Impressing a new acquaintance? Spoiling your long-term lover? Cooking up a culinary masterpiece is a fail-safe way to win any heart. Sure – securing a table at the likes of The Ledbury or Le Meurice can certainly work romantic wonders, but any man worth his salt has the canny kitchen skills to evoke a sensitive masculinity that no restaurant bill can.
We spoke to five influential men – including a Michelin-starred chef and a Swedish-born designer – for the tried and tested recipes they use to sate their dates. See what’s on the menu, below, check out what our cooks have to say, and have a go at the recipe you think will most tickle your partner’s tastebuds.
Mr Christopher Bastin – Creative Director, NN07
Starting his fashion career in 1992, Mr Bastin held positions at H&M, Acne Studios and GANT, before becoming creative director on NN07 in January 2018. Almost as passionate about food as he is about clothes, the Swedish-born designer launched Cook GANT Rugger – a foodie-inspired collection – in 2012, the star ingredient of which was a selvedge denim apron. He is the author of blog Ripped Back Pocket.
Penne with smoked cherry tomatoes
“This dish came about by mistake when I was making pulled pork in my smoker. I shoved a plate of cherry tomatoes in and completely forgot about them. The day after, I was making pasta and remembered about the tomatoes – and voilà! The combination of that rich smoke taste, the sweetness of the tomatoes, and the saltiness from the pecorino – it’s like one of those #I’mOK Instagram moments. If your date says, ‘I don't really eat carbs,’ you can dump her right there and then. No carbs equals not future wife material.”
- 20 sun-ripe cherry tomatoes
- Olive oil
- 1 head of garlic
- Large penne
- Black pepper
- 1/3lb hard pecorino
- 1/3lb Parmigiano
- Basil leaves
- Garlic cloves, smoked
Place the tomatoes on an oven-safe tray and drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil. Throw the whole garlic head in there without peeling it. Smoke for 3-4 hours. (If you don’t have a smoker, bake them on 120°C for 2-3 hours. It works as well, but you’ll miss out on that deep, rich taste.) Once the tomatoes are cooked, bring the pasta to a boil (make sure you add some salt to the water) and cook until almost al dente. They will finish off in the pan, so drain them just before they’re done. Save a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water.
Put the drained pasta in a large frying pan on medium heat and throw the tomatoes over it. Give it a good stir to break up the tomatoes a bit (finishing it in a frying pan causes the juicy, good stuff to stick to the pasta). Once you’re good, grind some fresh black pepper over it, remove from the heat and grate the cheese on top. Stir again and serve in your best bowl. Top off with a couple of basil leaves and smoked garlic cloves for appearance.
Mr Tom Aikens - Michelin star chef
Mr Aikens rose to fame as head chef of Pied à Terre, where, at 26, he became the youngest ever British chef to earn two Michelin stars. He opened his own restaurant in Chelsea in 2003. In 2006 Mr Aikens started Tom’s Kitchen and now has three sites across London. The author of three books, he now has four restaurants in London and one in Istanbul.
Whole roasted sole, brown shrimp & champagne sauce
“This dish is extravagant and impressive. The champagne sauce is an indulgent, romantic touch – your date will really feel as if you’ve gone to town. I like to make the time to surprise my partner Justine, and I think making an effort on a first date is equally important. When I cooked for my partner for the first time she knew that I was talented in the kitchen, so I had to really pull out all the stops and make it extra special.”
- 1 whole Dover sole
- 4g sea salt
- 12 turns of milled pepper
- 150ml olive oil
- 50g butter
- 6 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 lemon zest and juice with the zest removed with a peeler
- 4 cloves of garlic cut in half and smashed
- 10g thyme sprigs
- 3 bay leaves
Season the fish with salt and pepper and heat up a non-stick frying pan, add a little olive oil and then butter, put the fish in, colour the fish until golden (for approximately 3 minutes each side) then place into the oven with the remaining ingredients for around 5 minutes each side. Remove from the pan and place on a tray to rest.
