The Rise of the Gastrosexual

Press Release : December 10, 2009
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According to the Urban Dictionary, gastrosexual is a term used to describe men who cook, taking the household chore element out of home cooking and turning it into more of a hobby, used to impress friends and prospective partners.

The archetypal gastrosexual is therefore masculine, upwardly mobile, and aged between about 25 and 45. Hes passionate about cooking and the rewards it might bring, whether this is pleasure, praise or even romance.

The suggested reasons for this include the fact that an increased proportion of women now work 70% in 2008. This has led to a positive demand for more help in the home, and it seems that men prefer to focus on cooking as the most creative and enjoyable aspect of domestic work, as opposed to other chores cleaning for instance!

Whats more, the gastrosexual is on the rise. Len Deightons cult 1960s mens recipe book, the Action Cook Book, is being re-released, Gordon Ramsays 5th series of the F-Word is in development and Marco Pierre Whites Marcos Great British Feast, where macho Marco shows how real men hunt and cook, is about to air on ITV1. The rise of the gastrosexual and associated research has captured the imagination of the UK media, and now the kitchen industry is seeing the evidence.

Steve Higham, of Absolute Kitchens, preston, knows his stuff when it comes to the rise of the gastrosexual, mainly because he is one: I started cooking in my 40s. I enjoy it and Im good at it. TV chefs like Marco and Gordon definitely inspired me to give it a go.

Iconic, high-profile celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, Saturday Morning Kitchens James Martin and Heston Blumenthal, have helped create the perception of cookery as a macho pursuit. Mr Ramsay even famously declared that women "can’t cook to save their lives", while more men are learning what to do in the kitchen. Inviting the TV viewing British public into their personal kitchens is providing inspiration for a growing number of men to discover cooking as a hobby.

But men not only aspire to be their culinary heroes, they aspire to have their kitchens too.

So, bigger work surfaces, kitchen islands, multiple sinks, eye level storage, the latest gadgets and sociable, well-designed spaces are all being demanded. Whats more, the look of kitchens is evolving to reflect male tastes and aspirations.

Five years ago Daval, the kitchen manufacturer that brings individual possibilities to life through its bespoke option-I technology, was selling homely looking, shaker style kitchens by the truckload. With its traditional feel and soft edges, it certainly couldnt have been described as macho!

But now, industrial, sleeker, more masculine kitchens are becoming increasingly popular. Daval reports that Black Gloss finishes and simple slab doors are currently its best sellers.

Because it cuts each kitchen to order, this has given Daval a real-time insight into changing needs. Larger scale everything is now being demanded wider drawers and cupboards, up to 1.2 metres wide, larger preparation areas and more innovative internal storage solutions for easy access to a wide variety of ingredients.

Most interesting is the switch towards islands either stand-alone or breakfast bar style. Jamie Oliver started a revolution when he unleashed the Naked Chef. He reinvented informal eating; socialising while cooking for his mates. Hangover breakfasts, brunches and afternoon through to evening family cooking events all happened in the kitchen preparation of food was the key entertainment factor and everyone had a role. An explosion in islands followeΩd.

Everyone wants islands, says Simon Bodsworth of Daval. Put it this way, five years ago, you might have seen one or two islands in our brochures. Now, the majority of kitchens we show demonstrate the inclusion of an island or a breakfast bar. Social interaction is key, and aside from gadgets, this is the biggest result of the gastrosexual generation.

The evidence in this consumer shift starts on the shop floor. Bob McEvoy, of Designs For Living in Wokingham, has definitely seen more involvement from the male side of partnerships. Yes, men are getting more involved. Although the female is still the driving force, I would say 90% of couples that come to us for a new kitchen have input from the man as well as the woman and thats not just the financial element.

Couples want a kitchen that compliments their lifestyle. Formal dinner parties are out, informal gatherings around a large kitchen table in a large, well planned and open kitchen, la Jamie Oliver, are in. I think this is due to several factors, one of which is the man wishing to show off his gastrosexual prowess!

Emma Cuthbert at Concepts Interiors, with showrooms in Littlehampton and Chichester, gives a female point of view: I have definitely seen an increase in men coming in with their partners and knowing exactly what they want. Men seem to posses more knowledge about what gadgets and designs are available now, more than ever before. And while Id say women are still the dominant force, the final decision on colour schemes, finishes and gadgets is now a joint decision.

Steve Higham believes the economic downturn has played a role in this rise. While the male interest in cooking may have been burgeoning before this recession, the fact that staying in is the new going out has seen mens cooking skills blossom, and their interest in kitchen design reach new levels.

But, according to some, theres some way to go. Although the male influence is there, and has been emerging over the past ten years, according to John Morgan, of Dajon Interiors in Gloucester, men are not playing an integral role in day-to-day cooking.

For men, theres more of a BBQ mentality, comments John. Men seem to want to dabble and cook for entertainment. They are interested but in the gadgets. Providing they get their wok burner, or super-sized hob, its still mainly the womans domain.

The owner of Choice Designs agrees: although men are becoming more involved, the woman still has the final say. That said, mens eyes certainly light up when we get onto inbuilt entertainment systems, and they have a particular interest in magic corners and pull out larders. Not because they can make their space work harder though but because they want to figure out how it works!

Dana McCauley summed it up perfectly in her food blog recently: Men treat cooking like other traditional hobbies such as carpentry and landscaping, spending considerably more on appliances, ingredients and tools than a woman typically spends. Bottom line: Men arent the new women. Theyre just men whove discovered another room where they can relax.

So, it seems, the gastrosexual is not taking the purchasing power away from women, who are still the big cheeses when it comes to buying the kitchen. But men have certainly moved up the ladder – from chequebook-wielder to esteemed consultant.

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