Michael Fagnoni and Molly Hawks, now co-chefs at Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay, California, remember the first time they worked together to perfect a recipe. It was years ago, in the kitchen of another eatery. "We suddenly just looked up at each other," says Molly, "and realized we should probably go out." A similar story unfolded between Ron and Colleen Suhanosky—who discovered they shared a love of simple, delicious Italian cuisine, and now run two Italian restaurants together: Sfoglia New York and Sfoglia Nantucket. And Joe Truex recalls being struck the first time he saw Mihiko Obunai—now his wife and co-chef at Repast in Atlanta—working at a catering job: "I just really liked the way she put raspberries on her salads."
Is it any wonder that romance and cooking are indelibly joined in our minds?Countless writers, filmmakers and chefs have reminded us—with words, pictures, and steaming plates of pasta—that the comforts and sensory pleasures we derive from food and love are deliciously similar. The very vocabulary we use to describe passion comes straight from the kitchen: Potential lovers simmer and smolder with desire; spurned paramours blanch and stew and boil; a full-blown romance is spicy, it smokes and sizzles.
Given this inherent connection, it’s not that surprising that many chefs who work together—in some of America’s top restaurants—are partners outside of the kitchen as well as inside. For these chefs, collaborating to develop recipes, preparing dishes side by side, and serving them (often to other couples) is informed, and enhanced, by their commitment to one another.
Of course these chefs (whose romances all began at prep stations and over stovetops) have plenty to say about what makes a meal romantic—whether it’s sharing the tasting menu at a four-star restaurant, or grilling over a backyard barbecue. Some have had their most memorable meals in grand dining rooms; for George Germon and Johanne Killeen, (co-chefs at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island) it was the opulent, chandeliered splendor of Venice’s Fortuny Restaurant—and the proximity of their room at the adjoining Hotel Cipriani—that put stars in their eyes. For Philippe Bertineau and Odette Fada (of New York City’s Payard Patisserie & Bistro and and San Domenico restaurant, respectively), a simple seafood meal at a thatch-roofed hut in Cuba was the epitome of romance.
Though their opinions about cuisine, dining room décor, and even background music vary tremendously, all these culinary couples are in agreement on one thing: More than the view, the table settings, or even what’s on the plate, the most important component to a romantic meal is sharing it with the right person. And on that subject, they’re all experts.