User's Guide

What Chefs Cook for Their Lovers

Damien DiPaola's scores with seared scallops with a spicy grapefruit glaze.
Damien DiPaola’s scores with seared scallops with a spicy grapefruit glaze. Photo: Regan Communications

Last Christmas, we turned to industry professionals to see what real foodies put on their wish list. Since fewer things in the world are as intimate as eating together, we sought Valentine’s Day advice from toques in the know from all over the country. Read on and make your shopping list. You’ve got plenty of time to prepare for Sunday.

“The way I get my girlfriend: I get fresh baby arugula, lemon juice, and olive oil, fresh Parmesan cheese, and sliced prosciutto, with a mixture of olives, and a baguette. That’s how I win her over. There’s something about sitting down on the couch and eating with your fingers — it’s playful and simple.”
Jesse Schenker, chef, Recette, New York City

“Everyone celebrates with flowers on Valentine’s Day, so take it to the next level and extend the flower celebration into your cooking to create a tasty and romantic dish. I would make a herb salad and violet flower tart. You can massage the dough together with your lover’s hands — think of the movie Ghost and the pottery scene. Create a shape of the tart together and then add herbs that are spicy and aphrodisiacs, like fenugreek. Top off with colorful violet flowers, creating the perfect colorful, edible Valentine bouquet.”
Ludo Lefebvre, LudoBites, Culver City, California

“I’d start with Fanny bay oysters — we all know why — in avocado soup, as the Aztecs named the avocado tree ‘Ahuacuatl,’ meaning ‘testicle tree.’ I love arugula, so I’d make a wild-arugula salad with a sweet-basil vinaigrette. The basil will produce a general sense of well being to start the night. As a main course, I’d serve pan-seared Mediterranean turbot with white truffles, as the musky scent from the truffles should stimulate and sensitize her skin. I’d finish with raspberry and strawberry shortcake. The berries are considered fruit nipples in erotic literature, with vanilla anglaise, as the vanilla will increase her lust.”
Todd Allison, Checker’s Downtown, Los Angeles

“I’d have lots and lots of Champagne Marguet Rose. It’s great matched with spicy foods, strong foods, all kinds of good things. That would really get the party started. Champagne, caviar, oysters — the things that are really seductive. But nothing heavy — you know if you want to close the deal, you don’t want to pass out. You don’t want to be in a food coma because you ate a whole bowl of risotto. And then for dessert we have a passion-fruit semifreddo with a little buttermilk cake and crispy meringue. You know, passion fruit is perfect. And then you can have the whole rest of the night to do whatever you want.”
Suzy Crofton, chef-owner, Crofton on Wells, Chicago

“Definitely a little caviar with Champagne and a few oysters. Maybe a sexy, creamy pasta as a mid-course, and on to a steak with bordelaise with a hint of bittersweet chocolate for a main course. Definitely a little passion fruit and blood orange somewhere in the midst of the evening. And we’d finish off with lingering aromatics combined with chocolate, blindfolded and fed to each other.”
Elizabeth Falkner, Orson and Citizen Cake, San Francisco

“I make this once a year. I shuck oysters in the half-shell and put them in the grill, and I do some grilled octopus, too. I serve it with watercress salad, some hearts of palm, tomato, and I make a chili sauce to give it a little heat. It’s not too heavy and the oysters and octopus are kind of soft, little dishes. It is an aphrodisiac — the octopus too! As a Latino and a chef, I’m always looking for something to keep the wife happy and this definitely works. I have the grilled octopus on the menu at the restaurant, but the grilled oysters are just for my wife, to keep it special.”
Edgar Alvarez, executive chef-owner of Avenida, Philadelphia

“I make my seared scallops with a spicy grapefruit glaze. The scallops have a very velvety, smooth, and sensual texture. These textures provoke ones inner sexual thoughts and fantasies. The sweet and spicy of the grapefruit saffron sauce also evoke the lady (sweet) in the street, whore (spicy) in the bedroom quality that all true men love. Consider all the aphrodisiacs in the dish itself: the scallops, the five spices, the ginger, the cayenne pepper, the saffron, and the wild mushrooms. This scallop preparation is also very light, not heavy and sex-stopping. Now you know why this dish definitely seals the deal and gets her from table to mattress.”
Damien DiPaola, executive chef at Ristorante Damiano, Boston

What Chefs Cook for Their Lovers