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Restaurant Romance

by Francine Cohen

Take a romantic restaurant, add chocolate, flowers and champagne for good measure, and you have what it takes to make the perfect Valentine’s Day for hundreds of couples who get engaged over an elegant prix fixe dinner each February 14th.

But what’s going on behind the scenes? Forget Jackson Browne’s song “Lawyers in Love”; plenty of chefs, sommeliers, captains, and hosts have found love right in their own kitchens and dining rooms. There’s an old adage that says too many cooks spoil the soup and another advising you to never work with friends or family, but these must be rubbish. How else to explain successful restaurant romance?


Lori Mason & Daniel Angerer –Klee

How they Met: At a dinner party thrown by a friend who had taken Daniel’s cooking class at Fresh.

Obstacle: She says, One of my other friends liked him, so I mostly stayed away. Though I did think he was cute, genuine and quirky in a nice way. But that was that.

Until: A few months later a work colleague planned a lunch at Fresh. Daniel saw me and then it took months before our first date because of our schedules. Our first date started at midnight and lasted until 7:00 a.m. We got hungry so Daniel took me back to Fresh for a romantic breakfast. He proposed to me in the kitchen of our apartment -- the night we closed on the purchase of Klee.

He Says: We just hit it off. She’s high energy as am I and it’s a great combo. She’s interested in art, and I have an art background. She’s smart, and she brings a tremendous value to the table.

How it works: I’m in the front, he’s in the back. Surprisingly sometimes we clash. If we weren’t doing this together it would be hard to be on the same page because we’d never see each other. He adds, It’s high pressure. Then to go home and turn off the whole stress, it’s a challenge. So far it works.

Gayle and Thomas Patrick-Odeen – Lola

How They Met: At a friend’s birthday party at Lola.

Obstacle: After having a negative experience with Lola’s management when she hosted her own party there, Gayle swore never to return to the restaurant.

Until: Despite my year long boycott I attended a friend’s birthday party held at Lola. Tom stopped by to bring champagne. He followed one of the guests outside for a smoke to ask her about me and then she inquired if I’d go out with him. I wasn’t sure. He led me to another table and everyone was staring while we made date for that Wednesday. After picking me up we stopped at a florist and he returned with a gorgeous bouquet. We had dinner at a friend’s restaurant and immediately connected. The next day he called and asked if I’d like to come by Lola and we’ve been together ever since.

How it works: Lola is a child for us. A beautiful entity that needs to be protected. It’s important to have clear and separate roles. We have different skill sets that compliment each other, and deep respect for one other.

(Photo by Santi Acosta of Santi Design)


Karen and David Waltuck – Chanterelle

It started: 30 years ago Karen and David Waltuck created an elegant restaurant with exquisite food in an out of the way location in SoHo which quickly became a destination.

Their advice: Since the restaurant business has crazy hours, it’s good to both be in it, we can see each other. But, we’ve each got our domain; David is in the kitchen and I am in the dining room. It gives you your own place and way to be creative and things to communicate about. Your most powerful tools are patience and a sense of humor. If you have one of them nothing can stand in your way, if you have both you’re unstoppable.

Nancy & James Laird - Restaurant Serenade (Chatham, NJ)

It started: They met when Nancy was an extern at The Ryland Inn. James, 13 years younger, was her boss. This fact amused Nancy. However, his cooking skills impressed her, he was wowed by her technique and they remained friends before marrying and opening this highly acclaimed Contemporary American restaurant 10 years ago.

Their advice: There’s just one chef in a restaurant and one chef in a marriage. Understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and different management styles. You have to present a united front. We don’t take the business home a lot, but it’s hard to talk in the restaurant. If you can turn it off when you go home you’ll be much healthier in the long run.


Andy Bennett & Helen Park – formerly of Daniel

How they met: In the kitchen at Daniel in 2002 when Andy arrived from England. As the fish cook (him) and tournant (her) they stood next to each other for 12 hours every day, barely talking, and eventually connected a month later at a farewell party for a coworker.

Hush hush: It’s a good idea to keep it under the radar. Never happens for long, in the kitchen everything spreads like wildfire, but it’s good to try. When we’d leave work we’d go in different directions and had a meeting point which we had to change because others from work saw us there. Daniel was the last to know about the relationship, but approved.

The future: We help each other with ideas outside work. If we worked together it wouldn’t be the way we worked before in the kitchen, it would be a project when we had to have two managers; there’s no reason to be in kitchen together. We could see ourselves consulting on events.

Janet Fenelly and Charles Pouchot - (Asst Sommelier at Daniel and GM at Café Boulud)

How they met: We both worked in the dining room at Daniel; I was already there when she started as sommelier. We worked together for two years; I started dating after she had been there about a year. I think it took that long because I was too shy to approach her, would have loved to do it sooner. We had our first date on February 13, 2002.

Hush hush: We kept it quiet – that was our game. But eventually it became obvious in the dining room something was going on.

The future: It’s good to have someone to understand your experience, and strange hours. I moved to Café Boulud, she stayed at Daniel. We got married in 2004. We have a son, and two girls (from her previous marriage) and another child on the way. I’m very happy.

Francine Cohen is a freelance writer who lives in New York City.

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