Bryan Gillis makes rigatoni with spicy sausage, portobello mushrooms
To be honest, the first meal Bryan Gillis prepared to impress his future bride, Lauren, didn't go down so well.
A college senior, Lauren had traveled from Ohio to Minneapolis to spend the weekend with him, so Bryan went all-out, preparing whole lobsters, baked and stuffed.
From the get-go, it was a bit of train wreck.
"It freaked her out a little," concedes Bryan, who prepared them as she watched. "I was trying to cut a live lobster in half."
Then he overcooked them, but apparently not enough.
"She swears when she put her fork in it, the tail moved," laughs Bryan. "I disagree. It was in the oven at least 45 minutes. It could have been the wine talking."
Maybe it was his charm, or perhaps subsequent meals were less traumatic, but the two married eight years ago and now live in Port Barrington where Bryan still prepares romantic, candlelit meals for them every other weekend.
These days, they have to wait until their three daughters, 5, 4 and 9 months, are tucked in, but it's still a great "date night," says Lauren.
"I'll sit at the island with a glass of wine, leafing through People magazine, and we'll talk about the week," she says.
Bryan says his mother loved to cook and growing up in Connecticut he lived next door to an older cousin who became a chef and restaurateur. The two became his go-to people for telephone conferences once he started cooking for himself.
Two key lessons: don't overcook or overseason.
"People without much experience tend to overcook," says Bryan, who needed that advice before the ill-fated lobster dinner.
More confident now, Bryan's forte is researching an ingredient online and combining pieces of different recipes to "take it in my own direction." After all, what's the fun in making the same thing all the time?
This past winter he focused on soups, stews and chilis - meals he can prepare on the weekend for his family or guests to enjoy on busy weeknights.
During grilling season he turns to dry rubs using "everything in the cupboard" for seasoning.
"My approach is basic, focusing on bold flavors," he says.
Lauren shops for groceries and handles cleanup, but Bryan doesn't leave her much to do. "As soon as he uses something it goes right into the dishwasher," she says.
Wow! Can we clone him?