5 Dreamy D.C. Chefs Dish Up Their Best Dining & Dating Advice

Whether you possess a highly refined palette or simply crave comfort food year-round, you have to agree that the way to the heart is through the stomach. This is especially true when the person preparing your meal is a total dreamboat — and, in that way, we're lucky that D.C. is blessed with some of the most truly crush-worthy culinary stars out there.
To capitalize on this boon, we asked five local chefs to spill their dating tips, dish on their favorite romantic meals, and share some sage advice about cooking for foodies. (Hint: Consider sticking to breakfast.) These dapper gourmands get a lot of love from critics and diners alike, so you can rest assured that they know their stuff. Go ahead, make your own "saucy saucier" jokes now, if you must — then read on for a crash course in cooking and courting.
David Guas, Bayou Bakery
When it comes to your own date nights, do you prefer going out or staying in?
"My wife and I both love going out to eat and trying new places, but since we're both so busy, I think a night at home has become much more romantic. The kids at a sleepover, a nice bottle of wine, some sushi, and some serious couch time with a movie...that's become our date of choice. Might not be the most exciting, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
As a chef, do your loved ones find it intimidating to cook for you?
"I simply can't let go of control in the kitchen, no matter how hard I try. Lucky for me, I found a gal who does not cook. Since my wife never wants to cook, we just avoid the issue — but as long as dinner is on the table without a fight, I think it's a win-win. As critical as I am with other people cooking in my kitchen, the exact opposite happens when cooking with my two sons. I give them pointers and help, but they could make a mud pie and I'd be pretty proud."
When you have allowed others to cook for you, has a non-professional ever made something amazing?
"Nobody, and I mean nobody — no restaurant, chef, or person alive or dead — can make a crawfish étouffée like my Aunt Boo. She has a knack, a natural instinct, for how to get the recipe absolutely perfect, and that all starts with her roux. You know seeing her wooden spoon that she's got it down, and the way she spins the roux and gets it to that color is truly an art form."
What food would you suggest to impress a date?
"I think just plain chocolate has become this easy way to create 'romance.' I am not saying chocolate can't be sexy — it can be incredibly sexy and delicious — it's just that most people don't think outside of the box. I think red-velvet anything creates romance — the deep red color, the richness of the cake, and its versatility. Who doesn't love cake?"
Photos: Courtesy of Bayou Bakery/Scott Suchman
Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT and Lunchbox
When it comes to your own date nights, do you prefer going out or staying in?
"My wife, surprisingly, does not like to try experimental cuisine, so I tend to cook at home more often for her, appealing to her tastes. With two small children, going out is more about family-oriented dining these days."
Do your loved ones find it intimidating to cook for you?
"I try to offer to help, be part of the experience. That tends to put people cooking for me at ease, and we have more fun. My wife is a wiz at breakfast; I still cannot mimic her pancakes."
What food would you suggest to impress a date?
"Definitely appeal to the tastes of the person you are cooking for, try things you are comfortable with, cook seasonally, and keep it simple. Think about the whole evening — so...healthy cooking might be better, with any after-dinner activities in mind."
Photos: Courtesy of VOLT/SOTA Dzine
Erik Bruner-Yang, Toki Underground and the forthcoming SUNA
When it comes to your own date nights, do you prefer going out or staying in?
"I think both have their place in romance. I always tend to think about cooking at home as being more for when your partner is sick, and then fancy meals out are for something more romantic."
As a chef, do your loved ones or potential partners find it intimidating to cook for you?
"My SUNA [business] partners have cooked for me and that has been great — they are both way more talented than me, so it is intimidating for me to eat their dinners. I wish my Toki Underground business partners would cook for me! That would be awesome."
Has a non-professional cook ever made you something amazing?
"A friend of mine used to cook these traditional Puerto Rican dinners. They were amazing. There are a lot of great non-professionals out there, making amazing food for their friends. Unfortunately, there is a lot more to being a chef — especially a chef/owner — than just cooking. The best chefs also have to manage a lot of different processes in addition to cooking great food."
Does anything ever go wrong when you cook at home?
"I can't bake pastries to save my life. I am always ruining desserts."
What food would you suggest to impress a date?
"Appetizers and desserts are always the most important. They're how you start the meal and how you finish. I always like to start a home-cooked meal with just a simple salad. For dessert, homemade ice cream or sorbet is always impressive — and ice-cream machines are cheap these days.
Photo: Courtesy of Toki Underground/The President Wears Prada
Matt Kuhn, DC Coast
When it comes to your own date nights, do you prefer going out or staying in?
"Going out to eat is always fun because you can explore new foods and get new ideas — but nothing beats a night in with your girl. You can hang out and relax without any pressure. No fancy wine selections, no hard decisions about which entrée to choose. You really just get to enjoy time with each other and unwind."
As a chef, do your loved ones find it intimidating to cook for you?
"I used to be a little intimidating in a home kitchen. After spending years learning the proper way to do something, it's hard to watch someone do just the opposite. I would be way too critical of my girlfriend when we were cooking together — but I learned that that takes all the fun out of it. Now, I have eased up a bit and try to share my tricks without being overbearing."
Has your girlfriend ever impressed you with a meal of her own?
"I may have all the formal education and experience, but I will never make a salad or breakfast casserole like my girlfriend can. I don't know what it is, but I can just never get the balance she does with a salad. And her breakfast casseroles! They're very Southern, filled with potatoes, eggs, sausage, tomatoes, breadcrumbs — can't beat 'em."
What food would you suggest to impress a date?
"Gnocchi bolognese. Rich, creamy, and super-comforting — the type of dish that fills you up without making you feel too full. And with a glass of wine, it's the perfect starter to a night of relaxing."
Photos: Courtesy of DC Coast/Chris Granger
Billy Klein, Café Saint-Ex
When it comes to your own date nights, do you prefer going out or staying in?
"My wife and I enjoy dining out when celebrating special occasions. Most recently, we went out to Washington, Virginia, to celebrate our first anniversary at The Inn at Little Washington."
Do your loved ones find it intimidating to cook for you?
"No one likes cooking for a chef. But me, I love being cooked for, and I always do my best to point out the best parts of what has been prepared for me. My wife makes me the best breakfasts. She makes a mean omelet with chicken and broccoli."
When cooking for yourself at home, does anything ever go wrong?
"Something often goes wrong. My most devastating fail was when I broke a béarnaise sauce, because I let it sit too hot. I was so stoked since it was actually the first time I had made it and it was [otherwise] perfect. Total rookie mistake."
What food would you suggest to impress a date?
"My favorite dish to cook for a date is pan-roasted filet mignon with mushroom risotto, sautéed asparagus, and beurre rouge. It's all super simple — and who doesn't like risotto? And plenty of red wine, of course."
Photos: Courtesy of Café Saint-Ex

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