LA's Sweetest Culinary Power Couples

By Lesley Balla  |  February 10, 2014
Credit: Andrea Bricco

What do chefs and restaurateurs — who serve everyone romantic dinners on Valentine's Day — do themselves on February 14? Work, of course, but they also steal a little bit of time for their own loves, even if it's grabbing a quick piece of pizza or a burger at In-N-Out. Some of LA's most adorable and hardest-working couples share stories with Zagat about how they met, their favorite romantic meals, and how working, eating and playing together can be a really good thing.  

  • Credit: Nancy Adler

    The Couple: Suzanne Goin and David Lentz, chefs and owners of A.O.C., Lucques, Tavern and the Larders, and the Hungry Cat in Hollywood (respectively). Between their restaurant empire and three kids, we have no idea how they find time for anything else.

    How They Met: Jessica Goin, Suzanne’s sister, introduced them when Lentz was having dinner at the bar at Lucques. “She thought we should connect and had her come out of the kitchen to meet me,” Lentz recalls.

    How Long They’ve Been Together: Together since 2002, married since 2004.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: "When we totally escaped the world and savored lunch at Ducasse in New York," says Goin. "We were there for five hours and didn't think about anything else except each other — and Ducasse's most delicious food. It felt decadent and wonderful, and it was an indulgence we'll both always remember."

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: As usual, cooking for other couples.

  • Credit: Ryan Tanaka

    The Couple: Walter and Margarita Manzke, chefs and co-owners of Republique. Right now, Walter divides his time between their La Brea Avenue restaurant and Petty Cash, his funky taqueria on Beverly Boulevard. Margarita is busy making some of the best baguettes and pastries in town.

    How They Met: While they were both working at Patina. He was executive chef and she was sous chef.

    How Long They've Been Together: Together for 14 years and married for 10.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: Twelve or 13 years ago, for Walter's birthday. Margarita cooked a five-course menu at home, complete with printed menu and everything. Walter keeps a copy of the menu to this day.

    How They're Spending Valentine’s Day: Probably like they do most years - working. Perhaps they'll steal a few hours together in between service.

  • The Couple: Natasha Case and Freya Estreller, founders of Coolhaus. They made ice cream sandwiches cool with their architecturally themed creations, now found on trucks in four cities, two brick-and-mortars in Los Angeles and Pasadena, and in markets across the country. Estreller also recently launched Ludlow Cocktails, specializing in Jello shots.

    How They Met: Through a college friend. Case went to Berkeley but studied abroad in Rome with Cornell University, and Estrella went to Cornell. “A mutual friend connected us knowing our love of food, design and LA,” says Case. “Although the intent was not a romantic connection, it was undeniable!”

    How Long They’ve Been Together: Together for five years, married for two.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: For Case, it was the time they ran out of gas on Third Street. “I think I had been seeing such hearts and stars for Freya en route to the restaurant, I didn’t even notice my empty gas gauge.” The person who helped them was the owner of Cheebo on Sunset. “So funny the foreshadowing of car craziness (i.e. all the truck haphazard of our original Coolhaus truck), and the restaurant connection put us being together into the universe.” To Estreller, it was lunch at L’Arpege in Paris last summer. “Alain Passard’s food defines romantic,” she says.

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: Case will be on her way back to LA from a trade show in Orlando, FL, so Estreller will pick her up from the airport, and they’ll hit In-N-Out and head over to the Fake Prom at the Unique Space in the Arts District.

  • Credit: Andrea Bricco

    The Couple: Genevieve Gergis and Ori Menashe, owners and chefs at Bestia.

    How They Met: At (the former) La Terza when Menashe was “salad boy” and Gergis was hostess. “We actually did not get together for several months after we met because I thought he was a womanizer, which turned out to be not true,” Gergis says.

    How Long They’ve Been Together: 8 years and counting.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: The first time he made a dish with a bunch of onions forgetting that she doesn’t like onions. “About 10 seconds after placing the dish down he came running back and tried to take it away, but I didn’t want to give it back. I already loved him so much I wanted to eat it anyway,” she adds.

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: At their “first love child,” Bestia. Gergis is a total romantic: “The cutest couple got engaged and the whole restaurant got involved. Maybe something else will happen like that again!”

  • The Couple: Karen and Quinn Hatfield, chefs and owners of Sycamore Kitchen and new wood-fired hot spot Odys + Penelope. Quinn is executive chef, and Karen handles pastries, breads and the front of the house.

    How They Met: Working in the kitchen at the original Spago in West Hollywood.

    How Long They've Been Together: Since the mid-’90s and married for almost 13 years.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: “The day Quinn proposed to me was such a whirlwind day,” Karen recalls. “We were living in New York City at the time, and it was just one of those perfect New York days. We ate oysters at Grand Central Oyster Bar, walked around the city and had an amazing dinner at DANIEL.”

    How They're Spending Valentine’s Day: Quinn and Karen have been working in the restaurant business for basically their entire adult lives and always look at Valentine’s Day as one their busiest days of the year. “It’s never really entered our minds to celebrate it as patrons,” she says. “There is something really special and rewarding about being a part of other people’s special evening – it brings a lot of joy to the both of us.”

