Picture this: The family cook bustling around a warm kitchen, lifting lids, tasting, seasoning - maybe tightening apron strings. Aromas wafting through the house, beckoning the kids.
Now ask yourself: Does the chef wear lipstick or after-shave? The odds say you thought of Mom in that kitchen. If Dad were there at all, he was probably off to the side, reading the paper somewhere in the back of your mind.
It's a time-honored (and well-earned) stereotype: Women do the daily cooking, and men reap the rewards. But is it still accurate?
"I consider that reverse sexism," says David Hutner, a lawyer and the chef in his Chevy Chase household. "I once took a Chinese cooking class with 10 young housewives, and they treated me the way women probably think men treat them at sporting events: explaining every little thing. ... And I'm by far a better cook than any of those women."
While it's probably safe to say female cooks are still the norm at home, male cooks are increasingly taking on daily dinner duties.
"Guy cooks are definitely becoming more part of the mainstream," says David Bowers, co-author of "Bake It Like a Man: A Real Man's Cookbook" (William Morrow & Co., 1999, $16). "I think there was for a long time the `woman's domain' thing - guys just weren't in the inner circle. And certainly with older men, it never occurred to them to cook; but with young guys today, it seems to be getting to the point where they end up cooking equally as much as women."
Hutner, 47, started cooking back in college after a memorable meal in Washington's China Town.
"I'd never had anything like it," he says. "It was a whole new awakening of the food world." Today, he does all the cooking in his household, which now includes the couple's 2-year-old daughter.
"I learned when my wife and I were dating that I'd have to be the cook," he says. "One time she made hamburgers, and she made them into round balls thinking they'd flatten out as they cooked. I took that as an early sign I shouldn't trust her in the kitchen."
Says Susan Hutner, his wife of 17 years and an attorney: "I felt guilty about it at first, but then I just decided to let him do it. I don't like to cook, and he really knows his way around a kitchen."
And besides, he likes it.
"It's relaxing," says Hutner. "It takes me away from whatever else is going on in the world."
That statement captures a running theme dividing the sexes. When women do the cooking, it's a chore. When men do it, it's a hobby.
"I think somebody could probably trace that back to role responsibilities determined early in life by gender," says Mary Jacqe Marchione, 54, who is director of professional development for Baltimore County schools. "If it's your job, it's different; you don't go to work to relax. I hated the fact that I had to go to work every day, cook dinner and pack lunch for the next day. I'm just glad I could turn my job over." And that her husband, Anthony, 69, was willing to take it.
The Marchiones live in Hunt Valley and have been married for 10 years; this is the second marriage for both. They each spent their first in more traditional roles: Mary cooked, and Tony, a former Baltimore County superintendent of schools, didn't.
"I always liked to dabble some," he says, "but it wasn't until 10 years ago I started doing most of it." Since then, he's taken several cooking classes, installed a professional-quality pan rack and assembled a pretty extensive cookbook collection.
He's even cooking on Father's Day this year for his three grown children and their families.
Amy Pearson, one of Tony's daughters, takes this as a hopeful sign. "I talk to a lot of women about how hard it is to think of something to cook every night, go to work and take care of the kids," says Pearson, a nurse who lives in Parkton with her husband and three kids. "I'm hoping more men are doing the cooking, not just my father. I know they're not in my household."
Pearson would approve of the Miller household. Not only does Jan Miller, 41, cook, he's teaching his 10-year-old son, Andrew, to follow in his footsteps. Last Thanksgiving, Andrew contributed dessert: a triple-layer chocolate cake made with melted Scharffen Berger chocolate bars.
But Jan, an assistant U.S. attorney, is not your average cooking male. He's been interested in cooking since he was a kid, when he was a big fan of "The Galloping Gourmet" TV show. He takes recipes from the Food Network, once attended a taping of chef Emeril Lagasse's show and has used his pilot's license to fly himself and his buddies to various destinations just to have lunch at certain restaurants.
He even wooed his wife, Corey, by cooking. "For our second date, he cooked me dinner at my apartment," she says. "And I thought, `Who could not marry this man? He makes a fabulous gazpacho.' "