- 50g butter
- 150g sliced shallots
- 2g salt
- 100ml white wine
- 300ml champagne
- 500ml fish stock
- 200ml double cream
- 20ml lemon juice
Place a small pan on a medium heat and add half of the butter. Once melted, add the shallots and salt and cook for 3-4 minutes until semi-soft and with no colour. Then add the white wine and champagne, and reduce by two thirds.
While it is reducing, wipe away the residue from the sides of the pan as it can make the sauce brown. Add the fish stock and reduce by half, then skim off any residue as it simmers.
Add the cream, and reduce by a third. Add the lemon juice, and place into the blender with the rest of the butter for 2-3 minutes and then pass through a fine sieve, pressing down well, before placing to place one side.
Pickled golden raisins
- Peel of 1 orange
- Peel of 1 lemon
- 200ml orange juice reduced to 100ml
- 200ml muscat and 100ml white wine
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- 6 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 50ml champagne vinegar
- 1g course salt
- 20g caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod split and scraped
- 12 black pepper corns crushed
- 3 cloves
- 2 star anise
- 5 juniper berries
- 30 golden raisins
Place all the above into a pan and bring to a simmer.
Add the golden raisins, bring back to a simmer, and then take off the heat and leave to cool in the liquor.
Peeled seedless green grapes
- 20 grapes
Take the seedless grapes and insert a teaspoon around and under the skin, until these are cut in half.
- Champagne sauce
- Pickled raisins
- 15g brown shrimps
- Green seedless grapes peeled – cut the large ones in half
Heat the sauce, with all of the above, including the shrimps, for about a minute.
Once the sole is cooked, the sauce can either go over the fish or just serve on the side.
Mr Toby Wiseman – Editor, Men’s Health
Having been arts editor and commissioning editor at Esquire and GQ respectively, and with a position on the committee for the British Fashion Council – Mr Wiseman, currently at the helm of the UK’s best-selling men’s magazine – knows a thing or two about the skills needed for a stylish life. In his spare time his expertise stretches to the kitchen – where he is a skilled albeit paleolithic purveyor of grub.
“Cooking is an escape for me, but on date night I want to be immersed in her, so my favourite dishes are more like assemblies than recipes. When you’re not cooking per se, the ingredients have to be of unimpeachable quality. Here, the saltiness of the ham brings out the sweetness of the figs, which complements the creaminess of the burrata, which is spiked by the heat of the chilli. It’s simple, sensual, stimulating food that’s a perfect overture for an eventful night.”
- 8 slices of prosciutto, preferably San Daniele
- 8 ripe figs
- 120g burrata
- Olive oil
- 1 red chilli
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
Have your deli slice the prosciutto as thinly as possible – you don’t want anything out of a packet here. Drape the ham artfully across your plate creating waves and undulations.
Cut each fig in two and squeeze the base so that the flesh oozes naturally. Scatter these over your prosciutto along with torn handfuls of burrata.
Mix the oil and honey then drizzle liberally over the plate. Push basil leaves into the open figs, and top the burrata with some finely chopped chilli. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with a few hunks of Italian country-style bread. Simple and delicious.
Mr Daniel Doherty - Executive Chef, Duck & Waffle
Currently heading up one of London’s best-loved restaurants (and, in the Heron Tower, the highest in Britain – a sure-fire seductive eating spot if his recipe doesn’t work out), Mr Doherty honed his skills at Michelin-starred 1 Lombard, and was head chef of The Ambassador in 2008. In 2010 he opened The Old Brewery – a restaurant and microbrewery in Greenwich. His signature dishes include foie gras crème brulee and spicy ox cheek doughnut. He published Duck & Waffle’s first cookbook in 2014.
Whole baked sea bass with courgettes, baby potatoes and peas
“This involves getting your hands dirty, which can be a good date ice breaker. While tricky to prepare, it has a great wow factor – especially the fish prep, which is sure to impress. I also love the lightness and freshness of it. You don't want to be eating a rich meal if you're to keep any energy for later. As the seasons change, I adapt the garnish, using ingredients such as wild mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and wild garlic.”
