Love notes from the kitchen
Chefs dish on their funniest Valentine moments
While many of us are sitting moonfaced across the table from our funny Valentine, chefs everywhere are turning up the heat in the kitchen. The most romantic night of the year means great expectations for diners and even greater moments for chefs who make the magic happen and offer a few observations along the way.
Evan Turner, Managing Partner/Beverage Director of Branch Water Tavern has collaborated on many a Valentine’s proposal for guests, but the one that sent him crawling through the restaurant is the most memorable.
“My favorite was at a restaurant while working in New York. The boyfriend had us slip an engagement ring in the champagne glass for the girl, they proceed to drink a bit too much and at some point she leaves the champagne glass with the very expensive ring somewhere in the restaurant or on our patio,” Turner recalls adding the ring was a real sparkler, something like three carats.
“After a search out of The Fugitive, we find it sitting on a toilet paper dispenser in a stall in the ladies room. They did get married and a bunch of us got to go to the reception. To my knowledge nothing was lost at the reception other than a bridesmaid's dignity,” Turner says. "But that is another story."
Proposal stories are common during Valentine's and chefs are often asked to go above and beyond to ensure a happily ever after. Chez Nous owner Scott Simonson has even been asked to recite poetry to dinner guests during a proposal, but he and chef Stacy Simonson also incorporate more traditional touches too.
“We are Valentine's Day experts because a week doesn't go by without a proposal taking place in our dining room,” Stacy Simonson said. “In one case, the man asked us to slip a diamond engagement ring in the lady's glass of Dom Perignon only to see the object of his ardor calmly sip the champagne throughout dinner without ever noticing the ring in her glass.” At Chez Nous, a large strawberry sans buttercream, and proposals written in chocolate on the dessert plate are popular methods of popping the question.
Chef John Schenk of the Strip House recalls a proposal that took more than a few bites to get to.
"Once, a gentleman asked us to put an engagement ring in our 24-layer chocolate cake for a girlfriend. The guy didn't realize how big it was and the pastry chef had buried it ⅔rds in, so the guy ended up having to help her eat a lot of cake to find it."
Love can also be fleeting, even on Valentine's. Byrd's Market & Cafe chef Marlies Wasterval remembers one proposal that quickly went from romance to ruin.
“The gentleman proposed, and the young woman accepted with an unusually loud squeal. Congratulations were offered to the couple from all of the nearby diners, and our floor manager brought them a complimentary bottle of champagne to mark the special occasion. The young woman, in her excitement, drank to excess,” Wasterval said. With each glass of bubbly, the recently affianced woman became less and less behaved until she passed out in the restaurant.
“The manager had to ask the gentleman to escort her out of the restaurant. He complied, but we watched through the window as he laid her limp body in the grass outside, got into his car and drove away, thus marking potentially the shortest engagement ever, and we were sadly forced to call the police to pick her up before she got hurt,” Wasterval said.
Chef Schenk witnessed another Valentines uh-oh moment at the Las Vegas Strip House a few years ago. “We had a man served divorce papers at the table while he was having dinner with his girlfriend. She didn't even know he was married,” he said.
The Grove’s executive chef Ryan Pera experienced a potentially explosive Valentines when he was working as a sous chef.
“It was Valentine's Day and all was going well, the restaurant was busy as usual for a Valentine's Day. It was around ten at night and the restaurant had just run out of lobster. All of a sudden an irate customer stands up from his table, bombards the kitchen and starts parading around the kitchen like a mad man in search of his lobster,” Pera said.
Ziggy Gruber, the charismatic owner of Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli, has his own musings on the day of love, whether you have a Valentine or not.
“Take my word for it, nothing says love like a giant chocolate eclair and a pint of vanilla ice cream when you are single on Valentine's Day,” Gruber says. He also has sweet and honest observations from behind the counter for those who have stood the test of time.
“Valentine’s Day at the deli is so special. You can hear all the romantic grunting while couples are eating. Something like that takes over 30 years of marriage to cultivate,” Gruber says.