BELLEFONTE, Ky. — As rumor has it, way back in Aztec days gone by, old king Montezuma trusted chocolate was such an aphrodisiac he’d knock back 50 gold goblets everyday.
Boil that pot of bittersweet over this Valentine’s Day.
Bellefonte Country Club Executive Chef Chris Ross had amore on his mind while designing the bill of fare members will enjoy tonight.
Candlelight diners are in for a succulent surprise. Ross is bringing a taste of France to the table and it moves him to share his own personal love story.
Fond French cookery
In January, Ross jetted with his girlfriend, Asia Renee Bends, for a late-holiday getaway. It was a dream come true for Ross, stopping by restaurants for the freshest Poisson or vin in Paris.
He was stirred by La Ville-Lumire — loosely translated as The City of Light.
“The only thing more beautiful than the lights was her,” doted 32-year-old. “From our hotel room, you could see the Eiffel Tower and it was honestly breathtaking. Every hour on the hour it would sparkle. And just about every time we would kiss.
“We had such a wonderful time. Walking around and riding the Metro, holding hands and kissing at every street corner. I somehow feel even more in love with her after the trip.”
Yes, it gets spicier.
Devoted to his TV chef idol, Gordon Ramsay, the twosome dined at his signature restaurant at the Trianon Palace Htel in Versailles. It was their first meal in the city.
Ross savored a platter of pig trotter — braised pig’s foot served with mustard vinaigrette and pike dumpling — fish mousse of pike, poached and served in lobster sauce.
“Both were amazing. She and I shared the best coffee we ever had; goat cheese with honey and thyme; beignets and pastries; duck confit; duck breast; foie gras, and beef cheeks,” dished the Greenup Countian. “And we drank a whole bottle of wine. Good thing our room was close by.”
That hearty meal continues to influence his daily cooking, helping him realize how vital it is to seek out the highest quality and freshest ingredients.
A lover of French technique and cuisine, he plans to fuse the same methods into his passionate four-course spreads this holiday weekend.
Sipping on lobster bisque, nibbling on pan-seared scallops, testing the Brie’s tang or crunching into a chickpea bean fritter, Ross said diners can delight in warmth and modishness.
A scrumptious Parisian sampling, sweethearts will sugar-up on the tiramisu with pistachio brittle and Grand Marnier Crme Anglaise — shaped from Ramsay’s restaurant.
Love on the menu
It’s Chris and Asia’s first Valentine’s Day. It won’t be customary, with roses, Hallmarks, candy and local eatery appetizers. They’re bracing for a long weekend as Ross serves up two amorous dinner seatings Saturday and Sunday, coupled with a special love-themed Sunday brunch.
It’s the crazy-in-love life of a workaholic chef.
So, Ross is attempting to make it yummy for his 26-year-old New Hampshire-born love.
They met in the club kitchen a few years back. She was a waitress but eventually left that job, becoming a local veterinary technician. Ross didn’t see her for awhile.
As if by fate, a chance reunion brought them together last summer. When Charlie, Ross’s 3-year-old Golden Retriever became ill, he popped in the vet clinic for help. Unbelievably, Bends was working there. Ross mustered up the courage to ask her out when his dog healed.
Their first date was unfussy. After visiting Ross’s dad and hanging out, the duo went to the late night Waffle House.
“It seemed she ordered everything on the menu. What can I say? The girl loves breakfast. … She’s going to kill me for saying that.”
Providentially, the cuisine became a bit more, let’s just say, haute.
Expressing gratitude for Bends taking care of his dog, he asked her to drop by his office for lunch. He grilled a salmon fillet, topping it with an apple and raspberry vinaigrette.
“Guess it moved forward from there,” he laughed.
While courting his sweetheart — in between breakfast, lunch and dinner servings — they lived it up in a whirlwind of friendship which ultimately turned to love.
They enlisted in ballroom dance classes, saw musicals and magic, took a road trip to Columbus for dinner, went to the zoo, walked dogs, competed in a chef competition, watched “Heroes” hand-in-hand, and talked the night away on the front porch.
Most importantly, they meshed two families on fishing trips and picnics. She has two children, Brook, 5, and Eli, 7. Ross has one son, Cameron Brady, 8. They often get the kids together to cook-up homemade tortellini with a bushel of love and a ton of scattered flour.
Last week, her father, Scott Brown wed his girlfriend Dawn. Ross was a groomsman in the wedding. It meant the world to be part of her family.
“This past year has been filled with triumphs and defeats for me, but her coming into my life has really saved me. I was really coming apart at the seams. I think her love mended all my wounds.
“Just about everyday, I have my best moment with her, again and again. I hold her and kiss her and thank God for bringing her to me.”
She’s smitten too.
She surprised Ross last week when he came home from work with a sumptuous dinner of a goat cheese starter, mixed green salad with blackberry vinaigrette, braised beef with polenta, and strawberries touched with mascarpone for dessert.
“She did such a wonderful job on the dinner. She was so nervous and the kitchen was trashed. But it’s a meal that was very special and I’ll never forget it.”
The chef believes smaller things add that extra zing to Valentine’s Day.
He’ll wakeup early this morning, run-out for this newspaper edition and sneak back home to make his sweetie’s favorite morning eggs, toast and orange juice. Since it’s a holiday, he’ll jazz up the usual eggs with a little mushrooms and truffle oil.
And, then they’ll read the newspaper together.
Maybe that’s why he prays she reads all the way to the end of this love story.
“Asia, I’ve loved you from our beginning. I know you’re a gift from God and I am so, so thankful for you. You have two wonderful kids and I have one and we already feel like a family. You’re my soul mate and I am yours. I want there to be an ‘us’ forever and even longer. So I have a question for you.
“Will you marry me?”
(Yes, Asia, he already asked for your dad’s approval.
Congratulations and best wishes.)