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An Essay on Passion and Desire for Valentine’s Day

By Jordan Wright

As Valentine’s Day is quite nearly upon us, I thought I would write about what I call one’s “foodheart,” which is what I have come to regard as the “extra sense”, and the other better-known senses that drive our passions to satisfy it.
We know that our food memory is a powerful
and palpable force and relies on our individual culture, early culinary tastes and preferences and genetic predisposition. Its profile is defined before we can be swayed by advertising’s claims. We are first influenced by what is available or served to us and who is doing the serving, most likely our mothers.Taste, of course, but aroma too, affects our choices. The rising vapors of a chicken soup with its root vegetables mellowing in a stockpot,
or the briny scent of just-caught mussels simmering stovetop can be the “pentimento,” a metaphor for what preceded and activated that memory, that inspires us. For some it is a roast, slow-braising in the oven, its deep flavors
released throughout the day, or a favorite chocolate cake, whose sweet aromas permeate
the house and herald a special birthday.
We listen to the crackle of frying chicken or the pop and hiss of sautéed onions and peppers, which jostle our memories with the sounds of food preparation … a trigger mechanism
that portends the expected dish.
Sometimes the visual alone informs our senses in subtle and unconscious ways. The sight of a just-ripe blackberry on the vine beckons us. A photo of champagne and caviar by candlelight evokes a celebratory mood. Watching the family, perhaps a grandmother, father or mother, pull a pie out of the oven or slice an orange, we come to expect the proffered
sampling that can give us the sense of comfort that we crave.
For those of us who touch and prepare food for a living it is the knowledge and excitement
of impending creation, a profound love for the color, texture, properties and scent of each product and our interpretation of and inspiration
for the way in which it will eventually be consumed.
“Foodheart,” as I call it, is one’s food memory or perception, an “extra sense.” It is the place in our psyches that describes our motivations and interests in the foods we love and actively seek out. It is why we often request the same dish in a favored restaurant or call ahead to see if our family is planning on serving a treasured dish at holiday time. It can be a crushing disappointment
to hear a server tell us, “Sorry, we’re out of that tonight.” or a mother’s advance warning, “Really, dear, I am too busy to make a big lamb dinner for everyone this Easter. How about takeout?”
As a chef preparing food daily, I never want to disappoint my clientele and their food expectations,
and so I go to great lengths to accommodate
their gastronomic needs. Over time I have divined that once you are inside someone’s “foodheart” you have permanent residence therein. You have imprinted on that person’s experience like a cygnet imprints on its mother swan. It is a feeling unlike any other. A fondness, yes, but a passion nonetheless … an intense desire to repeat that particular experience
and to recapture that sense of comfort with the familiar as circumscribed by food memory.
For me it is the earliest dishes sampled beside
the cook’s apron strings or my first taste of prosciutto and fior di latte rolled up with a sage leaf, pan-seared and served as an aperitivo at Harry’s Bar in Venice so many years ago. For my clientele and family, it is assured by regularly preparing their preferred dishes, some they have always known and others that they first sampled from my own hand.
Below I have created a Valentine’s Day supper
that hopes to satisfy some favorite food cravings
and perhaps, should you choose to recreate it, ever so gently gain you entry to your sweetheart’s
Cream of Artichoke Soup with Thyme Flower Garnish
Pair with 2007 Pinot Gris from St. Innocent, Vitae
Springs Vineyard, Willamette Valley,
Maine lobster medallions with an orange Champagne
beurre blanc bibbon and served with tarragon
potato crisps
Pair with 2000 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Brut Sparkling Wine from Anderson Valley, CA
Grilled New Zealand baby lamb chops served with bourbon-infused rosemary-scented lingonberry
sauce and leek saffron custard encircled by honey-glazed and roasted baby patty pan squash
Pair with 2006 Culler Cellars Sonoma Valley Syrah, Sawi Vineyard
Port-poached Anjou pears stuffed with Stilton cheese and topped with toasted walnuts served
with watercress and red and white Belgian endive
leaves and
pomegranate vinaigrette
Pair with a small glass of 2003 Late Zinfandel organic wine from Lolonis Winery, Redwood Valley, CA
Escoffier-inspired pistachio and green cardamom
ice cream bombe decorated with tiny rose petals and pistachio dust and served with cardamom tuiles. Pair with 2006 Cascina Fonda Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont Region, Italy Wine pairings by Patrick Deaner of Dean and Deluca, 3276 M St., NW, Georgetown 202 342-2500
Saute two finely chopped shallots in a drizzle of oil and pat of butter in a small pan. Add an entire jar of lingonberry preserves and warm, stirring gently for a minute or two until melted and taking care not to break the delicate berries. Add a quarter cup of bourbon (preferably Kentucky-style) and a tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary.
Turn up the heat to high for two minutes to cook off the alcohol, and pull the pan off the stove. Add several tablespoons of butter, incorporating them one at a time with a whisk. Serve with prepared lamb chops.
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