Shane Coakley's aptitude in the kitchen was always well known in his wide circle of friends. Coakley, cooked for a living for the first time in February when he was hired to run the kitchen of a Caribbean restaurant called Bahama Bay in Kirkland. He left only three months later, after a dispute with the restaurant’s owner, but quickly came up with an idea that would leverage his maturing confidence as a chef and, perhaps, expose an even wider audience to his cooking.
This idea is a cooking show called In the Mix, which he has attempted to sell to producers as a cable program, or possibly a recurring segment on the web. His show would blend two topics he seems to know plenty about — food and love.
“I’m always cooking and I have a lot of girlfriends,” said Coakley, meaning girls who are friends. “I meet women through other women.” In the past, he has hosted fashion shows, and once published a calendar featuring beautiful women.
In the Mix will feature “Caribbean cuisine mixed with relationship advice,” as it is described on its Facebook page. The show goes basically like this: Coakley, 39, a self-taught chef and confirmed bachelor, cooks as he swaps stories with variously attractive female guests. He shares his favorite recipes – his cooking tends to be bold with lots of bright flavors, on account of his Caribbean heritage – and by the end of the show, a delicious Bahamian style meal is served and the cause of love is advanced.
“How that all happens can be worked out and it can be tested,” said Boaz Ashkenazy, founder of Studio/216, the design firm that produced the pilot for the show. “It’s a very busy market for cooking shows. For something to hit, it has to really resonate.”
The concept recently brought Coakley to a spacious, handsomely furnished house in Kirkland owned by one of his friends. There, he staged an informal, extended-play version of the show, a loose mash-up of Rachael Ray and the The Bachelor, with help from about a dozen female friends.
The menu for the evening featured “seven spice” halibut baked with black bean sauce, and prawns with mango and sweet chili sauce, all of which he prepared while carrying on friendly banter with friends assembled around the kitchen counter. Coakley also prepared pigeon peas with rice, and cornbread with coconut sauce. His cooking has a noticeable Asian bent, which is apparent in Bahamian cooking, he said, due to the influence of Chinese immigrants on the food of the country where his parents were born.
Before serving dessert, Coakley gathered his guests around him to play a game: He told a story, about which he asked everyone to answer a set of hypothetical questions. Their answers, he explained, predicted their patterns, tendencies, and inclinations when it came to relationships.
“The next time you’re on a date with a guy,” he suggested, “tell him that story and ask him the same questions.”
The answers, everyone agreed, might save someone a lot of wasted time.
Helpful advice served, Coakley moved on to the final course. He improvised dessert by slicing up a box of strawberries and using the leftover cornbread to make shortcake. Over it, he drizzled a sauce he concocted with condensed milk and Grand Marnier.
“As a kid, when all my friends were outside running around, I was home watching Julia Child,” said Coakley. “I always had a passion for it.”
Coakley was born in Chicago. His family moved to the Bahamas when he was 10, and to Seattle when he was 14. When he was 20, he started his own limousine service and eventually became the personal driver for Seattle SuperSonics’ star Gary Payton. Coakley nearly got rich selling, developing and managing real estate in the boom 10 years ago, but lost most of what he made when the market collapsed. For a time, he hosted a talk show on KONG television, taped at Planet Hollywood in Seattle. He even tried his hand at millionaire matchmaking, hosting parties at which he would introduce wealthy men to single women.
Through it all, cooking was a very useful social skill.
“I used to cook just for my friends at little social mixers,” Coakley said, “and then people were like telling me, ‘I’m coming just for the food.’ That’s when I started to realize I had a talent. Other people, who were foodies, would tell me how good they thought it was.”
“I’ve always tried to infuse different styles. I can cook almost anything, Thai, French, Caribbean… Whenever I had a party, if I told people I’m cooking, a lot of women would come over.”
He noticed that single women in King County, at least those he knew, did not often have meals cooked for them — bought for them, yes, but not cooked. Invariably, at these dinner parties, he would end up dispensing relationship advice. The idea for In the Mix was born. Television and the web might be inundated with food-related programming, but Coakley’s hook of mixing in relationship advice from a male perspective is unique.
The topics of love and food have overlapped before in blogs and memoirs, told usually from the perspective of a woman. The formula goes something like this: guy dumps girl, girl loses job or leaves the country, girl learns to cook, girl writes food blog, girl finds love and discovers herself through the profound, transformative experience of learning to poach an egg or peel a parsnip. The circle is completed when Anne Hathaway stars in the film adaptation.
The male take on food is more often written as a quest or a manifesto. Seldom is it romantic or emotional in nature.
In the Mix assumes that people want to be cooked for, just as they want to be loved, a point that seems to have gotten lost in the media’s crush on food. As a program, In the Mix swerves from convention. It is not a competition or travel show or a showcase for Coakley, although his ability to connect with his guests is crucial to its appeal. But whether big media is ready to make Coakley a star has yet to be determined.
“We’re still shopping the project,” Coakley said. “We’re getting some traction. I think it’s going to work.”
In the meantime, his reputation as a chef has grown by word of mouth. Last week he was asked to prepare dinner at a party for about 45 people, a setting he is very comfortable in.
Coakley’s own love life is far from perfect, as it is with many professional observers of love. He was married once, for about five years, to a woman who was a business partner. He longs to be a father, but has no children yet.
“I need to set more boundaries in relationships,” Coakley said when asked to analyze his shortcomings in love. “I let women in too close, too fast. I can give advice, but it’s different when I have to swallow my own medicine.”