  • The Couple: Valerie Gordon and Stan Weightman, chef and owners of Valerie Confections. You’ll often see them and their two children at the farmer's markets or at any of the three Valerie cafes.

    How They Met: “We were both working in a local theater company, and it was at a company meeting. I thought I met everyone there, and then I saw her. She was so stunning, I had to introduce myself,” Weightman recounts. “His opening line: ‘Who are you and what do you do here?” Gordon adds.

    How Long They’ve Been Together: 14 years

    Most Romantic Food Moment: “Our daughter Lee was born on Christmas Eve 2011,” says Gordon. “Before leaving the hospital on Christmas Day, I ordered a bushel of food from Canter's, and we arrived home by noon for a love-filled feast of white fish, bagels, pastrami, pickles and our beautiful baby girl.” Weightman adds, “This definitely tops the list.”

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: Same meal as every year - a pizza and bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose.

  • The Couple: Thi and Nguyen Tran, owners of the formerly underground Starry Kitchen (ed. note: it recently closed after a massive Kickstarter effort). You might see him in a banana suit, lederhosen or giant sombrero, but she’s always wearing the chef coat.

    How They Met: They first met at Nguyen’s 18th birthday party when she went with a friend of his. Fast forward five years later, and they both coincidentally hitched a ride from Austin to Dallas with that same friend. “One of the best three hours of my life,” says Nguyen.

    How Long They’ve Been Together: Since 2002, married since 2008.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: One year during the Superbowl. “It was one of the first times we hung out, and I had just moved into my new apartment,” Nguyen recalls. “We were both bored with the game, and she came up with the brilliant idea (that I've NEVER heard from a girl before) to get some Popeye's Fried Chicken. I kinda knew then that I was in love (both with the chicken and her).”

    How They're Spending V-Day: Probably working, says Nguyen. “I’ve been horrible about the V-Day thing for awhile, so maybe this will encourage me to get off of my ass and do something. But the easy answer is: eating.”

  • The Couple: Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts, chefs and owners of The Tripel, Hudson House and the forthcoming Playa Provisions. You know it’s a good marriage when she can run off and runner-up on Top Chef, while he holds down the fort and family.

    How They Met: At work, of course. “I was the chef at ZAX restaurant in Brentwood, and we cooked for a year or so before having an actual conversation,” she says. “I guess it wasn’t love at first sight.”

    How Long They’ve Been Together: 12 years

    Most Romantic Food Moment: “Probably when we had just closed our first restaurant together (Amuse Cafe in Venice) and literally had $7 to our name,” says Williamson. “We spent an hour walking around the supermarket trying to strategize how we might keep food in our stomachs indefinitely with that $7. It doesn't get much more romantic than that.”

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: At work, of course! “Valentine’s Day isn't a super-romantic holiday for anyone in the restaurant business,” she says. “It's about making other people's experiences special. That's what makes our day.”

  • Credit: Emily Hart Roth

    The Couple: Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, chef and owners of Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, three Sweet Rose Creameries, and Milo + Olive. Never ones to slow down, the two operate their multiple restaurants, are working on opening a new concept with another adorable couple, Bryant and Kim Ng, and they just welcomed their second child.

    How They Met: “Zoe and I were set up by our moms who were in a book club together,” says Loeb. “My mom was the pushier one, but she knew better than to try to set me up directly, so she presented Zoe as a pastry chef candidate, which she knew we needed at Rustic Canyon. This caused some awkwardness, because to Zoe, she presented it as a setup, but in the end, it all worked out. My mom has had some pretty bad setups in the past, but she gets lots of brownie points for this one, of course.”

    How Long They’ve Been Together: Seven years, married for five.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: “Honestly, it’s probably something like eating BBQ oysters and grilled bread at The Marshall Store near Point Reyes. That was a really awesome moment,” says Loeb.

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: At home, taking care of their one-month-old. “We’ll put Milo (our three-year-old) to bed, then sneak in a glass of champagne at some point before or after Tallula to bed,” says the proud new father.

  • The Couple: Neal and Amy Knoll Fraser, owners of Redbird in Downtown LA. Neal is also executive chef of Fritzi Coop, and Amy is running the full catering and event division at the historic Vibiana

    How They Met: Rix Restaurant in Santa Monica. “Amy was the assistant GM and I was the new chef. It was love at first sight,” says Neal. 

    How Long They’ve Been Together: 15 years, married for 10

    Most Romantic Food Moment: Dinner at Ba Rim Pa on a trip to Thailand during monsoon season when they were first dating. 

    How They're Spending Valentine's Day: Having dinner with friends and their daughter in San Francisco. “Chinese,” Neal adds.

  • The Couple: Claudio and Adria Blotta, co-owners of Barbrix, Market Provisions and All'Acqua
    Claudio has been on the LA food scene filling just about every position - server, manager, wine director and owner - since 1981. He and wife Adria, an actress who was most recently in The Artist, own the Silver Lake wine bar, and opened Cooks County with another chef-couple Roxana Jullapat and Daniel Mattern (who recently left for new opportunities). They're opened their third restaurant, an Italian concept in Atwater Village, with Barbrix chef Don Dixon later this year.

