Joshua Bright for The New York Times
By JEFF GORDINIER
Published: January 3, 2012
“HERE’S a good example of what we’re talking about,” Simon Doonan said. My Cuban sandwich had just arrived, pressed flat and bulging with cheese. He was giving it a withering once-over.
“You must be on guard when you see a panini coming toward you, because they can cram an enormous amount of meat and cheese in there,” said Mr. Doonan, the author, Slate.com humorist-provocateur and creative ambassador at large for Barneys New York. “They’re not as little as they look. And then adjacent to that is this dollop of guacamole with, quelle horreur, what are clearly deep-fried chips.”
As if fending off a lard-sucking vampire, Mr. Doonan held up his fork and knife as a makeshift cross.
“There’s a lethal amount of fat in guacamole,” he went on. “A friend of mine was just going off to Mexico, and I said to her: ‘If you get kidnapped, remember to tell your kidnappers: no guacamole. You cannot be in a confined space ingesting guacamole. You’ll become so enormous.’ ”
But wait, I wondered. Isn’t avocado supposed to be good for your skin?
“Maybe if you apply it topically,” he said.
Either way, those chips were all wrong. “Gay chips are baked,” he said. “Straight chips are deep-fried. It’s that simple.”
Mr. Doonan, slim and sprightly at 59, was doing his best to guide me through the dietary pitfalls of a typical lunch in the city. In his eyes, my problem was not merely that I was prone to eating too much, but also that I ate the way a lot of straight men automatically do: with gluttonous, meat-and-cheese-and-avocado-mad disregard for the repercussions.
If I wanted to slim down after the holidays, he suggested, I should try to eat like a gay man.
One of the tongue-in-cheek propositions of Mr. Doonan’s new book, “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat” (Blue Rider Press, $24.95), is that the vast range of the world’s culinary options can be boiled down to two core categories: gay food and straight food. Seeking out a balanced diet of both is the savviest way to stay svelte. Think of it, if you must, as bisexual eating.
“Mix it up,” he said. “Gay men don’t stay trim because they only eat gay food. I don’t live on macarons and lettuce.”
In fact, Mr. Doonan had selected our dining spot, the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill in Greenwich Village, because, he said, its kitchen managed to get that blend right. (And, well, maybe because the place was across the street from the apartment he shares with his husband, the designer Jonathan Adler.)
“It’s actually a very good mixture of gay and straight,” he said, as he surveyed the Knickerbocker’s menu. “Just the words ‘baby arugula salad’ — you know you have some gay options. But then it’s balanced out with some real classics. We have Black Angus meatloaf — that’s the Burt Reynolds of foods.”
And balance, he counseled, was key. A gentleman might succumb to meatloaf, sure, but instead of pairing it with mashed potatoes, he should ask for a salad as a substitute. “Because the Black Angus meatloaf, that’s a whole lot of hetero to digest,” he said.
Dining with Mr. Doonan is like lunching with the “Jersey Shore”-era grandnephew of Oscar Wilde. It does not take long to figure out that his self-helpish bons mots should be sprinkled with liberal shakes of sodium. And it might be pointed out that he’s putting an extreme, satirical spin on tropes and stereotypes that have been in circulation for 30 years, ever since “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” drew a similar line in the culinary sand. (His book title is, of course, a wink at the best-selling “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”)
Nevertheless, there are times when his thoughts on the sexual orientation of food can be unexpectedly eye-opening. Straight food, according to the Doonan rubric, tends to be leaden, full of protein, thick with fat. Consider the grub he grew up with in England.
“British food used to be so straight when I was a kid,” he said. “Haggis. Horrible stews. Boiled greens that were gray. Now they’ve gayed it up, and British food is incredible.”
The way he sees it, gay food is lighter and brighter. It feels art-directed, not just tossed together and deep-fried, with an attention to aesthetic and dietary detail.
