceased and who suddenly found himself surrounded by many of Sharareh's 12 siblings and other relatives. He was the shy outsider trying to understand the nuances of this noisy, gregarious clan.

He says the turning point may have come when he tried -- and liked -- a popular Iranian drink, doogh, a sour buttermilk-like beverage that many Americans dislike. "I think they thought, `He's one of us,' " Jason says.

Sharareh laughs about those initial meetings, where her boisterous family at times overwhelmed her husband-to-be. But she was captivated by him. "I am the only one [in my family] married to a different culture. I feel lucky," she says. "I felt that he was the one for me."

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