Chefs miss night of romance on Valentine's Day

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 February, 2013, 5:41pm

Tonight, chefs all over town are playing Cupid for couples. So do they have the time or the inclination to celebrate Valentine's Day themselves?

Many couples will be out tonight, wining and dining with their loved ones. But while the masses are giggling over complimentary glasses of prosecco and sniffing red roses, chefs' partners get a raw deal. "I can never celebrate Valentine's on the night itself, as I'm always in the kitchen making sure other couples have the best evening possible," says Giuliano Dacasto, chef at Aqua.

Dacasto sees no reason to wait for dusk before whipping up a romantic menu. He gets cracking early on Valentine's Day, preparing a glorious breakfast for his wife.

"I will put together a selection of brioche, toasted bread with jam, butter and nutella followed by scrambled eggs with mozzarella and bacon," he says.

That is served with a fruit salad with sugar, lemon and white wine, along with orange juice and a cappuccino. Surely that makes up for working on the big night?

Not always. Most cooks are chained to the kitchen not just at Valentine's, but also at Christmas, New Year, Easter and weekends. It's easy to see why other halves might be huffing and puffing.

"There is a level of understanding with most partners, but it does wear thin when you are away for all of them," says Jason Black, executive chef at Shore Steak. At 42, he's worked his fair share of Valentine's Day nights and says putting in a little extra effort on special days is certainly appreciated.

Black has sent platters of treats or made and had delivered lunch with flowers for past loves, yet he says most of them still pined for a night out in a restaurant. "It's that public display of affection bug that strikes all of them," he says.

There is a level of understanding with most partners, but it wears thin when you are away for all of [the holidays]
Jason Black, Executive Chef

After preparing plates night and day, eating fussy food is often the last way a chef wants to celebrate. One of the biggest nights in any restaurant's calendar, Valentine's Day menus are planned months ahead of time. That's a lot of testing and trying out before the big night.

It's not just chefs that Valentine's night takes hostage. Sommeliers, maître d's and general managers must all be on hand. Stefano Bassanese, general manager at Domani, says women in his family have spent Valentine's Day alone for generations.

The Bassanese family has chalked up over 100 years working in the food industry. "I am pretty sure I was born under one of its tables," he says, of the family-run restaurant back home in Trieste, Italy.

Unfortunately, that's a double blow for Bassanese's wife, Lorena, whose birthday is also on the 14th. He always celebrates with her on the weekend following Valentine's. "It was a surprise for her for the first three years of marriage. But after so many years, I don't think she is that surprised now," he says.

Heirloom founder Vivian Herijanto says missing Valentine's Day isn't such a big deal for men. "They're like, 'That sucks you have to work - anyway, I'll go hang out with my friends'," she says. She isn't especially into Valentine's Day herself, and last year hosted an anti-Valentine's menu that was vampire-themed and featured garlic-heavy recipes more likely to deter lovers.

When she does want to show she cares, Herijanto heads to her home kitchen. "I really do like to cook, and it's so much easier cooking for two. There's no huge carton of ingredients to prepare. If a recipe calls for tomatoes, there's just two or three I need to chop. Easy!" she says.

Other chefs wait for the big night's end before starting their own celebrations. But not everyone is as keen to get their knives dirty: TBLS founder Que Vinh Dang heads home for a cooking-free charcuterie platter with wife Jackie.

Perhaps the only way to get together on the night itself is to work alongside your lover. Serge Theriault met his girlfriend Andrea Ford in 2010 when he was a sous chef and she was manning the pastry section.

Now head chef at Laris, he's persuaded her to contribute to its Valentine's menu. Her chocolate, raspberry and rose petal dessert is the result, and tonight she'll be right there with him to serve it. How's that for a sweet finish?