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? 

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CHAYA Brasserie Chef Harutaka Kishi Talks PDA, Tripe + White Day in Japan

Culinary excellence runs in Haru's family. His twin brother is a master sushi chef!

Harutaka Kishi is truly a worldly chef. Born to Japanese parents and raised in France, Haru grew up enjoying the bounty of Paris’s finest farmers markets and his mother’s inspired home cooking. His talents have taken him to some of the finest kitchens, from  Joël Robuchon’s Le Chateau in Tokyo to  Gordon Ramsay at the Trianon Palace in Versailles. Formerly Executive Sous Chef for the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California, he now delights diners with award-winning Euro-Asian cuisine as Executive Chef at CHAYA Brasserie in Beverly Hills.

What are your thoughts on food and drink as aphrodisiacs?

As a chef, food plays an important part in the relations between people, in general. One of the reasons why I became a chef was because when I was a child, I so enjoyed eating with my family. But if you ask me if I eat a piece of chocolate, am I going to be all excited? I don’t think so, but it’s the experience of food and how you bring it to people that is exciting.

When you think about sexy dishes, what comes to mind?

What I feel is sexy as a chef is that you can take pretty much anything and turn it into a sexy dish. The way you dress it, the way you garnish it. It depends on who you are serving it to. If you serve it to a man or a woman, it does kind of change. With a salad, if you want to please a lady, you might put lots of color and flavors in it. That is sexy and exciting. And, it plays with your senses.

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

If a couple is in love, they are going to enjoy everything! This year our menu theme is aphrodisiacs. I’ve done some research and we’re including things like white garlic, avocados, asparagus, and oysters. Fresh, clean foods that leave you feeling more energized. You don’t want someone to roll out of your restaurant!

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and chocolate only. The male doesn’t do anything. It’s all the ladies buying chocolate for the person they like. I don’t know why it’s like that, because in other countries the male is taking care of his lady. So, in Japan, now they created the White Day, on March 14th, so that’s when the male is giving back to the lady.

Is there anything you think of as unsexy, ingredient-wise?

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Restaurateur Mauro Maccioni of Le Cirque Reveals His Perfect Romantic Meal

Mauro Maccioni would be just as comfortable in a toque as he is in a suit. He is a professionally trained chef!

Mauro Maccioni is restaurant royalty. The son of Sirio Maccioni, the trendsetting Manhattan restaurateur to the stars, Mauro literally grew up in Le Cirque. Deeply passionate bout food and hospitality, Mauro now helps run the family business, which continues to expand beyond the Big Apple — a boon to international diners seeking the singular experience of fine dining, Le Cirque style. 

Do you believe that food can act as an aphrodisiac?

Yes, I believe that food can evoke all kinds of emotions.

Are there any ingredients that you believe possess aphrodisiacal qualities?

Spices that add something extra to dishes; basil is my favorite. It’s very versatile, sweet, and makes you feel refreshed. Kind of like the perfect woman.

 What dishes or drinks that you just find to be downright sexy?

Champagne has and always will be a classically sexy drink in my book.

Is there a particular dish you might suggest to someone romancing a love interest?

I love to cook; I would say the perfect date meal would be filet mignon, with white wine risotto and sautéed mushroom and onions.

Are there any dishes at Le Cirque that you might recommend to diners seeking to set the mood?

Dishes that can be shared and are not too messy are more romantic. We offer a great selection of oysters, or our Trio De Luxe, which comes with smoked salmon, foie gras, and caviar.

This can be a tough question for folks who love food, but is there any food that is un-sexy?

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Cleveland Chef Jonathon Sawyer on Sensual Foods, Gluttony + Grower Champagne

Even though he'll be working, Chef Sawyer will still be able to spend Valentine's Day with his wife, Amelia. She's a co-owner of Greenhouse Tavern!

New York’s loss proved to be Cleveland’s gain as Chef Jonathan Sawyer settled there after several years of cooking in some of Manhattan’s best kitchens. Behind the burner at The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland since 2009, Sawyer has become a driving force in the local food movement in Ohio and his cooking and commitment have helped The Forest City claim its place on the culinary map. Chef Sawyer takes his turn at our Valentine’s Day OpenTable R.Q., or Romantic Quotient, Test, telling us why you won’t find tiger paw on the menu — but you will find grower Champagne. 

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

I definitely think that food and drink can bring people together for the greater good of romance. I don’t believe eating a tiger paw makes you strong for days, if you will. It’s really a combination of things, from ingredients to everything else — talking together and eating together.

Aside from aphrodisiacs, what do you think of when you think of sexy foods?

I think a lot of people want to associate luxury with dishes being sexy, but I think almost contrary to that. You don’t want to fill up on starches and butter. There are foods, though, that are luxurious that I think of as sensual which are lighter — asparagus, oysters, and almonds, for example, and prepared in a lighter style. We want people to walk out and be satiated, but not too full to enjoy the rest of the night.

Have you ever wooed a woman with a particular dish?

I’ve been married for a while, but one of my wife’s quotes is that she fell in love with me for my deboned crispy roast chicken that I used to do at Kitchen 22 with Charlie Palmer. It was a revelatory experience for her because she said, “If this guy can cook chicken like this, imagine what else he can do!” It’s a simple dish, but if you source and execute it properly, then it’s more than the sum of its ingredients.

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

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