This article was first published in Kari’s column for the Khaleej Times right before we had bubs . It is the festive season and most of our chefs are busy making other families happy, so we thought we would share how we managed to balance the demands of the job and family life, especially when duty calls on special occasions.
There is something to be said about dining with a chef — but not quite in the manner you are thinking. Yes, it’s always a special thing to sit down and eat with an experienced culinary expert, the kind who actually works in a restaurant kitchen or manages one, but that’s not exactly the way I am talking about.
In [an earlier] column, I wrote of my pregnant gastronomic plight as I struggled to find balance while working with food, with a weird “prego palate”. I also promised that since my palate was on the return, I would be heading for one last supper out at one of the restaurants my husband runs. When the chef himself booked me for my birthday dinner just eight days after the hotel opening, I knew I had to arrive well-attired but with relaxed expectations. It was after all an opening, and anyone who works in hospitality or F&B understands that it takes time to get to the status of a well-oiled machine. But nonetheless, for those of us who love to dine out, an opening presents an opportunity to be among the first to try something totally novel. After nine months of culinary purgatory, that was just the lift my palate needed.
I arrived alone for my dinner reservation. I would meet the chef at the restaurant. He arranged for another senior chef to escort me in. I proudly did the heavily pregnant shuffle as I tried to pretend to be able to keep up with the customary fast-paced chef’s stride.
I was shown to my table and then the feast began. Anyone looking at my table would marvel at the expectant mother dining alone but, alas, I was not. I was dining with the chef! When you are married to a restaurant chef, creative ways have to be employed to celebrate special occasions because, face it, whenever there is a holiday, that is when the rest of the world demands to partake of his culinary expertise. Since we have been married, I have been fortunate he made hotel bookings for each of my birthdays, which luckily for me, fall in the middle of the slow summer period. However, with this new opening right in the midst of the summer, that plan was out, and a new one hashed out.
So, alas, I sat while the assistant restaurant manager attended to me and the restaurant manager managed the floor of the impressively sprawling but still intimate restaurant.
The chef knew what I wanted. He’s talked up the menu to me before, and he knew exactly how I take my steak. Nonetheless, I went along with the formality of ordering to the waiter and having him relay the order to the kitchen.
My first course was a rather inventive amuse bouche, a little bite of prawn in a tomato jelly, skillfully executed in both presentation and taste. I could see myself having these all night at a party. My starter was a crab cake, nicely seasoned and presented, and surprisingly lighter on the palate than you’d expect from a traditional crab cake. I was happy.
The main course was my favourite cut of a Wagyu ribeye with a half portion of grilled jumbo prawns, along with sides of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. I was singing. Call me immodest but I have every right to brag. My husband makes the best mashed potatoes. Ever.
By the time I was done, I had no room for dessert. Upon the chef’s insistence, I sat a while longer, sipping on a refreshing minot lemonade until I worked up the space to have a sweet bite. It was a surprise red velvet cake, a collaboration between mine and the executive pastry chef, topped with a lovely array of berries, candles, and of course, chocolate.
My chef joined me in between courses to check up on me as well as other patrons in the restaurant. While he didn’t do the actual cooking, he was very much present on every plate and in every bite. Here endeth the story of my last supper before having the baby. It was indeed a splendid celebration of nine months of expectancy and anticipation of what new parenthood would bring. As about now, I am dying for seconds!
Cheers to every chef spouse or partner who will be dining with the chef this Christmas season!