You’ve wooed and won your sweetheart, now the pressure is on to suave up and make that Valentine’s weekend feast memorable. If you’ve delivered your dining plans into the capable hands of Jonathan Parker, the executive chef at the American Hotel, amorous adventures are assured.
Chef Parker and The American Hotel are the perfect combo to foster that all-important atmosphere of sensual abandon. The American Hotel has been compared to both Rick’s Café of Casablanca fame and to the Algonquin Hotel, which is probably still haunted by spirits of literary greats.
Owner Ted Conklin rescued the building, which was languishing in disrepair in ’72, and restored it, lovingly, with an eye to classic elegance and comfort. There’s a Steinway in the main dining room, a fireplace in the bar room to chase away the chill, and an atrium with a skylight. How can your dining partner not exclaim, a la Molly Bloom, “Yes, yes, yes!”
Chef Parker has seen a lot of Valentines in his long career, which began in childhood. Most five-year-olds’ culinary attempts are limited to mud pies. At five, British-born Parker was poring over his first cookbook, entitled, appropriately, My First Cookbook. With a baker grandfather and a grandmother who worked as a housekeeper-cook for an upper crust English household, Parker was destined for a career as a chef. He remembers his mother making crepes with sugar and lemon for Shrove Tuesday (known as Mardi Gras on this side of the Atlantic), and recalls his father being “very deft with a pressure cooker.”
Although he began working at local restaurants in his native England, Parker says that his first serious job was at the Duke’s Hotel in St. James Place. Frequented by the late Ian Fleming, the man who gave us James Bond, the Duke’s bar is famous as the birthplace of Bond’s favorite libation, that icy “shaken, not stirred” martini.
Broadening his horizons, Parker worked at L’Hotel Majestic in Cannes, quickly learning French to communicate with his non-English speaking staff. Stateside, Parker has worked at Le Bernadin, under legendary culinary giant Gilbert LeCoze, as well as at other culinary meccas.
As the veteran of countless Valentines feasts, Parker has some sage observations about the romantic holiday. “I really think that on Valentine’s Day, people want to enjoy themselves. It’s not a day for spa cuisine.” Parker notes that patrons are looking for a dining experience that “enlivens the senses. We have a special menu featuring seasonal items…it’s a classic sort of celebration—people are looking for lobsters, chocolates, champagne.” The American Hotel can oblige in all those areas, with a wine list that is one of the best in the country. Parker comments that it would be “nice to have different champagnes throughout the meal.” He also remarked that another fine idea is booking a room at the American Hotel post-dinner, which sounds dandy if you plan to imbibe all that bubbly.
If you’re planning a proposal, you wouldn’t be the first to pop the question at The American Hotel. Parker has seen tableside proposals, with diamonds placed strategically alongside a sumptuous dessert.
What would he consider an ideal Valentine’s Day menu? Parker would start off with shellfish, perhaps some local oysters, then sneak in a “nice salad or soup, then move on to a fantastic lobster, or Beef Wellington—something you wouldn’t normally have, and create a fabulous memory.”
As for his own Valentine’s Day with wife Susan, whom Parker met in Cannes, “I’m generally working! Our anniversary is at the end of January, so we celebrate then.” If he has time, Parker may cook for his wife and two daughters, Sophie and Ella.
For all the nervous Romeos out there, Parker has the following sound advice. “Make sure you get your reservations in advance…be relaxed about it, but have it all done in a timely fashion. Make it memorable.”