From the Kitchen, With Love | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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From the Kitchen, With Love 

Think you have trouble finding time for a romantic meal? Try being a chef.

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There's nothing like dallying with your sweetie at an exquisite restaurant on Valentine's Day. The experience usually comes complete with an attentive server, decadent food — think truffles and caviar — a fine bottle of wine and lots of chocolate. And cleaning all those dishes is somebody else's responsibility.

Unless you're a chef, that is. If fine cuisine is your biz, you spend V-day pretty much the same way you do any weekend night or holiday — sweating behind the stove — except that more people ask you to stick a diamond ring atop a towering chocolate mousse cake. Hangin' with the spouse is probably out of the question.

We contacted chefs at a few romantic dining destinations around the state to quiz them on how they handle the holiday d'amour. Do they whip up sexy nibbles on another night? Do they ask their partners to cook for them? And, if some fluke of fate freed them from dinner duty on the day itself, where would they go?

*****

Connie Jacobs-Warden: Chow! Bella

24 North Main St., St. Albans, 524-1405

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

I always invite [my husband] for dinner [at the restaurant] — that's the easiest way out — but some years he takes off; he's just not here. I haven't really celebrated V-day in 20 years because I'm always cooking. Any day should be Valentine's Day. Every day I should get roses.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

That would be such a celebration [that] we would have to go somewhere where we could stay overnight, so it would be Mary's [Restaurant at the Inn at Baldwin Creek, Bristol]. They've got . . . wonderful Valentine's food that they do.

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

I don't think I'd make anything; I'd make my husband cook. His favorite thing is to make split pea soup, so that's probably what we would have.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

I remember years ago, boy, it was a restaurant in the North End of Boston. This restaurant had foie gras and candied dates, and something creamy. I almost think there were lingonberries, a nice tart berry with the sweet dates and a champagne sauce, and toasted brioche with it.

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

Usually we're just knocking ourselves out in the kitchen . . . It's hell in the kitchen and paradise in the dining room. It's two really separate events, depending on what side you're on.

*****

Chase Vanderveer: Winding Brook Bistro

933 Route 100C, Johnson, 635-9950

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

Well, like most holidays, my wife and I both work full-time. We have three kids, too. So we try to re-plan it most of the time, if we don't have that particular day off together.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

Well, I've been wanting to try the Kitchen Table [Richmond] for some time, so we'd probably go there. I've been to Hen of the Wood [Waterbury] [for special occasions] . . . We like to go to Toscano [Richmond], too.

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

Ooh, um, that's a good question. I don't know. I think that I would probably ask my wife what she would like to have and would cook her whatever she'd want.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

Usually when it comes to that I think of dessert, a nice crème brûlée or something really chocolatey. My wife is a real chocolate fiend, so we lean towards that, but I'm kind of a custard guy.

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

We haven't been open for a year yet, but I can remember one time we did a quail special when I was the chef at the Black Lantern, and we ordered the quail thinking that they would be dressed when we got them, and they weren't — and they were alive. It was one of three dishes on a three-course fixed price menu. We got 'em done and everything was fine, but that was one of the weirdest things.

*****

Donnell Collins: Leunig's Bistro

115 Church Street, Burlington, 863-3759

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

I don't really celebrate it, unfortunately.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

I would probably go to Asiana House [Burlington] or The Bearded Frog [Shelburne].

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

I would probably do something spicy. Something of the Spanish flavor . . . maybe some chile rellenos or something along those lines.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

I would probably say raw oysters and champagne. I like Malpeque oysters and a kind from Tokyo that you can't get around here.

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

I guess: Out of all the restaurants that I've worked at, even in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the most marriage proposals that I've seen have actually been here at Leunig's.

*****

Ryan O'Malley: Elements

98 Mill Street, St. Johnsbury, 748-8400

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

Generally my day off is Sunday, so the Sunday after I'll cook a dinner.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

You know, to tell you the truth, I'd probably go somewhere where I'd know somebody: Michael's on the Hill [Waterbury] or the Three O'Clock Inn [South Londonderry], which is down south.

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

I like lobster a lot, and I don't eat lobster out. My romantic meal is pretty much standard: fried oysters and then lobster à l'Américaine with tomato and garlic risotto. That's my wife's and my favorite meal, so whenever we have a special occasion, that's what we make. And a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

Different concentrations of lobster, different reductions and oysters. I tell my sous chef that when I eat my sauce Américaine it makes me want to hump anything around me, and sometimes he's too close for comfort. I do like oyster stew or oyster pie, both of which we've done [at the restaurant].

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

This is my wildest one: My child was born on the 12th last year, so she was two days old when I brought her and my wife home from the hospital. We were walking up the driveway in 2 feet of snow. I built a fire and then went and made dinner for only 35 people.

*****

Michael Kloeti: Michael's on the Hill

4182 Stowe-Waterbury Road, Waterbury Center, 244-7476

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

Usually I end up with some champagne and a rose — something simple, nothing huge. I like to surprise my wife on days that are not so calculated. I'd rather do it on an off day. Celebrate love, but don't necessarily celebrate the day.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

Let's put two: either the Kitchen Table [Richmond] or Hen of the Wood [Waterbury].

