Entertaining

It Takes Two

Culinary power couples reveal the secret to their success
Meet the 10 Power Couples Running the Food World

For many years, when couples ran a restaurant together, the man was often the chef and the woman managed front of house. But one of the many wonderful ways in which modern coupledom has evolved is that those arrangements are changing. Today, the division of labor might mean couples as co-chefs, couples dividing up operations and cuisine, or one in the field, one in the kitchen.

Take Tom Colicchio and Lori Silverbush. What began as a workplace romance between a chef, Colicchio, and a budding filmmaker waiting tables to cover rent, Silverbush, has turned into a partnership that in ways big and small have affected the way Americans eat. Since they were married in 2001, the two have collaborated on the hit (if sobering) documentary, A Place at the Table, and their influences have melded into one healthy and just eating juggernaut.

As varied as the arrangements of today's culinary couples are the secrets to making the arrangement work. This Valentine's Day, we've asked some of the most powerful couples in the food world to let us in how they make it work so well.

 Jeni Britton Bauer and Charly Bauer: The Queen *(and King) of Ice Cream

Jeni Britton Bauer, owner, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Charly Bauer, director of stewardship, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

For some reason, ice cream flourishes in partnership. First, there was the ménage à trois of Neapolitan. Then, there was Ben and Jerry's. Now, there is Jeni Britton Bauer, the Ohio-based ice cream impresario who founded Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in 2002, and her husband, Charly. Jeni's, with its emphasis on sustainable production, social justice and artisanal flavors, is entirely Ms. Bauer's jam, but since the beginning, that vision was helped along by Charly, who she first met when she sold him a scoop at Columbus's Northern Market in 1999. Since then, Jeni's has exploded into one of those brands that represents the best America can offer in terms of quality, creativity and fairness. Charly has moved from part-time scooper to director of stewardship. With vending machines, 25 stores across the country and a major new investment, Jeni's is poised to become the biggest ice queen since Elsa.

The secret to their success: "Though I value his opinion and think he's one of the smartest people I've ever met, he is the first one to say that I'm the one in charge. This is important. As a woman, at least for me, it's easy (especially when I was young) to step behind a good-looking, smart guy, instead of in front of him. Charly is the one who made sure he never stepped in front of me." —Jeni Britton Bauer

"It's important to know our roles, and I try to be very aware of whose name is on the sign. If we disagree, I defer, and that is that." —Charly Bauer

 Emily and Matt Hyland: The Pizza Power Couple

Emily Hyland, COO and co-owner, Pizza Loves Emily
Matt Hyland, chef and co-owner, Pizza Loves Emily

In a world gone gaga for comfort food, the growing Pizza Loves Emily empire proves culinary reassurance needn't be boring or slack. At both Emily and Emmy Squared, chef Matt Hyland turns out juice-is-loose, best-in-class burgers; wood-fired Detroit-style pizzas; and chicken wings that scrape the upper limits of the genre. But none of this would be possible without Emily, Matthew's freshman RA, wife, the restaurants' namesake and the COO of the company. It's not too often that a couple can stand metonymically for a neighborhood itself, a symbol for an ideal. But Matt and Emily are the embodiment of Clinton Hill, and Clinton Hill is an embodiment of a certain style of idealistic, high-living, craft-loving domesticity. They are, frankly, the prince and princess of pizza. (See them in this power couples video.)

Emily and Matt Hyland | Photo: Michelle Sun/Tasting Table

Their secret: "Though we've been together for more than 15 years, the first year of opening Emily was the hardest year of our relationship. The truth of what it means to be a couple in business together is that it is not lovey-dovey all the time. It does make you become a better listener, communicator and participant. And it teaches you to set boundaries. Our poor dishwasher has heard it all, but we've finally realized we can’t elevate the arguments we have in the workplace to become a husband-and-wife fight or vice versa." —Emily Hyland

 Elise Kornack and Anna Hieronimus: The Veggie Saviors

Elise Kornack, chef and co-owner, Take Root
Anna Hieronimus, general manager, beverage director and co-owner, Take Root

Take Root opened in January 2013 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. More appropriately, it gently sprang into being as an outgrowth of the lives and interests of chef Elise Kornack and her fiancée, Anna Hieronimus. The tiny 12-seat restaurant was veggie forward before veggie forward was a thing. In the intervening three years, the pair has gotten married and Take Root has earned a Michelin star. What makes the restaurant successful is that the two work in perfect harmony: Hieronimus in the front of house (or room) and Kornack at the pass. More so than almost any other restaurant in NYC, Take Root embodies a restaurant as the outgrowth of organic passion, as idiosyncratic and exhilarating as love can be when it's true.

