Heartland Restaurant Chef Lenny Russo Recommends the Chef’s Table for Romance

Chef Russo wooed his wife with pasta, not an Elmo suit.

Minnesota chef Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant + Farm Direct Market in St. Paul has been cooking professionally for more than 30 years, during which time he’s amassed numerous accolades, both locally and nationally, including being named a 2010 and 2011 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Midwest Nominee. Serving contemporary Midwestern cuisine, Chef Russo’s ingredients at Heartland are hyper-local. Guests will find the very best of the American and Canadian Midwest’s local bounty on the menu, but imported olive oil from Italy? Not so much. Chef Russo’s commitment to local, sustainable ingredients allows him to serve delicious feel-good food that helps support a community of small family farmers and artisanal producers and that feeds the appetites of devoted diners throughout the Twin Cities and beyond.

What are your thoughts on food and drink acting as aphrodisiacs?

It’s a very romantic notion, but, beyond increasing blood flow, I’m not sure how scientifically accurate that is.  Nonetheless, sex is in many ways more psychological than physical, so whatever gets the boat to float qualifies.

Barring science, are there any ingredients that you think add an aphrodisiac quality to a drink or dish?

I think the name “passion fruit” says it all.

What makes a dish downright sexy?

I think it’s all about texture and aroma. Any silky smooth dessert with a floral or citrus scent is sexy.

Have you ever wooed a love interest with a particular dish or drink? What was it?

Oh, come on now! I’m a chef. That’s my whole game, and any pasta preparation is always my “go to” dish. That’s true to this day after over ten years of marriage. Just ask my wife.  She eats a lot of pasta. In fact, we got married in Italy and spent a month traveling around Tuscany visiting winemakers and chefs. I cooked a lot of pasta for her.  It was very romantic.

Do you have a dish or food you might recommend to diners seeking to set the mood? 

Caviar with rose champagne.

What foods/drinks strike you as particularly unromantic?


Yikes! The first person to eat that must’ve lost a bet! Moving on, do you have any suggestions for diners seeking to make a meal at Heartland as romantic as possible?

Book a Chef’s Table.

What are your thoughts on PDA in restaurants? 

There should be more love in the world…not less; but, there is a time and a place for certain intimacies, and within public view in a restaurant is not it. There is nothing romantic about two people groping each other in public. We have all seen it, and it is not appreciated.

Have you had any proposals in your restaurant?

We have had many proposals at Heartland, but the one that stands out is a gentleman who dressed up as his wife’s favorite character and surprised her while she was dining with her best friend. I’m not sure I would have had the guts or the gumption to wear the Elmo costume, but it worked for them.

If you had to help someone surprise their intended with an engagement ring involving food or drink, how might you – or how might you not – execute it?

That just seems like a bad idea to me. I would be afraid that the intended would swallow it. I’m sure it must have happened to someone at some time. A trip to the emergency room seems like it would put a damper on the occasion. Maybe a pastry in the shape of an engagement ring would be a creative and hazard-free way to get the message across. Everyone loves donuts.

Restaurants can be hotbeds of fraternization, so to speak. Have you or any of your coworkers met a spouse/partner at your restaurant?

Yes. I met my wife almost 18 years ago at a restaurant where I was Chef and Food and Beverage director, and where she was working in the front of house. I broke my cardinal rule of never dating a coworker for her. I couldn’t help myself. Also, both of my sous chefs met their significant others while working together here.

If you had Valentine’s Day off and could spend it with your favorite foodie, who would that be and why?

My wife is my favorite “foodie” — although we pretty much dislike the term “foodie.” I can’t think of anyone else with whom I would rather spend my time. In fact, as my partner in the restaurant, she and I will be spending Valentine’s Day together. Who needs the day off?

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your wife and everyone at Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market. We hope you get to sneak in a toast together!

Make your next romantic meal a sustainable and superb one by booking a table at Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market and wow your date with the very best of the Midwest!


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