It’s Valentine’s Day and 26-year-old Jon Shook and 28-year-old Vinny Dotolo are prepping for a big night. Though it doesn’t involve love, their date will bring them money, possibly power and most likely, respect. As Shook will tell me later, Carmelized Productions, the catering company of choice for Hollywood hotshots which they launched in 2004, does very well.

“People would dream about doing what our catering sales are [doing],” offers Shook.

Standing where T on Fairfax used to be, the two culinary arts school graduates (both from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale) spend each day cooking in and creating a comfortable space for their latest exploit, a restaurant they’ve chosen to call Animal, which is set to open in June 2008.

“We always have this thing where animals are present in our lives,” shares Dotolo.

“It’s the way we want people to feel when they come in,” adds Shook. “Be yourself. You’re an animal.”

“We’re protein-heavy eaters,” continues Dotolo. “We cook that way so it’ll resonate through the restaurant, but not be too in your face.”

Their latest venture comes on the heels of a very busy summer. They ran Carmelized Productions, wrote a book, Two Dudes and One Pan: Maximum Flavor from a Minimalist Kitchen (Clarkson Potter), scheduled for release Aug. 24, consulted on another restaurant, shot “2 Dudes Catering,” a TV show for the Food Network and bought this 56-seat restaurant.

A mixed bag of good and bad, “2 Dudes Catering” acted as a huge catalyst in Shook and Doltolo’s lives. Most importantly, it kept them in Los Angeles.

“We were ready to uproot and go again,” says Dotolo. “Then that came about so it was serious decision time. Last year was a big commitment, a big growing stage of our lives and careers.”

“[The show] kept us in L.A.,” agrees Shook. “We had to try it. It didn’t hurt us, but it didn’t paint the picture we wanted to see.

“It comes down to producers. We thought we had say, but we got cut right out: puppet on a string shit. We have put ourselves in this position at such a young age. We’re going to be a little bit cocky. We’ve been non-corporate forever and doing our own thing and all of sudden we have to be corporate. It’s not going to work, especially when you’re hungry and young and want to do your own thing.”

Hence, the debut of Animal, the first in what they hope will be a string of dude-owned restaurants across the United States. One scan of their kitchen life resumé and you can assume they’re bound for continued success: South Beach’s the Strand, South Florida’s Mark’s Place, Wildflower Restaurant at the Lodge at Vail and L.A.’s Chadwick Restaurant.

They’ve been featured on “Iron Chef” and “Last Call with Carson Daly.” All this and they’ve yet to break 3-0.

“This is the most interesting and newest thing for us,” gushes Shook about the latest notch on their entrepreneurial belt. “We’ve never done this.”

Flying by the seat of their pants for most of their decisions, one thing they know for sure: food.

“We cook the way we like to eat,” assures Dotolo.

“We have eclectic styles,” he goes on, “[Our food won’t be] California cuisine, not fusion.” Then they blurt out in unison a sort of motto, “Within the region, within the rim.”

Other interesting tidbits the chefs plan to serve are sweetbreads and bacon-infused chocolate (the bacon is on it, and bacon fat is in it.)

From dishwashers to chefs to restaurateurs, Shook and Dotolo love kitchen life. Long days, late nights, early mornings. No holidays.

“It’s crazy,” starts Dotolo. “Every now and then, we think, holy shit, we’ve done so much in nine years.

“We work our asses off. We’re never satisfied. We’ve pushed each other and climbed the ladder of success.”

“I couldn’t have done this without Vinny and Frank [Anderson, their chef de cuisine],” compliments Shook. “The team is important.”

And the two strongest factors for these 2 Dudes’ combined success?

“Both of us are like, fuck you,” says Shook. “We want to make our own decisions.

“And our love for food.”