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

Veal — actually, we have it on the menu; it's free-range. It's because Laura, my wife, loves veal chops. Maybe a nice thick veal chop, fingerling potatoes with Raclette cheese and organic Pete's Greens vegetables. And a nice bottle of wine.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

I don't remember, really. The best meal Laura and I ever had was when L'Espinasse [in New York City] was open. Great food is sexy as it is — it's not just oysters or chocolate-covered strawberries. It's silly to pinpoint it down to a specific ingredient. If anything is done right, it's sexy to me.

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

People want to put their rings into desserts, and you have to tell them no, because somebody might break a tooth. Last year we got a blizzard — that stunk.

*****

Aaron Millon: Restaurant Phoebe

52 State Street, Montpelier, 262-3500

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

Usually Debbie — my wife — and I do it on the following Sunday, because we're closed and it has been my day off for decades. We do it as simply as possible. Make tacos or some food that comforts us both. We take a moment to recognize the relationship on the day of, and [have a] little celebration. We'll definitely get a nice bottle of wine.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

Hen of the Wood [Waterbury], Kitchen Table [Richmond] or Starry Night [Ferrisburgh].

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

Most chefs eat as simply as possible when they're cooking for themselves. We like to make a process out of making tacos. We make tortillas and usually use Misty Knoll turkey; we'll have some Coronas or Dos Equis while we're making them, and make sure it's a leisurely preparation, non-stressed, and just linger over our food for a couple hours in the evening, enjoying each other's company.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

Yes. Definitely. Pretty much anything with foie gras and/or truffles, but also a very fresh piece of fish, especially if it's eaten rare or medium rare, can be pretty sensual. We're doing a killer dish right now with farm-raised kampachi. Any game that you can eat really rare served with a sauce that has sweet and sour components, like a chocolate sauce on elk or a lush red wine sauce with a sweet component to it.

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

They're all kind of wild, I would say. Last year was fun . . . We were one of the only restaurants in the area that stayed open. People were walking, skiing and snowshoeing in, and afterwards we couldn't get home, so we all stayed at one of the cook's housThere was the anxiety of making a business decision about whether to stay open or close, having it go well, and then sharing that with the staff in kind of a slumber party — we worked hard and we drank hard. We ended up [serving] 82 — before the storm we'd had 80 on the books. There were cross-country skis leaning up against the window.

*****

Matthew Secich: Elixir

188 South Main Street, White River Junction, 281-7009

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

My wife and I worked together for many, many years. I guess I'll bring her a flower; I don't cook at home. I think Valentine's Day should be celebrated every day of the year. If you're truly at one with yourself and you believe in Christ, it's always Valentine's Day.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

Hen of the Wood [Waterbury]. There are two good gentlemen there.

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

When I cook at home, I cook over an open fire pit. Barbecued chicken smoked with pine needles is as good as it gets.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

Really, I've worked so much in my life that I just never got out. There's nothing that ever stood out as the most amazing thing I've ever had.

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

For the past six years of my life, at every place I've ever worked except for Charlie Trotter's [in Chicago], I've done an aphrodisiac menu. There were gentlemen's menus and ladies' menus with an aphrodisiac in every course. Those are some of my favorites, 'cause they're kind of off the wall. Once, long ago, people cried when they ate my food. Cuisine is of love.

*****

Robert Barral: Café Provence

11 Center Street, Brandon, 247-9997

Given that you cook for other people on V-day, how do you celebrate?

I bring flowers to my wife. I'm planning on getting a little gift, something for the moment. But I'm here during lunch and dinner, and my wife and my daughter are at home, so it doesn't make it easy. Probably over the weekend we'll do something.

If you could visit another Vermont restaurant for V-day, where would you go?

I go out so rarely, it's pathetic. There is one that I've never tried in Burlington, L'Amante, and I know the chef — he was a student of mine when I was at NECI — so I would definitely like to go there. I've never been to Michael's on the Hill [Waterbury], and I know Michael, so I would go there. And there's one in St. Johnsbury that one of my purveyors always talks about — Elements. Also, we went to China to adopt our daughter, Mai Lin, and she loves Chinese food, so I would take them to Single Pebble.

If you stayed at home instead, what would you make?

I think I would do something that we rarely eat but that I do regularly at the restaurant, something simple. My wife and daughter love onion soup, so I would do that. Lamb is another type of dish that I rarely eat at home. I'd do a roast leg of lamb with a beautiful local goat cheese from Blue Ledge Farm. I wrap the goat cheese with potatoes that are blanched first in butter, and I sauté it in a pan. It's really good, because the potato is crispy and the goat cheese is moist inside, with some herbs and seasonings. And lots of greens. My daughter loves crêpes with Nutella, so I would make those for dessert.

Is there a dish you've found especially sexy or sensual?

Well, I definitely would think about oysters . . . I have oysters on my menu. And dishes with ginger. For me, it would be sweets. I associate Valentine's with lots of chocolate, and every year I do a special dessert with chocolate. The flavor of the passionfruit is incomparable, so this year I'm adding a passionfruit soufflé. People can share a soufflé or get their own. As you can tell, I like sweets. I probably eat them too much.

Any wild Valentine's Day stories from the restaurant?

I have customers here who propose on Valentine's Day, and that's always a great moment for all of us. It's scary, because you never know if it will go well. If it goes well, it's always joyful. Last time, someone asked me to put a beautiful diamond ring on a plate. So I had to decorate the plate: I put cream on the plate, and coulis and caramel sauce . . . To tell you the truth, the lady didn't know what the little box was. She thought it was edible

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About The Author

Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Bio:
Contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the former Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a goose,... more

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