Eating out on Valentine's Day is like the fun house at a traveling carnival -- all smoke and mirrors and unmet expectations. The bar is set too high, the pressure to perform too much, and in the end everyone feels duped. Yet every year when it rolls back through town, people line back up again.
I tracked down Chef Blythe Beck to get her perspective on one of the busiest nights of the year for restaurants. Between stints at Central 214 and something else fantastic (but secret), Chef Beck explains why chefs find Valentine's Day to be such a pain in the ass.
Why do chefs hate Valentine's Day? As a chef, I don't hate Valentine's Day, but there are several reasons this holiday stresses us out. For one, chefs never get to celebrate these holidays, so I am sure some are resentful of that. Our job is to work when others play. The other issue is that we are so busy on that holiday, jamming a million people in a space meant for 100.
Also, restaurants usually offer a limited menu, so we don't always feel like we're putting out the best food. And there are huge expectations on that day, and as a chef, I want to honor those experiences, not ruin them.
What's the mood like in the kitchen on Valentine's Day? The mood in the kitchen is sweaty, stressful, hung over, pissed off, fast-paced, high-energy, urgent, fun, and soaked in shots of espresso and red bull, or in my case, iced tea (I am addicted). Everyone has that sense of urgency and purpose that we are on a mission. We must execute quickly and accurately. We're a team and it's game time.
What's the craziest request you've gotten from a guest on VD? I have been asked to do lots of things. Lots of proposals, plate writing, picture taking, favorite food making, special tasting menus, you name it I have done it. I had a guy last year ask me to boil flowers and make rose stew. I have even had to do some crazy last-minute requests for movie stars, musicians, and politicians. My favorite Valentine's moment was a couple of years ago when I had a couple come in and they requested a table visit, so when I got to the table they didn't say a word to me. One of the ladies shoved a camera in my face and said, "Do you mind?" She proposed to her girlfriend and she wanted me to be a part of it and capture their moment. I was so touched and honored. It is always an honor when people invite you into their moments.
If Valentine's Day were a plate of food, what would it be? Dog food? Burnt cumquats? It's not as bad as it is ubiquitous. I mean, who wants to be like everyone else, doing the exact same thing, at the exact same time, in the exact same place? So if I had to say what food Valentine's Day is like, I would say a cup of coffee. You can get it everywhere, sometimes it's hot and creamy, sometimes tepid and weak, sometimes dark and steamy, but you have to have it, and usually you feel better afterward.
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