Food, Love & Sticky Fingers
What is it about food that can make us swoon? It’s not just the meal itself, but also who you’re sharing it with and where you are. Sometimes it just comes down to how much wine you’ve had.
Canadians spend an average of $164 on Valentine’s Day, according to Statistics Canada, and those expenses can include chocolates, roses, lingerie or a romantic meal. The spending trend started way back in1913 when the famous card company established the “Hallmark Holiday.” But it’s not for lovers alone –many of Canada’s 12.5 million singles say Feb. 14 is an excuse to celebrate with friends or family.
For Calgary and area chefs, Valentines means a long and stressful workday.“Yes, it’s probably the craziest day of the year,” says Tracy Little, chef of The Sensory (upstairs) and Wit Bar (downstairs) in Canmore which opened in 2018. “We’re already mentally preparing ourselves.” For Little, this is a day to have a little fun and show diners some new flavours.Here’s what some local chefs and a cookbook author think about romance, food and what can make the palate go pitter-patter.
Octopus at The Sensory in Canmore
TRACY LITTLE, THE SENSORY, CANMORE
What do you consider to be sexy foods? “Definitely truffles. But I also love oysters … being able to take the raw approach that we take is pretty cool. I also think mead is fun for a wine pairing.”
What’s your idea of a romantic meal? There’s a sense of romance and grandeur and awe when you see the mountains (The Three Sisters peaks can be seen from the windows of the second-floor of The Sensory dining room). “When you’re excited about where you are, it’s so gratifying.”
If you were going out on Valentine’s Day, what would you want someone to cook for you? “I love going to other chefs’ restaurants and just saying ‘feed me.”” Little has her own three-course Trust Me menu. “I think it’s a great opportunity to introduce people to ingredients they’ve never had before. When we read menus, we go to the comfort of what we know. But with the Trust Me menu, there’s the element of surprise, there’s a certain playfulness to it.”
River Cafe Charcuterie
ROSS BOWLES, RIVER CAFÉ
What’s your idea of a romantic meal? “Shared items, carefully prepared, things that take a lot of time –pastas like gnocchi. Something that warms you up a bit.” Honey cake is also on Bowles’ list of tempting foods.“It’s like a sticky toffee pudding style, with gooey honey dripping from it. We have lots of couples who sit by the window with the fire going. It’s an ideal kind of thing to share.”
Can food be an aphrodisiac? “Yes, I think it’s all connected. A good meal puts you in a good mood and it’s all part of your evening. The oysters and honey cake would definitely set the mood.”
If you didn’t have to work on Valentine’s Day, what would you cook? “My fiancée and I would cook perogies, or linguine, something we can make together that’s warm –and a giant bottle of Riesling. That’s my ultimate day-off selection.”
The Lake House Oysters
GARETH COLVILLE, THE LAKE HOUSE, BONAVISTA
What’s your idea of a winter romantic meal? “Something to share, obviously. We always give free oysters when people arrive. Beef Wellington, I’ve done that for Valentine’s Day. It’s nice with celeriac puree which goes well with the beef.”
What kind of foods come to mind when you are thinking of romance? “Sharing a charcuterie or cheese board with nice glass of red wine.”
The perfect pre-dinner cocktail? “Sunset on the Lake. I named that one. It’s a take on Negroni, served in martini glass.”
JULIE VAN ROSENDAAL, FOOD WRITER AND COOKBOOK AUTHOR
Julie “I’m not really into Valentine’s Day” Van Rosendaal published Dirty Food in October. It’s not what you might think, but we thought it was apropos for people staying in on V-Day.
I’m thinking Dirty Food wasn’t intended for romantic dinners… What comes to mind when you think of making a meal to stoke the flames? “I think cooking a meal together is pretty romantic! Working together in close quarters in the kitchen, preparing a meal to feed each other, and something different that you wouldn’t make on a regular Tuesday. And set the table –make an extra effort!”
If you were planning a romantic meal from your new cookbook, what would you make? “I’d make whatever the person on the receiving end loves –perhaps Eton Mess or the Sunken Chocolate Cake filled with berry fool,or gooey pull-apart Pimento Cheese Bread (all recipes in Dirty Food) –something that you pull apart, that requires you to lick your fingers.” or someone who wants to impress a new love by cooking a meal, but aren’t super adept in the kitchen, what would you recommend? “Stick with something simple, like a roasted chicken. Braised beef ribs or Beef Bourguignon doesn’t require much effort. The oven does most of the work. Don’t try to go overboard with something elaborate… it’s the act of cooking for someone that’s romantic –it doesn’t much matter what you’re eating!”
People immediately think dinner and romance. How can you amp up brunch or lunch? “Breakfast and brunch are great for Valentine’s Day -especially after a sleep-in. One of my favourite things to make is sticky cinnamon buns, which you can make the night before and stick in the fridge to slow the rise, then bake the next morning. The smell of cinnamon buns baking as you wake up, and then serving them in bed with some good coffee is about as romantic as it gets.”