For those who want to enjoy a quiet, romantic dinner at home this Valentine’s Day, we asked Fraser Valley’s Chef Gordon Desormeaux for some tips. Better known as Chef Dez, you may have read one of his food columns, seen him perform at a local cooking show or taken one of his cooking classes. Since we can’t always hire him as our personal chef to cook for us, we asked his advice on creating a romantic dinner for two at home.
In your opinion, is it more romantic to cook for someone or to cook with someone?
To cook WITH someone, for sure! Well… as long as the other person thinks it’s romantic as well. Don’t get me wrong, it is also great to surprise your special someone with a romantic meal and seduce them, but there’s something very sensual about prepping food together… feeding each other little samples, enjoying some wine and soft music, and dressing up like you were going out… make an event out of it.
Knowing some people are intimidated by cooking a romantic dinner for their sweethearts, what are some no-fail dinner ideas?
The menu you decide on does not have to be complicated, however it should be meaningful. The first thought that comes to mind is to prepare their favourite food. If this is a dish that you cannot prepare at home then have it ordered in or pre-purchase parts of it ahead of time to !ease your preparation. Don’t worry about making everything from scratch if it is beyond your means and capability. Your thoughtfulness is the most meaningful ingredient.
Add extra simple courses, rather than just having a main course and dessert. A fresh pile of mixed colourful greens with a good dressing or a few pieces of unique cheeses with some grapes and a small glass of wine make delicious courses. All of the elements to make these extra courses can be purchased direct from the store and assembled together to ease your preparation. Now you can express to your Sweetheart that you made them a “four course romantic dinner”. An example of a quick enchanting dessert would be chocolate covered strawberries.
Where do you shop for fresh local ingredients?
There are a number of great local markets and I tend to shop at all of them. My biggest recommendation to people is build relationships with the owners and staff so that they know you and will be pleased to serve you. You will be surprised how much they will go out of their way to make sure a well-known customer is taken care of. Call them ahead of time and pre-order any specialty items you may need.
What’s the best way to make sure all the appetizers and dinner dishes are finished at the correct time and in the right order?
When organizing huge dinner parties I make multiple lists and schedules. You obviously don’t have to be so organized for a small romantic meal, but if one feels intimidated by being in the kitchen, breaking the steps down will definitely help. One should at least do as much of the chopping/measuring of ingredients earlier in the day and have them labeled and ready to go for later.
Can you recommend some great local wines to pair with dinner?
For local wines, I would have to say that my favourite white wine is the Bacchus from Domaine de Chaberton Winery in Langley – at less than $15 per bottle, it is an incredible deal. My favourites in reds changes all the time, but the most local one I am drinking right now is Sumac Ridge’s Black Sage Merlot from their vineyard in Oliver, BC.
What would you recommend as a ‘romantic’ dessert to serve after dinner?
Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate! There are so many great chocolate dessert recipes to choose from as well. Utilize the Internet, your local library, or call your local gourmet food store and ask for some suggestions. Find out what your sweetheart’s favourite fruit is and do a recipe that combines this fruit with chocolate for a sure fire winner!
Do you have any tips for setting the right mood for dinner?
The table setting is very important and should harmonize with the mood you are trying to establish. Candles are a must, but there are other things you can do to make it memorable. Silk rose petals or heart-shaped confetti scattered on the table is a nice touch. Compliment that with red cloth napkins and a love letter tied up with a ribbon, and you will have them swooning.
Make sure you have enough pieces of cutlery set to accommodate each course and use your best wine glasses. A glass of wine always looks very elegant. If wine is not desirable, then fill the glass with red or white grape juice.
A finishing touch on the table would be a fresh bouquet of flowers. Long stemmed red roses are perfect for Valentine’s Day, however they will be impressed already by your efforts and carnations or a mixed arrangement will also do.
The room environment is equally influential. If you have children, make arrangements for them to spend the evening, or at least part of it, away from home or kept busy in another room. Be certain that you serve dinner in a light controlled room and have access to music. Lastly, make sure that the room is tidy. It is much harder to set a mood if the area is cluttered with everyday items.
Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day memory?
When my wife Katherine and I were first dating, we had dinner at a nice hotel with a piano bar and dancing. I surprised her by special ordering a wood carving from her home town in North Western Ontario to add to her collection. The evening was magical. Every Valentine’s day since, however, has been just as special in their own ways. What we now really enjoy best is just spending the evening in the kitchen and cooking with each other.
If your sweetheart was going to prepare your dream meal for Valentine’s Day, what would that be?
This is a tough one as there are so many things I love to eat. My wife makes a killer gnocchi (potato pasta) with a pork tomato sauce. It would have to be accompanied with a great glass of red wine, a crusty loaf of homemade Italian bread and I would be completely satisfied.
She is also an incredible baker and all of her desserts are amazing, but I would have choose my hands-down favourite to end the meal – Creme Caramel. It is like Creme Brulee, but the sugar is caramelized first and poured into the ramekins, and then the raw custard is added. After baking and cooling it is inverted and emptied onto a plate. The beautifully delicate custard holds its shape and the residual caramelized sugar surrounds it like a sauce. I go to heaven with every bite!