“Gay foods are more decorative; they’re more frivolous,” he said. “The macaron craze is the ne plus ultra of gay fooderie. I can’t believe any red-blooded straight guy can even walk into a macaron shop. If you wanted to ruin a politician’s career, just publish a picture of him shopping for macarons.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Doonan freely uses “lesbian” to describe certain earthy, healthful foods.
“Organic olive oil, thick porridge, heaping helpings of wheat germ,” he said. “A crusty loaf of whole-grain bread is both ferociously lesbian and wildly heterosexual.”
Mexican food? The ultimate in straight cuisine. Sushi? Its opposite.
“Japanese food — that is some seriously gay food,” Mr. Doonan mused. “I’ve been to restaurants in Japan where they bring out a watermelon in its entirety and they open it up and inside it’s full of ice and one little pink piece of sushi in the middle. Basically, you’re taking sloppy bits of fish and making them into these exquisite little bonbons, and that seems inordinately gay to me.”
Joshua Bright for The New York Times
Of course, Mr. Doonan knows what you’re thinking.
“I love sweeping generalizations,” he said. “Sweeping generalizations are the key to everything, and they invariably contain nuggets of truth. Sometimes infinitesimally small nuggets.”
And while “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat” is largely laid out as a larkish lifestyle primer for his female fans (“Most of my books are aimed at empowering women,” he said), many of his most piercing generalizations have to do with the feeding rituals of his heterosexual brethren. (Not that he’s likely to persuade many to change their ways.)
“I have a lot of straight friends,” he said. “And a lot of them are a very different shape. The word ‘burly’ springs to mind. And that’s a function of eating too many meatloafs, too many steaks, too many jumbo burritos.”
During lunch, he endeavored to steer me away from predictably straight choices. But my habits were hard to break. He advised me to have a salad. I wanted to start with the Caesar. Mr. Doonan winced, then sighed.
“Um,” he said. “A Caesar salad’s pretty heterosexual. They whip a lot of egg into it.”
Mr. Doonan, who was nattily dressed in a velvet Thom Browne blazer and a custom-made Liberty print shirt, opted for a plate of field greens followed by a bantam bowl of black bean soup. He dodged the glob of sour cream on top. I thought it seemed a rather meager repast. What if he got hungry later?
“I’m a big believer in dried fruit,” he said. “Figs. Dates. Raisins. You have to be careful with the dried apricots because they really do make you gassy.”
How about almonds?
“Yeah,” he said warily. “I’ll do an almond. Or two. Not a fistful. You know when you get those mixed nuts on a plane? If I’m sitting next to a straight guy, he’ll basically take the little container and heave it into his mouth.”
Considering his level of restraint, it came as a surprise that Mr. Doonan had not ruled out sweets.
“They do have something for you on the dessert menu,” he said, reading aloud. “ ‘Churros: traditional Spanish doughnut sticks. Dusted with cinnamon-sugar, served with dulce de leche and chocolate dipping sauce’ — as if they weren’t fatty and heinous enough! They could have stopped at the doughnut sticks and served it with a little fruit compote, but noooo.”
Still, he was craving something simple, elemental, straight.
“Desserts now have a very gay sensibility,” he said. “If you’re looking for a basic apple pie, you’re going to be out of luck.” He kept scanning the menu. “There’s a fresh-baked pie of the day. See, I want to know what that is. I might succumb to it. Because I’ve been quite abstemious.”
Mr. Doonan asked about the pie.
“It’s a cappuccino mousse with an Oreo-cookie crust and whipped cream,” the waiter replied.
Mr. Doonan made a gurgling sound.
“I thought it was maybe going to be organic pears lightly braised in ...” he said, then trailed off.
“We are, how you say, comfort food,” the waiter said.
“Yes,” Mr. Doonan said. “Thank you.”
The waiter dashed off. I asked my lunch companion if he’d be finishing off with that pie.
“God,” he said. “Are you out of your mind?”