Loving to Cook, Cooking to Love

Valentine’s Day is one of those times when restaurants’ PR agencies are in overdrive to push specials, prix fixe menus and reservations in the hope that a busy Valentine’s Day will offset a slow January. I respect that, I’ve been there, done that.

I wanted to take a different approach to a Valentine’s story, though. Rather than write a “round-up” of promotions, I spoke with a few chefs and one profound farmer about what love is to them, in the context of food, their craft and feeding hearts and souls of others.

These answers represent the honesty, passion, and generosity of spirit that so many in the restaurant and hospitality business have. No one gets into the restaurant business because they think it’s an easy path to becoming a millionaire. Lolz, it’s quite the contrary. Those on the creative side love food and ingredients and love to feed people. Those on the operations side love hospitality and serving people.  Both sides stay really busy and I appreciate them taking the time to work with me on this.

Their answers are positively swoon-worthy; I hope you love them.

Chef John Tesar, Chef/Owner of Knife

KR: What is love to you in terms of what you do for a living?
JT: For the most part cooking in restaurants is anything but romantic. Sure, there can be wonderful moments of joy and lots of fulfillment, but romantic cooking happens at home on a special occasion or in a romantic setting. Good food will always be a representation of my life and relationships, and especially my family. What I love most about cooking and being a chef is the ability to bring people together to share a meal. When people come together to eat, drink, socialize and share positive energy, it makes me happy.

KR: What is the most romantic dinner you’ve ever had and where?

Fresh oysters at Knife Dallas.
Photo courtesy of Knife.

JT: I truly believe that it’s the company that makes something romantic above all else. Having said that,

sitting on a beach in the Hamptons, Mexico or Hawaii, eating something as simple as tortilla chips and drinking champagne during the sunset is pretty romantic.

KR: What’s the most romantic food you prepare?

JT: Some of the most romantic food I prepare is amazingly fresh seafood, cold oysters right out of the bay, imaginative crudos – all super fresh, light, fun and sexy. It’s also impossible to go wrong with a perfectly steamed lobster, a great bottle of white burgundy and a dry-aged steak from 44 Farms – romantic and sexy!

Knife Dallas

Chef Dunia Borga
Photograph by Allison V. Smith

Chef Dunia Borga, Chef/Owner of La Duni

KR: What is love to you in terms of food and what you do for a living?

DB: To me, love is spoiling people. I want to know what their favorite flavors are, if they have a happy memory of what their mama, nana or anyone else made for them. I want to bring those tender, beautiful memories back by making something special for my guests. That is why I became a pastry chef, I love to spoil people and eating dessert is a way to spoil yourself. I get to spoil people every day and I find myself being part of their memories, I am so thankful for that.

I always say, “Where there is cake, there is love.” I have never heard of anyone buying or making a cake for someone they hate.

KR: Except in The Help, and that was pie.

KR: What is the most romantic meal you prepare?
DB: It’s not what I prepare, it’s who I am with. When I am with the people I love, even if we are sitting on the carpet at home eating cold cuts, cheese, or pizza, if it is put together with care and love, it’s memorable.

KR: What is your advice for preparing a romantic meal?

DB: Even if you don’t know how to bake or cook very well, focus on thoughtful details. What is your guest’s favorite flowers and music? Create beautiful lighting with soft lights and candles. Little details like that show that you care and will make any meal more memorable.

La Duni Latin Cafe

Chef Giuliano Matarese, Mille Lire
Photo courtesy of Mille Lire

Chef Giuliano Matarese, Chef/Owner of Mille Lire Restaurant

KR: What is the most romantic dish you prepare?

GM: Mille Lire Oysters Florentine, which is my tribute to love as they are a treat for the palate and the eye. Spinach and Parmesan Baked Blue Point Oysters are served on a bed of pink coarse salt, which is colored by infusing it with Chianti wine. The dish is served with the salt flaming for a striking presentation. That’s amore!

Tida’s Chocolate Hearts at Haute Sweets Patisserie
Photo courtesy of Haute Sweets Patisserie

Tida Pichakron, Chef/Owner Haute Sweets Patisserie

KR: As a pastry chef, what you do requires advanced technical skill. What is love to you in terms of food, specifically the process, presentation and preparation?

