It’s been said many times before: The way to the heart is through the stomach. No one knows that better than chefs.
This Valentine’s Day, they’ll be slaving away over hot stoves, creating romantic meals for their customers instead of their loved ones. But for these restaurateurs, food and affection go hand in hand. Here, they share how food has fuelled their relationships.
Chef Martin Kouprie, co-owner of Pangaea Restaurant in Toronto, has been married to food writer Dana McCauley for 15 years.
“On our first date, I made her a lobster risotto at my house, and then we promptly went to Maple Leaf Gardens for a basketball game. I turned around and wanted to buy beer and realized I didn’t bring my wallet with me. I think she was ready to dump me right then and there if it weren’t for the risotto. She knew I had some redeeming qualities to salvage.
“That would have been about 20 years ago. I’ve made it countless of times since. You can get sustainable lobster in the markets and it’s one of these one-dishes where you don’t have to use a lot of pots and pans to accomplish it, and by the end of it, you’re both very satisfied.”
Chef Vikram Vij, of Vancouver’s Vij’s and Vij’s Rangoli restaurants, has been married to his business partner Meeru Dhalwala for 15 years.
“Our styles of cooking are totally different. I’m all for fat and robustness and lots of cream and everything else. Her style is light, she ensures that there’s enough fibre in there – she’s more conscientious.
“If she makes something, I’ll just quietly eat it because I know that I can’t say, ‘Oh, you could do this or you could do that.’ Or if I make something, she quietly eats it. I think when a couple are working together, there’s a lot of work that’s required. It’s a matter of knowing when to agree to disagree.
“But thankfully, everything she cooks, it’s very flavourful. I’m very lucky that way. I think if she was a horrible cook, I would not be together with her. I could not be with somebody who’s a bad cook.”
Chef Angus An of Maenam in Vancouver and his business partner, Kate An, have been married for six years. The couple works together closely in kitchen of their restaurant.
“Kate and I met while we were working together in London. On one of our first dates, I was going to cook her dinner. I thought it was a good opportunity to impress her.
I got up at 7 a.m. to go to Notting Hill to get a haircut and go shopping. I bought a couple of lamb shanks and wild mushrooms to make a nice braised lamb shank and mushroom risotto. I took the long bus ride out to her house and arrived at 3 p.m., and started braising right away in her tiny kitchen, which didn’t have a proper oven; it had two small burners.
I didn’t realize her sisters and cousin who lived with her would be there as well. It was actually quite awkward. I also broke one of her sister’s new glass casserole pots. When dinner was ready, Kate mentioned she normally wouldn’t eat lamb, so I’m like ‘Oh no.’ But she said it was really, really good.”
Karri Schuermans and her husband, chef Nico Schuermans, are owners of Chambar in Vancouver. They recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
“On one Valentine’s Day, when we were living in Whistler about nine years ago, he took me for a drive and he was supposed be taking me for a picnic at this nice, romantic lake. But he took a wrong turn and we ended up on a logging road in almost waist-high snow.
“We were so stuck and kind of lost that we had to spend the night there. He had packed a bottle of scotch and some strawberries and chocolate for the picnic – it was more like dessert. It wasn’t meant to be for survival, but it ended up that way. It was really good. We just got really drunk and kept warm.
“The next morning, he had to hike out an hour down this logging road and hitchhike to get a tow truck.”
Connie DeSousa, co-chef and co-owner of Charcut Roast House in Calgary, and the restaurant’s service director Jean Francois Beeroo have been married for three years.
“He loves foie gras, and we used to live in the Bay Area of San Francisco, where we had Sonoma foie gras that was really accessible to us. So for special treats and for Valentine’s Day, I used to cook up some foie gras for him.
“I prefer it in cold applications, like in terrines and torchons, but he loves it seared, so I would always do half and half. We’re always making compromises and sacrifices for each other.
“I don’t make it as much now. Now that we have our own restaurant, I can’t afford foie gras. But we get the next best thing, which is chicken livers, sort of the poor man’s substitute. We’re actually featuring both on our Valentine’s menu this year; I’m preparing a foie gras-chicken liver combo.”
These interviews have been condensed and edited.