If you are romance-averse and/or hungry, you might want to stop reading now. From racing on a motorcycle through Paris and Versailles, to speaking the same love language of food and art, to making dinner as simple—and romantic—as a glorious trifecta of good bread, cheese, and wine, French native Chef Steve Doliget and his wife Shara have the “this-is-like-a-scene-out-of-a-movie” thing down.
When native Chicagoan Shara met Steve at Cyrano’s, the tiny French restaurant on the river in Chicago where they were both working, she was already fluent in French from her studies at DePaul and her travels to Paris. Steve won her heart, but also (and more importantly) the heart of her Algerian father who was also fluent in French. (Steve learned English by conversing with Shara’s American mother.) “I never introduced a boyfriend to my dad, especially throughout college,” Shara says. “That summer Steve would come over for a family dinner and he would make une tarte aux fraises, a French strawberry tart, and it’s not anything you can find here unless you go to a French bakery. It’s pastry dough and pastry cream and strawberries with pistachios on top, and it was fabulous. He must have made 10 or 20 tarts that summer.”
The chef, who took the helm at the Commerce Club in May, has worked the likes of the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago (along with 10-table Parisian bistros), as well as one of the most venerable country clubs in the United States, Onwentsia Country Club in Lake Forest, Illinois. Doliget learned his trade as a six-year-old at the side of his grandmother when he traveled between Paris, where his father lived, and the countryside of Normandy to his mother’s family. The effect was indelible. “Every weekend, we went to my grandparents’,” says Steve. “We had lunch on Sunday and I remember getting there early in the morning, and my grandmother’s cooking and I’m seeing if she needs any help. And going to the street market and getting the meat and the produce, simple stuff, but I just remember the taste of it, and going in the summer to the market and getting some cantaloupe and just opening and tasting it, and that’s where I started.”
Doliget never intended on Chicago, but as most of life’s random happenings portend, it was meant to be. “I always wanted to come to America,” says Doliget, sitting at the spacious Commerce Club bar, which overlooks the burgeoning expanse of the city’s downtown. “And then the cheapest airfare I could find was Paris to Chicago, so that’s how I ended up in Chicago.”
And as for Greenville? It was Shara, who had vacationed in Charleston and Hilton Head as a child, who suggested South Carolina to shift gears from the hectic nonstop pace of Chicago. With their five-year-old son, Noah—who has his own kitchen knife, by the way, made from a French company, naturally, which he uses to help in the kitchen at home—they moved South last summer.
The chef’s quest for challenges and learning keeps his interest piqued, but it’s the simplicity of what he’s known all his life that hallmarks his cooking, at home and at the club. “I just love working with fresh produce, so it does not make sense to me to cook produce that is not in season,” he says, “like getting corn on the menu in the middle of December doesn’t make sense. Since I’ve been here I’ve built a seasonal menu that’s going to be with what can be harvested during that period of time.” But on the chef’s dinner menu at home after a long 12-hour day? Cereal, he says, with a laugh, or maybe pasta with some egg on top. At Christmas however, it’s a full-fledged French feast. “As a kid it was always the same, we always start the meal with some escargot,” he recounts, “and then we have some sort of poultry, a pheasant or something—we don’t do a whole turkey—or beef tenderloin or something like that.” Then, too, there is a gratin dauphinois (potato gratin) with nutmeg and garlic, and lobster bisque.
“I just love working with fresh produce, so it does not make sense to me to cook produce that is not in season.”
—Chef Steve Doliget
And for his amour? He had her at the tart, but it’s his mushroom risotto that makes her swoon. “There were nights in Chicago, and he’d come home at 10 or 10:30 p.m.,” Shara says. “He would ask if I had eaten, and I’d say, no, and he’d say, ‘Let me whip up something for you.’ So he would whip up mushroom risotto with chicken and aged Gruyere cheese. It was fabulous. If I’m ever sad or had a bad day, he’ll come home and make me mushroom risotto.” It’s funny; she didn’t even like mushrooms before they met.
The Commerce Club, 55 Beattie Place, 17th Floor, Greenville. (864) 232-5600, clubcorp.com