- 1 sea bass (about 1kg), left whole, scaled. Ask your fishmonger to "canoe cut" – or see the method below
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 100g butter
- 10 new potatoes – cooked and skins removed
- 100g shelled fresh peas – blanched and refreshed
- 2 courgettes – diced, blanched and refreshed
- 200ml chicken stock
- 10 fresh mint leaves – finely chopped
- 2 plum tomatoes – peeled, deseeded and cut into 1cm cubes
- Watercress or pea shoots, to garnish
- Half a lemon
If preparing the fish yourself, fillet it from the back down, but don’t cut through the stomach cavity. When completed on both sides, take a pair of scissors and snip the bone behind the head and at the tail, so you can remove all the bones. Take out all the guts, and remove the bloodline, fins and gills. Give the fish a really good wash. Pat dry with kitchen paper, and pin-bone (remove any tiny bones with a small pair of pliers).
Preheat your oven to 180°C/ gas mark 4. Place the fish on a baking tray lined with oiled baking paper, belly down, with the fillets opened out. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place in the oven – it should take about 10-15 minutes to cook.
In the meantime, heat the butter in a large frying pan. When foaming, add the potatoes, peas and courgettes and give them a good sauté for approx 6 minutes, until the courgettes have softened. Season, then slowly add the chicken stock, 1 ladle at a time, allowing it to reduce before adding more. At the end you should have a buttery, emulsified sauce around the vegetables. Finish with the mint and chopped tomatoes.
Remove the fish from the oven and carefully lift it off the tray with a palette knife, on to a serving dish. Pour the vegetables into the cavity of the fish. Garnish with some watercress or pea shoots if you like, squeeze over the lemon and serve.
Mr Michael Chernow – Restaurateur, The Meatball Shop and Seamore’s
Mr Chernow began his professional restaurant career in 1993 as a 13-year-old bus boy on the Upper East Side in New York City. Since then, he has worked at Woo Lae Oak’s original location in LA, opened Punch & Judy – a wine bar in New York – and worked at Frank on 2nd Avenue. In February 2010 Mr Chernow opened The Meatball Shop to huge success in the Lower East Side. It now has six locations across New York. He opened Seamore’s in 2015.
Seared salmon with kale salad, quinoa, sweet potatoes, apples and vinegrette
"My wife and I have date night every Saturday at our home in upstate New York. This is our favorite dish to make as it is sweet, savory and delicious – which covers all the bases. Salmon is a fish that most people enjoy, and also makes you look like a healthy guy who cares about what goes into your (and your date’s) body. And that you might know what you're doing in the kitchen.”
- Bunch of kale
- One large sweet potato
- Olive oil (extra virgin if possible)
- One apple
- 1/2 cup quinoa
- Apple cider vinegar
Wash and cut the kale and let it dry. Cut the sweet potato into 1/2" cubes, season with salt and olive oil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes at 1800°C. Cut the apple into 1/4" thick slices.
Cook the quinoa by mixing 1 part quinoa (half a cup), 2 part water (1 cup) and bringing it to boil. Bring to a low simmer till the quinoa has soaked up all the water (15 minutes or so).
Make a dressing with the olive oil, honey and apple cider vinaigrette. Whisk the olive oil (half a cup) and honey (tablespoon), then slowly whisk in vinegar to taste.
- Two 6-8oz pieces of salmon, skin on
- For final assembly you'll need a lemon and some cracked black pepper
Sear the salmon skin side down on a hot pan for three minutes, flip and then finish in an oven at 180°C for 7-10 minutes.
Mix all the salad ingredients, season with a little salt and dress to taste. Once the salad is dressed, squeeze half a lemon over the top, and the other half of the lemon on the fish once it’s done. Plate the salmon and salad and season with cracked pepper.