February 8, 2012

Soup to Nuts:
Some not-so-modest proposals

Our Valentine survey reveals that when it comes to matrimonial intentions, some folks think WAY outside the little black jewelry box for ways to package the question.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Lots of people equate food with love, and never more so than around Valentine's Day.

click image to enlarge

Tom McArdle worked with Haven’s to plant, in a block of milk chocolate, the ring he intended to present to Susan Giffard when he proposed last month.

Courtesy photo

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A proposal is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're getting

Susan Giffard and Tom McArdle met seven years ago over brunch at the Harraseeket Inn.

He brought her a box of chocolates because it was her birthday.

"Food and chocolate is a really big part of our relationship," says Giffard, who lives in North Yarmouth and works in the banking industry.

Still, she didn't quite understand what was going on last month when McArdle, a food services consultant who designs commercial kitchens, told her he wanted to have brunch with her and her two children, ages 16 and 23, at The Front Room in Portland.

It was Jan. 15. McArdle handed Giffard a package at the table.

"I didn't understand why he wanted me to open a gift in front of my kids at brunch," Giffard said. "I thought it was a group gift. I have an iPad, and I've been complaining that I can't read very well in the sun. So I thought it was about the shape and size of a Kindle box. I was very surprised when it was Haven's."

When Giffard opened the Haven's box, she saw a giant block of milk chocolate that had these words written in white: "Will You Marry Me?" A square was cut out of the center of the chocolate to make room for a blue satin pillow that held a diamond engagement ring.

McArdle had enlisted Haven's in his proposal plans and helped design the chocolate mold because the popular chocolatier didn't have one for popping the question.

Giffard said yes to the marriage proposal. But she was puzzled: Why it was made of milk chocolate, when her big weakness is dark chocolate?

"He got it for the kids," Giffard said. "Isn't that nice? It's very sweet."

The couple has not yet set a date for the wedding, which will be a small affair followed by a big dance party.

And the kids have not yet eaten the Haven's chocolate.

"I won't let them," Giffard said. 

– Meredith Goad, Staff Writer


LOCAL RESTAURANTS offering sweetheart Valentine deals.

This is the time of year that couples in love give each other chocolates and go out for romantic dinners by candlelight.

Sometimes there's a little something extra floating in the glass of Champagne or perched on top of an elaborate dessert – a diamond engagement ring.

Maine chefs and restaurateurs see plenty of marriage proposals all year round, but especially in February. In the spirit of Valentine's Day – and to give you lovebirds a few ideas, should you be thinking of popping the question during the next few days – here are some of the more memorable proposals witnessed at local restaurants.


Usually a nervous groom-to-be calls ahead to the restaurant to ask for help with the big sparkling surprise. Sometimes they want the ring hidden in food. Other times they just want help with the presentation.

Dropping the ring in a glass of Champagne is a common request. Fern Cyr, dining room manager at DiMillo's on the Water in Portland, has been asked to tie a ring to the inside of a menu before handing it to the bride-to-be.

A customer at Walter's in Portland asked for the ring to be delivered in a 2-foot-tall martini glass filled with crinkled paper and lots of glitter. Abby Harmon, chef at Caiola's in Portland was once asked to put a ring into a cupcake.

A regular customer at The Front Room on Portland's East End approached chef/owner Harding Lee Smith one afternoon to fill him in on his plan to propose, and asked for help presenting the ring.

"It was a time of great Bowdoinham asparagus, and we were roasting some big spears with crab and hollandaise, I think," Smith recalled. "Since they were as big as fingers, I figured, why not? So, after settling in with some bubbles, out came the asparagus fingers."

Before chef Sam Hayward became nationally known for his work at Fore Street, he owned a restaurant in Brunswick called Twenty-Two Lincoln. Once, a friend who wanted to propose to his girlfriend brought a McDonald's Big Mac, still in its cardboard clamshell box, into the restaurant and asked him to send it out to his table later as an hors d'ouevre, on a dressed-up dinner plate.

"The burger was totally incongruent with the slightly formal setting, and my friend's date laughed hysterically when it arrived at the table," Hayward said. "She gamely opened the box, and I think I recall that she attacked it with knife and fork and began to deconstruct it. Down deep among the layers of bun, cheese and garnishes, she finally unearthed a rather majestic-looking diamond ring, and let out a whoop."

At the other end of the spectrum from the Big Mac, there are chocolate ring boxes at The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk and caramel bird cages at Hugo's in Portland.

"The last time we did the chocolate box, it was in a heart shape and we put some rose petals in there," said Daniel Liesener, the restaurant's manager. More rose petals were scattered on the plate that the box sat on, and a large silver cloche covered the whole thing.

The White Barn Inn is one of the most romantic restaurants in the state, so perhaps it's not surprising they get four or five men proposing there every other month or so. The pace picks up around Valentine's Day.

The last proposal took place just a couple of weekends ago, an anniversary dinner where one partner was asking the other if they could renew their vows. The ring arrived with the amuse bouche, the "welcome taste" from the chef that all guests receive at the beginning of the meal. In this case, the woman's napkin was folded into a lily shape.

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