    How They Met: At Campanile. Adria was hired for a server position when Claudio, who was managing partner (a “very picky and skeptical” one, Adria adds), was out of town. “If you had told either of us we would date, let alone marry, we would have peed ourselves laughing at the absurdity,” she says. “We always joke that if Claudio had been in town, I would never have been hired.”

    How Long They’ve Been Together: They’ve known each other since 2000, and started dating in 2002. “It took a year of pole dancing class for me to realize I should stop dating jerks and call Claudio,” Adria says. The whole affair - a misinterpreted invitation for drinks, avoidance, realization - was chronicled in her one-woman show, Strip Search.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: Per Adria, “On our first Valentine's Day together, I somehow got the night off from Campanile. But the last thing two restaurant people want to do if they have Valentine's Day night off is go to a restaurant. Claudio drove from his beach cottage in Redondo to Campanile and brought us take out and we ate it sitting on the floor around his coffee table out of the to-go containers. And I proceeded to tell him I could never live in Redondo....”

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: At one or all of their restaurants. “He'll come over after the rush and give me a kiss," says Adria. "And then we usually order more food than two people can eat, sit at the two top in the bar area and feed the staff on duty. We even take requests from them! And we'll drink a dry Austrian or Loire Valley white wine, which we both love.”

  • Credit: Sundance Channel

    The Couple: Ludovic and Krissy Lefebvre
    You know them from the Ludobites pop-ups and the Sundance Channel show where they took it across the country. These days Ludo oversees (and is usually at) Trois MecPetit Trois and Trois Mec, the three restaurants he co-owns with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. Krissy, who was the calm behind the storm of Ludobites, is co-mastermind behind the second annual All-Star Chef Classic, which returns Downtown LA this March.

    How They Met: “I was on a date at L'Orangerie and Ludo, who was then the chef, was standing at the maître d stand when we checked-in. It was love at first sight for me,” Krissy recalls. “I had never been to a fancy fine dining restaurant before so when the amuse-bouche arrived ‘compliments of the chef’, I thought he was sending me a secret message and had the same feelings I felt. At the end of the meal petit fours came ‘compliments of the chef’ again, and my perfect love story had been completed in my head. Come to learn every table gets them. But it worked for me. As Ludo always tells me, ‘good thing you moved to Hollywood, you do movies in your head’.” It wasn’t all movies: they were married nine months later.

    How Long They've Been Together: Married since 1999.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: “The first time he cooked for me at his condo,” Krissy says. “It was steak au poivre with pink peppercorn. He had NOTHING in his kitchen at home. We bought the pan to cook it at Von's. Pretty cute. I thought pink peppercorn was romantic, it was so delicious!!!!!!”

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: Ludo will probably be working, and Krissy will be spending it with their twins at home.

  • The Couple: Neil and Phyllis Strawder, Bigmista’s BBQ
    The two hit the farmers market circuit with their smoky meats and pig candy, and opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Long Beach last year.

    How They Met: The two met on the internets. “We were doing the social networking thing long before Facebook,” Neil says. “We had our first face-to-face when I invited her over for dinner at my house. I cooked jambalaya with a tomato-cucumber salad. She's been hanging around ever since (wink).”

    How Long They’ve Been Together: “I put it in my contract that I don't have to remember dates,” Neil says. “That being said, our first dinner was during the first season of American Idol. You do the math. I do know that our 10th wedding anniversary is in July of this year. Phyllis told me so.”

    Most Romantic Food Moment: His choice was a quiet New Year's Eve a few years ago where he cooked a Chateaubriand with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. “We had champagne and prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe for appetizers. It was a delightful night at home.”

    How They’re Spending Valentine’s Day: “We try to make it a point to show love to each other everyday, so outside of sending our daughter to school with cards for her friends, Valentine's Day is just another day. Love you Phyllis!” (Editor's Note: Awwwwww!)

  • The Couple: Tara Maxey and Matthew Poley, owners of Heirloom LA
    He’s the chef, who got his start with Gino Angelini at Angelini Osteria, and she’s the style. What grew out of a lasagna cupcake company grew into full-fledged event and catering operation, private event space (The Salon) and food truck featuring seasonal dishes you rarely see served curbside.

    How They Met: At work, of course. “How else would you meet Matt??!,” Tara says of her hard-working partner. “We were both working at the short-lived Italian restaurant, All’Angelo."

    How Long They’ve Been Together: Seven years.

    Most Romantic Food Moment: Too many to count, says Maxey. “Matt is so gifted at cooking, so I always just love watching him do his magic, especially when it’s just the two of us.”

    How They're Spending V-Day: Attending an 80’s themed Murder Mystery Party at a friend’s house "because love and murder go hand and hand, of course.” Poley and Maxey are in charge of food. “We haven’t made a menu yet but I’m thinking lots of dips and pasta salads and wine coolers,” she says. “It was the decade of the microwave so we’re going to play on that, you know things like Lean Cuisine but not lean and prepared in an oven! It’s going to be so fun!”