Wooing your loved one by cooking a special meal is, as far as I’m concerned, always a winning formula. There are, however, a few things that you should bear in mind…
My first and most important bit of advice is: don’t get stressed. Remember, even though you’re cooking, you need to enjoy this meal too, so make sure you are relaxed and confident about what you’re preparing.
When it comes to choosing the recipes, my tip is to opt for either a dish where most of the work can be done in advance – such as my Steak with Flavoured Butters, or a dish that is very simple and quick to cook, like my elegant Chinese-style Sea Bass. Take your loved one’s tastes into consideration. There’s no point in cooking meat if they prefer fish and vice versa.
The key to success is being organised. Think ahead and prepare what you can in advance, from chopping the vegetables to chilling the wine.
For a romantic dinner, I would veer on the light side, rather than going for food which is too rich and heavy. Make sure your menu is balanced. If you’re having steak, for example, serve it with a simple green salad rather than a potato gratin. A portion of green beans, quickly cooked until just tender, or purple sprouting broccoli make an attractive side dish.
As you’ll notice when you watch me cooking in the recipe videos on this site, presentation is very important to me. I believe we do ‘eat with our eyes’ as well as with our mouth, so make sure that whatever you’re serving looks great. Just taking that little extra bit of trouble makes a huge difference.
Rather than just drowning your main course with the sauce or gravy, spoon a little carefully around it and wipe off any splashes.
I always cook with fresh herbs at hand. When used as a garnish, the bright green colour of a sprig of parsley or a few chopped chives just gives your dish that extra little lift.
For those with a sweet tooth, a dessert is a must. Again choose something that you can make in advance and think dainty, individual portions. Stick to the classics such as Italian tiramisu, a rich chocolate mousse or French petit pots au chocolat; they are classic for a reason. Alternatively, serve fresh fruit, such as a ripe pineapple, carefully prepared and sliced, or simply round off with the best chocolates you can lay your hands on. Sipping an after-dinner dessert wine or nursing a glass of fine brandy is a pleasurable, leisurely way to round off your meal.
Make an effort. In my restaurants, I always like to create a bit of theatre for the diners. To turn a meal into a special occasion and you can do the same at home. Create a romantic atmosphere by using low lighting, having background music playing, flowers on the table and using your best table linen, china and cutlery.
A tete-a-tete dinner for two should be a special occasion, so my advice would be not to skimp on the wine. This is the time to bring out that very good bottle that you’ve been squirreling away. A slender flute of chilled champagne – I’d recommend the real McCoy – is a great way to start your evening off in style.
Serve it with a nibble, say salted nuts or good olives, but remember you want your guest to have enough of an appetite to enjoy that extra-special meal you’re cooking.
As they say in France, bon appetite.