Don’t expect pink hearts or sparkles on food prepped in the name of romance by Chef Sean Brennan. The owner/head chef of one of Victoria’s most romantic restaurants Brasserie L’Ecole, prefers the food portray the mood when it comes to this month of love.
“It’s more of a mental thing, (maybe) come and share a bunch of appetizers,” he says.
The Victoria restaurateur’s own affair with food goes back to growing up in the Kootenays. “My mom was always a really good cook and we had a great garden growing up,” he says, adding with a grin, “and I was a food monster.”
The “food monster” started in a kitchen at 15, got an apprenticeship at 18 and at 23, took over a restaurant in Victoria.
“I’ve been here ever since,” he says.
After a few years in different roles, Brennan left his job at Spinnakers to eagerly enter the realm of ownership, opening Brasserie L’Ecole in 2002. He runs the kitchen while business partner Marc Morrison carries the front-of-house. They focus on a seasonal menu, with a French flair that naturally speaks of romance.
Steak for two, for instance; a cote de boeuf or porterhouse in the 36-plus ounce range.
“You don’t want some skinny little steak, you want to bring this big impressive thing to the table,” Brennan says. He describes a bed of chanterelle mushrooms settled on the beef, the dish finished with crispy croquettes perched atop and aromatic brandy sauce pooled below. A fine French meal for two.
At Brasserie, they often start with an endive salad, but making the meal your own is what enhances the mood. Of course oysters, known as an aphrodisiac, always seem to strike a romantic note.
“Keep it simple,” he suggests. “I personally like a smaller oyster, what they call extremely small or petite, as fresh as you can get them.”
A little mignonette on the freshly shucked treat is the ideal way to enjoy.
He aims for the sweet, spicy, sour combination – shallots, rice wine vinegar, tabasco among other ingredients – with the shellfish offering salty brine to complete the flavour profile.
“A little drizzle on the oyster as you open it, and that’s it,” he says.
What you drink should reflect what you choose to tease your oysters with.
“People always think of champagne (for Valentine’s Day), but I would not go bubbly,” he says, opening the Brasserie’s extensive wine selection. “Maybe Muscadet, from the Loire Valley.”
While the French white wine is a fine pairing, tastes should reflect the diner, even if it bends the rules.
“It doesn’t have to be written in stone,” Brennan says. “Guinness and oysters is delicious.”
The self-proclaimed “cheese purist” would prefer a good European cheese to end a romantic French meal. Despite his passion for a piece of Brie de Meaux, the “last true brie,” Brennan does understand the allure of a sweet; he suggests “a really good bitter chocolate or lemon” to finish.