Photo: Courtesy of Elise Kornack and Anna Hieronimus

Their secret: "It's no secret that the restaurant industry is particularly stressful and competitive. At times, its intensity has made working together almost impossible and living together uncomfortable. There's a lot we can control, but the variable that we can't is the customer's response. The interactions we have with our guests are highly personal. When they are not pleasant, they have a serious emotional impact on us. It is challenging to lift one another up when we both feel defeated. But sharing in the tough spots are what make the success all the more rewarding." —Anna Hieronimus and Elise Kornack

 Jessi and Jennifer Singh: The World Travelers

Jessi Singh, chef and co-owner, Babu Ji
Jennifer Singh, general manager and co-owner, Babu Ji

For all the press and rightful praise showered on the emergence (at least noticed emergence) of Indian fine dining, there's been a more quiet but not less heartening rise of ambitious but affordable Indian. That is, for every Indian Accent and Paowalla, there's a Babu Ji. The first one was born in Melbourne (since sold), but we all first heard of the contemporary Indian restaurant when chef Jessi Singh and his wife, Jennifer, opened the East Village location in 2015. It quickly earned accolades and at the end of last year, expanded to San Francisco's Mission District. In some ways, Jessi's freewheeling and idiosyncratic style—not to mention bicoastal ambitions—reminds one of Danny Bowien, and certainly the ecstatically bright flavors are similar. Yet despite Jessi's talent, it is the Brooklyn-born Jennifer at the front of house who has pushed Jessi ever higher.

Their secret: "We have moved some great distances. Australia to America then coast to coast, all with our gorgeous daughters, Luca and Stella. Our dedication to Luca and Stella’s happy experience during this adventure is unwavering and priority number one no matter what, and that has really united us as a couple. They truly have made this adventure a pure joyride, which is the benefit of a lifetime!" —Jennifer Singh

⑤ Dylan Ho and Jeni Afuso: The Wanderlusters

Dylan Ho, photographer
Jeni Afuso, photographer

Among the many dreams so commonly held and so often frustrated is that a couple could, by dint of their passion and skill, make a go of it traveling around the world photographing restaurants and chefs, markets and artisans, for a living. That Dylan Ho and Jeni Afuso, professionally known as Dylan and Jeni, have realized this dream augurs well not only for them but for us all. The duo, who met a decade ago while out to dinner at Lucques, published two books last year and have more on tap for 2017: Death & Company II (Ten Speed Press), BÄCO (Chronicle) and Guerrilla Tacos (Ten Speed Press). This is all in addition to an endless blog roll of clients and magazines from AFAR to Viceroy hotels.

Dylan Ho and Jeni Afuso | Photo: Devin Pedde

Their secret: "A car really helps. Before the shoot, that's where most of the planning and conceptualizing goes on, and after the shoot. A car ride serves as a buffer between home and work. Most of our challenges show up when things are stressful during a shoot. We have to remind ourselves to communicate professionally versus emotionally. At the end of the day, if we are upset at each other at work, we’ve learned to let it go while driving home." —Dylan Ho and Jeni Afuso

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 Jody Williams and Rita Sodi: The Comfort Givers

Jody Williams, co-owner and chef, Via Carota
Rita Sodi, co-owner and chef, Via Carota

When Jody Williams (Buvette) and Rita Sodi (i Sodi) opened Via Carota, it wasn't the first time the chefs had shared a kitchen. But it took some adjustment. Williams and Sodi, who met in 2010 when Williams became besotted by the Tuscan Sodi's cuisine, were used to things their own way. "For example, there were two Parmesan cheeses," Williams recalls, "I grated mine one way, and Rita grated hers another. Mine is fine, and hers is coarse." Whatever accommodation they found worked, because Via Carota was the runaway hit of 2014. Now between the two of them, they run three of the city's best restaurants. Each one feels like a loving home.

