Cupid and arrows. Red roses and champagne. Overbooked reservations and stressed-out staff. Those are all hallmarks of Valentine’s Day, at least from a restaurant professional’s perspective. It’s a day when one-quarter of Americans eat out in restaurants, according to research from the National Restaurant Association (NRA). And while that increased February 14th traffic represents an enormous opportunity to showcase your operation’s delicious food and exemplary service, it also presents significant challenges. The goal for this high-volume holiday is to offer creativity, charm and romance—while still maintaining the sanity of your staff. One sure-fire way to keep everyone happy is to serve up plenty of chocolate.
Rich, romantic history
Valentine’s Day is a chocolate-covered occasion, and most diners will be expecting a chocolate-centric finale to their romantic restaurant dinner. But how did chocolate come to be associated with love? According to Simran Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love and host and creator of the chocolate-focused podcast The Slow Melt, chocolate has historically been celebrated for its alluring properties. “It’s long been considered an aphrodisiac,” she says. “Casanova, who called chocolate ‘the elixir of love,’ preferred it to champagne.”
Sethi explains the logic behind the traditional pairing of wine and chocolate. “Red wine contains tannins, and there are tannic qualities in chocolate, so they are both drawn out when served together.” She is also interested in less typical pairings. “I like the experience of beer or spirits paired with chocolate. Whiskey pulls out the sugar, and beer offers that yeastiness to round out the mouth feel.” Speaking of…be sure to look out for more on this topic on our blog in a couple weeks!
There are many new ways to pair chocolate with sweet and savory ingredients. While cheese and chocolate might seem to be polar opposites, they can work together well, and have been turning up in surprising new combinations. One trendsetter in this area is Jeff Shepherd, an Oregon-based chocolatier and owner of Lillie Belle Farms, who has developed a blue cheese truffle. The truffle is enrobed in milk chocolate and has blue cheese in the middle. “Trust me, it’s sooooo good,” Sethi says.
Another avenue is to use chocolate in a savory capacity, such as in the moles and sauces of Meso-American cuisine. “Chocolate is great to pair with meat,” Sethi says. “It has an inherent spiciness that can emerge when we allow the bean to speak for itself.”
While a Valentine’s Day restaurant meal is usually an adults-only occasion, Sethi suggests exploring the more childlike aspects of the holiday inspired by chocolate-focused dishes. “This is a food that can help us harken back to a deeply innocent place of love and nurturing,” she says. “Some tastes, like coffee or beer, we acquire as adults, but most of us have grown up loving chocolate.”
Looking for more recipe ideas and menu inspiration? Make sure to check out our recipe section.