Joseph Swan’s whole roasted fish. Photo: Anthony Mair

Make Love in the Kitchen

Setting the table for Valentine’s Day, seven chefs share dishes in which the secret ingredient is love

George Bernard Shaw said, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” Chefs would take the legendary playwright’s sentiment a step further by claiming that food—at its heart—is the very language of love. Like offering a piece of oneself, cooking for loved ones inspires, delights and melts hearts. At the same time, nostalgic aromas and tastes bring back fond memories, and certain dishes seem to magically stir up those senses all over again. We asked these culinary figures to share what they cook for the people they love.

Wonton Soup

John Courtney, Culinary Director, Simon Hospitality Group

Recently wed Courtney says he would prepare wonton soup for his wife. “One of our coasters at home has a favorite saying of mine: ‘I live on good soup, not fine words.’” Ginger is an ingredient Courtney associates with love and this soup because “it can be spicy or sweet, and it’s incredibly healing—just like love!” He also encourages making wonton soup for large groups, as he says he has done with his family. “The entire family, 3 years and older, gets involved in preparing wontons for the soup.” Courtney says that cooking is how he shows his devotion. “Everyone who knows me knows that if I cook for you every chance I get, that is my way of expressing my love for you.”

Fresh Line-Caught Alaskan Salmon Citrine

Kerry Clasby, The Intuitive Forager

“I cook what my loved ones love to eat, a dish that aligns with my value of healthy eating,” Clasby says. A font of knowledge about body and soul, she associates fatty acids with love, and by using grass-fed butter from Petaluma and fresh line-caught salmon from Alaska, she says, “I want to keep my loved ones in a clear state, with a healthy heart as long as possible.” Using ingredients such as Satsuma tangerines, German Butterball potatoes, baby rainbow carrots and Greek yogurt, Clasby says she would serve this dish to her most loyal customers at the Downtown 3rd Farmers Market in the historic bus terminal. “The setting is striking yet simple, with people laughing, chatting, maybe even dancing in the room with a thousand tales.”

Green Chilaquiles

Javier Chavez, Chef/Owner, Kitchen Table and Kitchen Table Squared (coming this spring)

“Cooking is communication at its rawest form,” Chavez says. “From the prepping to the final dish, it shows those who I serve how much I care, and it is reflected in my food.” Chavez recalls childhood memories of his mother’s cooking when he makes green chilaquiles by integrating flavorful spices into his mom’s dish, incorporating Oaxacan cheese and smoked pork for even more Latin flair. Chavez says he would prepare this dish at his home or at his restaurant during his mother’s next visit to show her how she has inspired him to become a chef and restaurateur.

Nikos Georgousis’ pasticcio. Photo: Anthony Mair

Pasticcio

Nikos Georgousis, Chef/Partner, Meraki Greek Grill

“If I’m cooking for one person or a group, I try to keep it as simple as possible, because enjoying the company is just as important,” Georgousis says. “Of course, it’s always family-style.” Pasticcio is Greek pasta casserole, which typically includes pasta tossed with a rich meat sauce similar to a Bolognese and topped with a Greek béchamel made with Kefalograviera cheese and baked until golden brown. “I believe the ‘love element’ comes from the meat sauce,” he says. “The house takes on a certain smell when [the sauce] is being cooked with wine and spices. It just transports me back to my grandma’s house.”

Strawberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Bank Atcharawan, Chef/Sommelier/Owner, The Patio Dessert & Drinks (opening in late February)

The former chef and sommelier of Chada Street and Chada Thai serves up something sweet to those he loves: strawberry grilled cheese sandwiches. Using two kinds of cheese—brie and mozzarella—Atcharawan says the brie gives the sandwich a rich, fruity and creamy texture. The strawberries, which are coated with sugar, add the sweet and acidic element, complemented by the chewiness of the mozzarella. “I love the dish for this occasion because of strawberry being the fruit of the [Valentine’s Day] holiday, and of course a gentleman always pleases a lady with cheese!” And being a somm, Atcharawan says that he would pair this dish with a blanc de noirs Champagne.

Mushroom Grits

William DeMarco, Executive Chef, La Cave in Wynn and Crush in MGM Grand

A rich combination of trumpet mushrooms, Parmesan, chives and truffle butter, DeMarco’s grits are the perfect comfort food that captures the warmth of being in the company of someone you love. “That said, the grits would probably be served best in a cabin or campground of some kind,” DeMarco says. “Nothing is more romantic than a cabin escape for two, preparing warm comfort foods to cuddle up with together. When made correctly, the mushroom grits will make you want to sit by the fire with someone you love.”

Whole Roasted Fish

Joseph Swan, Chef, Hawthorn Grill, JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa

Swan enjoys spending time with people while doing what he loves to do. And because love can be served up all year long, for larger groups, he would prepare a whole roasted fish with fresh, seasonal vegetables to “keep it simple and not be occupied with preparing food,” the chef says. “The care is in the preparation rather than a particular ingredient.” On the other hand, when cooking for his wife, who is from Laos, Swan prepares sticky rice and papaya salad because, he says, “it reminds her of her heritage and what she loves.”

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