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Last minute thoughts on Valentine's Day

I was interviewing a chef today and, not surprisingly, the topic of Valentine’s Day came up.

“You have to go out on Valentine’s Day,” he said. “And it’s best if you go out without a reservation.”

He was kidding, of course, and I was the right audience for it, because I hate Valentine’s Day.

Strike that. I hate genocide. I just think Valentine’s Day is kind of silly.

If you love someone, why do you need a special day to show how much? Shouldn’t you be doing that all year long?

Chefs and restaurateurs also tend to look at Valentine’s Day with a jaundiced eye. Many of them think of it, along with Mother’s Day and New Year’s Eve, as “amateur night” — a time when people who don’t normally dine out book their obligatory tables to buy their mother a lobster, to ring in the new year, or to express to their significant other what they probably should be expressing every day, anyway.

Of the three holidays, Valentine’s Day is probably the one most fraught with peril, both for the diners and restaurateurs. On other nights, most restaurant patrons, especially regular customers, might forgive a somewhat absentminded server or a dish that’s not totally perfect. But they will never forgive a bungled Valentine’s Day, and they’ll tell everyone they know about the restaurant that blew their special night.

I’ve interviewed a lot of chefs over the years about this very profitable but nonetheless irritating holiday. A lot of them offer their guests aphrodisiacs like oysters, or virtually anything shaped like a heart or cylinder.

Oh brother.

My favorite interviews have been with chefs, often Italian, who are cognizant of what their guests probably hope will happen later that night. They avoid cooking with garlic, asparagus, anchovies, strong cheese or anything else that might result in unwelcome odors during moments of intimacy. 

But of course the most important part of any meal is who you’re eating with, and if a couple is feeling the strain of their relationship during this command performance of love, I’m not sure what can be done about it.

Come to think of it, as dumb as I think a day set aside for love is, maybe it is a useful reality check for couples: If the relationship threatens to crumble because of a dinner, maybe it’s time to reconsider that relationship.

Of course, that won’t keep them from hating the restaurant where everything fell apart.

I guess the best thing restaurant staff can do tonight is to remember that, although it might be an annoying night to work, it’s a special night for their guests and they should behave accordingly.

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