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The Food Of Love


Ready to romance your sweetie with a home-cooked meal? Try these tips from experts and chefs!

By Margot Carmichael Lester

f the way to your date’s heart is through the stomach, you’re going to need to do more than toss a frozen dinner in the microwave. But what if you’re not a great cook? Our panel of all star chefs offers these tips for planning a romantic dinner for two.

Before you do anything, though, make sure you check in with your date about his or her food allergies, likes and dislikes. There’s no bigger buzz kill than
Make sure you check in with your date about his or her food allergies.
serving your date’s least favorite food or sending someone to the ER.

Go With What You Know
“I always say go with what you know when you are trying to impress someone,” says Cat Cora of the Food Network’s Iron Chef America. “This doesn’t mean you can’t be adventurous, but I don’t recommend cooking an ‘experimental meal’ for a romantic dinner. If you have a great chicken dish that everybody loves, chances are, so will your date. You can experiment with a new salad or maybe some oysters on the half shell, but don’t go overboard with a new menu you have never prepared before.”

Keep It Simple
“The best foods for a romantic dinner are elegant, yet simple, such as herbed roast chicken or roasted fish,” says food blogger Tesia Love, the Flavor Diva. “Elegant so that you can impress, and simple so that you don’t pull your hair out in the process. I also like to cook with wine, which adds an extra layer of flavor that’s special and may be different from your normal everyday meals.”

Consider Color
“Make the most of color psychology knowledge and try to incorporate the color red because it simulates a faster heartbeat and breathing — and it is the color of love,” explains Tre Wilcox, a private chef who appeared on Season 3 of Top Chef. “Green is a relaxing color and simulates relaxation and calmness. We want to avoid blue and purple colors in our romantic dinners, because blue food is rare in nature.”

Follow Directions
Even if this is a dish you’ve made before, “write out your recipe or have it in front of you,” advises Aaron McCargo, Jr., winner of The Next Food Network Star reality series and host of Big Daddy’s House. “Make sure all of the ingredients are out, set a time to get it done, stay focused and do it with love.” This will keep you from making horrible mistakes, like forgetting an important ingredient or undercooking your proteins.

Think Small
You don’t want your date to go into a food coma after your meal, so don’t overload the menu. So,
Dessert is always the last thing to eat and this should be fun.
Cora says, “I recommend serving smaller portions, unless you are cooking for an NFL quarterback.” Plan on 1 to 2 ounces for appetizers, 3 ounces for fish and 4 to 6 ounces for meat per person.

Plan Ahead
“People seem to think that food is only great when it is prepped right before cooking it,” Wilcox laments. “But part of the romance is you showing that person as much of your attention possible. You shouldn’t be prepping your butt off; you should be talking to and enjoying that special person.” There are two separate phases in cooking: prep time and cook time. Prep time includes making sauces, broths, chopping vegetables and butchering — all of which can be done before your date arrives. “Then to serve the meal, you just cook the prepped ingredients, sear the fish, roast the meat, etc. You stay more relaxed and engaged with your guest while making an impression by cooking such a wonderful and delicious meal effortlessly,” says Wilcox.

Get Help
“Include your date in the process, even if it’s just helping with the place setting or lighting the candles,” says Todd Mark Miller, executive chef of STK in New York and Los Angeles. He knows what he’s talking about. Miller was featured in a segment on The Real Housewives of New York when he invited his then-date Bethenny Frankel to help prep their meal. McCargo agrees: “My favorite part of a romantic dinner is when my wife and I can chat in the kitchen and enjoy ourselves while I am mixing flavors.”

Finish Strong
“Make sure to have an amazing finish to your meal that they will remember,” Miller notes. “Dessert is always the last thing to eat and this should be fun, sticky, warm and preferably chocolate.”

One final tip: “Be joyful and happy as you prepare and cook, not stressed,” Love suggests. “Your time cooking and the dinner itself will be more enjoyable for the both of you. It’s the thought that counts, so don’t worry too much.” Armed with these great tips from great chefs, you’re read to indulge your date with the food of love.


Freelance writer Margot Carmichael Lester grew up in her family’s gourmet grocery and cooked for her husband on their first date.
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