Man in the Kitchen: Valentine’s Day is for Rookies

Man in the Kitchen: Valentine’s Day is for Rookies

Valentine's Day
© Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

The first date I took my first wife on was to see a documentary film about a labor strike at a Spam factory. The film won an Oscar. Our marriage did not!

The first date I took my second (current, and I hope last) wife on was for drinks at the Watergate Hotel. I guess you could say I sport a flair for the risky. I am not a romcom-and-popcorn kind of guy.

How’s your marriage? Kids a hassle? The gloom of the world politic got you down? Join the crowd.

Be it the floods of Paris or the flood of bad news streaming daily out of Washington, we are all on edge. Surveys say better than 50% of us are suffering from anxiety, depression or both. Feeling romantic yet?

Relationships are work. Food is not. In fact, leavened by the warmth of a nice single malt or a big-bodied Syrah, the preparation of a meal can be down and outright sensual – and this is coming from a guy who has made 5,462 dinners for two hungry boys who I raised every other week for the past dozen years.

Man in the Kitchen
Ken Carlton at local market. Photo courtesy of author


When we fantasize about sex, it’s most often about someone other than our spouse. The beauty of cooking for one another is that you can cross boundaries, break all the rules, and in fact, cheat like hell without offending anyone’s sensibilities. Just do it in the kitchen. Together!

So I offer this simple proposal for Valentine’s Day:

Score the roses, but skip the rote dinner. You’re in Paris, for god’s sakes! A mere stroll down the Rue de Bac or Rue Montorgueil is a food-porn lover’s dream. Instead of hunkering down for a three-hour, three-star slog (you know you’ll end up talking about the kids!), how about something different? Bundle up, do that awesome thing you do with your scarves, coax a loved one out the door and go shopping. Impromptu! No menu.

Look at those filets at the boucherie! Kiss them with salt, butter and fire and you’ve outdone the bistro. See those mushrooms? Grab a handful – chanterelle, cepe, a sliver of truffle – sauté them hot and fast – heaven! Not feeling the burn for meat? Bonsoir, Monsieur le Poisonnier! We’ll take a half-pound of your freshest Dover sole and throw in a dozen Belon huitres. I can taste the briny memories of summer, already.

Valentine's Day
© Alexis Duclos for INSPIRELLE


An arm-in-arm stroll at sunset and, of course, a quick stop at your favorite wine shop, and the most clichéd of holidays can become an excuse to explore parts of yourself and your relationship that we all know get sanded down over the long winter months. Grab some exotic, unfamiliar ingredient at the market. Turn off the news and cue up something silly and romantic on your Spotify. Roll up your sleeves. Experiment. Make a mess. Every day feels like a year, of late. Why not steal one luxurious hour and turn it into an evening to remember?

Scallop Tiradito © Ken Carlton

Scallop Tiradito

This dish touches every nerve ending and is open to any culinary interpretation you care to attempt. Sharpen your knives and open that Chablis Premier Cru. Fun and deliciousness will be had.


  • 4 plump, fresh sea scallops
  • 1 or 2 green onions
  • Thinly sliced jalapeno
  • One small lime or lemon
  • A couple of tbsp of olive, sesame or chili oil
  • A shake of soy sauce
  • Smoked chipotle or paprika seasoning


  • With your sharpest knife, slice the scallops as thin as possible on the bias
  • Plate them on something pretty and special
  • Thinly slice the green onion and sprinkle atop the fanned out scallop
  • Same for the jalapeno
  • Squeeze the juice of a fresh lime or lemon over the fish
  • Barely paint the scallops with a drizzle of any of the above oils, or all three!
  • Add just a shake of soy sauce for the umami kick
  • Finish with a bit of pepper, smoky chipotle or hot seasoning
Ken Carlton is founder and editor-in-chief of Beyondish, a food review and storytelling website. He is the author or ghostwriter of eight books, including the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a dating expert on OPRAH. He still muses about food, relationships and parenting at his website, Food for Marriage. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago. You can follow him on Instagram @foodformarriage



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