It's not always easy to date a chef. The long hours, the Friday and Saturday nights in the kitchen – not to mention working on Valentine's Day is practically a given.
But there are some advantages. Consider how Kenneth Trickilo, corporate chef for the South City Group, wooed his now-wife, Alison. It was the summer of 1997, Trickilo was a sous chef at Panico's in New Brunswick and was eager to impress after one successful date at Arthur's Landing in Weehawken.
So Trickilo dragged a big cooler into work, and his boss let him take whatever he wanted. His menu: potato leek soup, a summer salad, chateaubriand, cabernet demi-glace, au gratin potatoes, haricot vert and crème brûlée, all with a nice bottle of Barolo.
The couple now have an 8-year-old daughter, Olivia, whose ambition is to own a restaurant and be her father's boss.
The stakes get ramped up when a chef's significant other is also in the business. Brooks Nicklas and Wendy Farber — the husband-and-wife team who now co-own Rosemary and Sage in Riverdale — met as Culinary Institute of America students, both doing externships at the former Manhattan restaurant The Sign of the Dove.
So when Nicklas decided to go all out for Farber, he picked a cassoulet – the first he had ever made.
It turned out great. There was just one problem: He was living up near the CIA in Hyde Park, N.Y., and she was back at home in Linden, Union County. So Nicklas made the 100-mile drive with the scent of lamb, duck and garlic wafting from the back seat.
"The aroma was making me crazy," he said. "I wanted to start eating it before I got there."
Many chefs fondly remember using their significant others as guinea pigs. Ninamarie Bojekian, a Franklin Lakes chef who owns Ooh La La Catering Co., recalled the excitement of being a French Culinary Institute student cooking for her boyfriend, Danny Mendoza, on Valentine's Day in 2002.
Bojekian splurged on top-quality ingredients at Dean & DeLuca and served a mixed green salad with seared sea scallops and fresh peaches, dressed with a citrus and basil vinaigrette and paired with a blanc de blancs sparkling wine; a filet mignon with poached dried figs and a red wine reduction, paired with a Cotes du Rhone; and for dessert, melted brie and chocolate on a toasted baguette, paired with an ice wine.
"It was the first time I had ever thought about the harmony between food and wine," she said. "It was really a fun experience."
Peter Angelakos, now the executive chef of Bacari Grill in Washington Township, had never cooked professionally when he met his wife, Teresa, and the first meal he prepared for her was a simple veal scallopine Milanese.
But four years later, they were married, he had enrolled in the French Culinary Institute and had just completed the "Crustacean Chapter." To show his wife what he was learning, Angelakos bought two live lobsters, blanched them and removed the meat from the shell, poached it in butter and served it with a roasted garlic-lemon beurre blanc and vegetable pearls. "Delicious and memorable," he said.
Matthew Tirri first cooked for his now-fiancée, Nicole DeCarlo, at his former restaurant, Ruga in Oakland: She ordered chicken saltimbocca. As their relationship progressed, she became enamored with his soups and his tilapia with lemons, capers, olives and tomatoes.
But their "signature" dish became something very simple: breaded chicken cutlets with rice pilaf and green beans with almonds. Tirri first cooked it for DeCarlo, now she cooks it for him. And now he works for her, as the chef of Nicole's in Bogota, where she is the owner.
The first meal Rachel Lundstrom ever cooked for her boyfriend, Jason Wilson, was black sea bass.
Pretty gutsy, given that Wilson is a seafood distributor.
"We have a great dynamic," says Lundstrom, who recently became the executive chef of Napa Valley Grille at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus. "He knows how to pick out the good fish and I know how to make it taste good."
She decided to stuff the sea bass with orange, lemon, parsley and rosemary, grilled it with tomatoes and zucchini, and topped it with a gremolata made from garlic, parsley, lemon zest and extra virgin olive oil.
"Now," she says, "I can't get rid of him."