TP: In terms of food, love is passion for what I’m creating and/or finding something challenging, then mastering it. Right now, my passion is creating beautiful, artful chocolate bon bons. Chocolate tempering and chocolate work has always been intimidating for me, especially when I was just starting out in the industry. I would get frustrated when tempering chocolate just wouldn’t go my way. Now that I understand techniques better and have had the opportunity to learn from a couple of well-respected chocolatiers in the industry, it’s become a passion project. I’ll literally stay hours after we’ve closed the shop, and everyone has left, just to work on chocolate. Even though it might be a 12 + hour day, I LOVE “playing.” And for being a Pastry Chef operating a Patisserie, it’s hard and some days are harder than others, but I still LOVE it!

KR: What is your go-to restaurant for a romantic dinner?

TP: Bullion. It’s got everything, great food, great drinks and great service.

Haute Sweets Patisserie

Profound Microfarms
Photo courtesy of Kersten Rettig

Jeff Bednar, Farmer/Co-Owner of Profound Microfarms

KR: What is the most romantic food you grow?

JB: Our edible flowers are a hit with bartenders and chefs alike. Flowers are the quintessential expression of love, and topped on food or a beverage, simply deliver the finishing touch to all plates. Our culinary herbs deliver a similar effect. A sprig of lavender garnishing an elderberry gin cocktail is sure to put a smile on her face. Chives atop mashed potatoes, sitting next to rosemary-infused wagyu beef steak and a Profound mix green salad will have his mouth-watering.

KR: What is your idea of a romantic dinner?

JB: For us (Jeff and his wife, Lee) it’s all about who we’re with and where we are. Whether it’s a grilled sourdough Caprese panini eaten riverside outside a camper van, drinking early morning coffee and eating homemade oatmeal cookies by a campfire during sunrise or a having a multi-course candlelit dinner at the city’s top restaurant… ambiance and company are paramount.

KR: What was the most romantic dinner you’ve ever had and where was it?

JB: As farmers, we derive tremendous joy eating at restaurants that serve the food we’ve grown. It is fascinating to see what chefs create with what we grow. Sometimes it takes months from harvest to serving, with chefs investing time and love in processes like fermenting, drying, freezing, powdering and saucing. We learn something new each time we eat out or spend time with chefs visiting our farm.

There are many romantic dinners we’ve been privileged to enjoy over the past few years, and it’s hard to pick favorites.

Harvest in McKinney has aced the art of ambiance. All the little details have been thought of, from napkins to lighting. When FT33 was operating, sitting at a table with a full view of the kitchen was a fascinating and exciting dinner. The care and knowledge of our server had us feeling like we were the only two guests in the place. Mot Hai Ba is one of our favorites for unique flavors and applications and we love that Chef Peja spoils us with a chef’s tasting menu. Petra and the Beast delivers a remarkable experience as well. Lucia, Wolfgang Puck 560 at Reunion Tower and Homewood are on our list of favorites.

Each of these establishments care about food from farm to fork. They consider food sources, food miles and how proteins are raised, knowing that all these components have a direct impact on the flavor of the food. They are environmentally aware and take true pleasure in serving customers who care about food and where it comes from.

Profound Microfarms lettuce
Photo by Kersten Rettig

KR: Well that’s a great segue to my next question. What do you love about what you do?

JB: Growing food. It’s the very beginning of the process of preparing food for people to eat. Caring for the soil on our farm, planting seeds several days each week, planning out the next season, planting trees, collecting water – these are all acts of love and at the very foundation of ensuring we can feed people. There is something unique and fulfilling about eating food that has been harvested just a few feet from you. On the farm, we enjoy hosting greenhouse dinners. The sound of water in the background, the string lights, and the green sea of produce around us, all make for a pretty romantic setting. Of course, we couldn’t host these dinners if we didn’t grow food.

Profound Microfarms

If you hadn’t noticed, the common theme here is that it’s not what you eat or where you eat it (although sunsets and beaches were mentioned a few times) love and romance is about who you’re with. Whoever you’re with today, be present with them and enjoy the moments.

And if you go out, don’t forget to tip your server.

 

Kersten Rettig

Kersten Rettig is an eater, drinker, cooker, writer and former restaurant owner with a deep affection for all things food and beverage related. The Park Cities resident has a food blog and Instagram called The Kickshaw Papers. Follow her @KickshawPapers.

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