Voulez-vous DÎNER

Calling all lemmings, calling all lemmings! The biggest greeting card and guilt-trip-inducing day of the year has arrived. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. Better make restaurant reservations, and buy the biggest mushy card you can find — or else.

The fact that this saint’s day meant to celebrate love has turned into an obligatory “five step program” to prove fidelity is just plain funny.

Here’s the “plan”: First, order flowers — roses are highly recommended. Second: Buy candy — this means chocolate. Third: Get that fabulous greeting card, the huge heart-shaped kind; if it sings when opened, bonus points. Fourth: Make restaurant reservations at some place “romantic.” And last: All this must be a big surprise, as if every other American isn’t doing the same thing.

Now you’ve done it! Sit back and wait for the reward.

For the food service and hospitality industry, St. Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest nights of the year. It’s the night when folks who usually don’t eat in restaurants will brave cold weather as if by royal decree. And what they usually receive for their troubles are greatly marked-up prices for fairly uninspired cuisine. Because many of these guests tend to be unsophisticated in terms of cuisine, the restaurant’s goal is efficiency and volume. Notice I didn’t mention warm, well-executed service or creative, passionately prepared cuisine, which should be the reasons for dining out in the first place.

Because it’s once again unacceptably cold outside as I write this, I’m back in a French food mood. The French are considered a nation of romantics, so to Chef Up St. Valentine’s Day, we need something a little more refined than cassoulet.

How about Steak au Poivre? This dish was originally created to be prepared tableside by the head waiter or Chef de Rang. Because I’m sure most of y’all don’t possess a gueridon for tableside cooking, you can easily recreate this refined delicacy in your underused kitchens.

The recipe I’m sharing here is really quite simple and can be easily adjusted to your tastes. For example, if you don’t have cognac, substitute red wine. I often do this and finish the sauce with a splash of bourbon. I also like to sweat shallots in the pan before deglazing.

Think about serving this with Duchess potatoes and some roasted Brussels sprouts. And don’t forget something chocolate for dessert! Then wait for your reward.

Chef Bill’s Steak Au Poivre

  • 4 Beef tournedos
  • 4 Tbsp. peppercorns, cracked
  • 2 Oz. butter, clarified
  • 4 Oz. cognac or brandy
  • 6 Oz. beef broth
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 3 Thyme sprigs
  • 1 Tbsp. tarragon, minced
  • 1 Knob of butter
  • Salt to taste


  1. Press peppercorns into the two cut sides of the tournedos; season with salt.
  2. Sear the beef in clarified butter. Remove and keep warm (should still be rare).
  3. Remove pan from heat and deglaze with the cognac, return and flame.
  4. Add beef broth, thyme and bay leaf, simmer and reduce by half.
  5. Add heavy cream, reduce to a loose nape.
  6. Return the beef and reduce sauce to a proper nape.
  7. Remove the beef to a platter, remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme.
  8. Shine the sauce with the butter, add the tarragon. Adjust the seasoning and sauce the beef.

Until we cook again,

Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Fernandina Beach, at [email protected] to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!