Their secret: "Probably the most important thing we've found is the importance of a sense of humor. When you work so closely with someone else, there are always going to be differences of opinion. How high the lights are or how coarse the cheese. You can't get upset about it. The days are long and hard as it is. Add the heaviness of ego and it becomes intolerable." —Jody Williams

⑦ Nick Balla and Cortney Burns: The Inveterate Explorers

Nick Balla, chef and co-owner, Motze
Cortney Burns, chef and co-owner, Motze

In the five and a half years Nick Balla and Cortney Burns took over San Francisco's Bar Tartine, they transmogrified the restaurant into some weirdo whirligig innovation engine that brought Scandinavian approaches to Japanese techniques with Eastern European influences and Californian ingredients. No one else could have pulled it off. Recently, the pair left Bar Tartine to open their own place, Motze, which is already pushing the envelope even further (and more casually, like, "Hey, envelope, mind if I push ya?"). As important as the menu is the approach of Balla and Burns: heavily autobiographical, catholic in inspiration and excellent in execution. To be a beacon in San Francisco, a city of fog and light, is as important as it is difficult, but Balla and Burns do it extremely well.

Nick Balla and Cortney Burns | Photo: Chad Robertson

Their secret: "Over the six years of cooking together, we’ve learned how to get out of each other's way and to allow the other person to have as much creative voice as they can. As you can see through our menus, two authentic voices can be heard on the same page. But they are in conversation, not argument." —Cortney Burns

 

 Michael Lee and Danielle Gould: The Futurists

Michael Lee, Chef + CEO, The Future Market
Danielle Gould, founder, Food + Tech Connect

The intersection of food and technology has, for millennia now, been a burgeoning field. It spawned everything from civilization as we know it to, more recently, a bloody veggie burger and online delivery services. Also, in the case of Mike Lee and Danielle Gould, love. Lee runs The Future Market, a food design firm; Gould runs Food + Tech Connect, the site of record for food innovators. They met at a food tech conference when Gould asked Lee, who then ran supper club Studiofeast, to feed 250 people for $250. The rest is history. Now, with the upcoming launch of their own work space and food tech incubator, Alpha Food Labs, Lee and Gould peer even further into the foodie future.

Their secret: "One thing we've learned is that we have to make a concerted effort to turn off. Being an entrepreneur by yourself it is hard to disengage. With someone else, it can feel impossible. So unless we take the time and effort to carve out some 'safe spaces' where we literally can not talk about work, Danielle and I can just get caught up in the constant ideation, which is fun but ultimately not sustainable." —Michael Lee

 Kyle and Katina Connaughton: The Coast of Utopianists

Kyle Connaughton, co-owner and chef, SingleThread
Katina Connaughton, co-owner and head farmer, SingleThread

Just when you thought the romanticism of farm-to-table cuisine was exhausted, here comes SingleThread, a joint venture by husband and wife Kyle and Katina Connaughton, which opened late last year in Healdsburg, California. Despite the name, there's little that's single about the restaurant. It isn't just a restaurant but a five-room inn and a five-acre farm. Kyle is the chef, Katina is the farmer and the two work hand in hand. The result, a testament to both of the Connaughtons' expertise, is a truly personal dining experience that, as impossible as it sounds, lives up the hype.

Photo: Courtesy of Kyle and Katina Connaughton

Their secret: "When we first met, we were angsty, recklessly poetic teenagers. Together, we've grown into struggling young parents and now business owners, all the while trying to remain seekers of experience, culture and education. SingleThread is the sum of our experiences both together and individually. For instance, when we packed everything we could fit into six suitcases and moved to a small, rural fishing village in Hokkaido, Japan, with two young daughters in tow. Kyle worked endless hours earning the respect of his superiors, while also earning a place amongst his peers. I studied ikebana, taught English, immersed myself in agriculture and was constantly humbled asking for help from our four- and nine-year-old daughters with the spoken and written language of our day-to-day tasks. Our time together as a family was always quantified by quality over quantity. We learned to value sense of place, moments in time and subtle nuances in nature. We grew individually, which made us grow strong together." —Katina Connaughton

 Michael & Nina Schulson: The Phanatics

Michael Schulson, chef and founder, Schulson Collective
Nina Schulson, COO, Schulson Collective

Before she joined her husband's burgeoning restaurant empire as COO, Nina Tinari Schulson was one of Philadelphia's top political consultants. In Philly, a political town, it pretty much means she ran the jawn. Now, she literally does. Between the two of them, Nina and chef/restaurateur Michael operate a handful of Philly's hottest restaurants from Sampan and the Graffiti Bar to Independence Beer Garden, izakaya place Double Knot and, most recently, Harp & Crown.  

Their secret: "When we first met at a charity event in 2011, Michael noticed I didn't really eat that much. [I had a big meeting in the morning.] I think he was attracted to the idea that I wasn't a foodie. It's been really helpful that we have such distinct skill sets and have carved clear areas of responsibility and expertise. This way, there's rarely a moment of competition between us." —Nina Schulson

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