Friday 25 May 2018

Feeling the heat love, sex and cooking

Deirdre Reynolds talks to famous couples who risk running a restaurant together

Derry & Sallyanne
Derry & Sallyanne
Erik & Michelle
Kevin & Catherine
Oliver & Sabine
Nick & Denise
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

Marriage can be gruelling at the best of times, but these famous husband-and-wife foodies leaped from the frying pan into the fire by setting up shop together. And from Michelin stars to ticking off your spouse, here we find out first-hand from Ireland's famous chefs and their partners about finding love in the kitchen -- and how they stop it from going off the boil.

Derry & Sallyanne

Award-winning chef Derry Clarke and wife Sallyanne co-pilot swanky Dublin eaterie L'Ecrivain. The culinary A-listers are married 23 years and have two children, Sarah May (20) and Andrew (14). Commanding a Michelin-starred kitchen might be hard, but working with your other half can be even harder, confesses celeb chef Derry.

"Working with your partner is not easy," says Derry, "and anyone who says otherwise is lying. You know the way they say you have to keep things fresh? Well, it's never fresh. In a kitchen, the pressures of time, heat and customer demands are all against you.

"You've got to look at your work relationship coldly and try not to get emotionally involved. I treat Sallyanne like any other colleague. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue not to say something to her because I don't want to pay for it later -- other chefs who work with their missus will know what I mean!"

"It's like a second marriage," adds Sallyanne, whom customers will recognise as the glamorous maître d' inside the door.

"We always say the restaurant is our oldest child. Before I married a chef, I'd never been in a restaurant other than as a paying customer. But Derry's long hours didn't throw me at all. I'm a bit of a workaholic myself, so it was actually a relief to meet a man who understood that.

"Now, though, there are so many others who depend on us for their livelihood that it puts added pressure on our relationship.

"Honestly, our marriage takes a back seat to the business a lot of the time. And there are nights when you say 'Sleep in your own bed tonight' -- but, thankfully, they're few and far between."

"They've nicknamed our place Hotel California," jokes Derry. "You can check out, but you can never leave. We've only had one dinner out together this year and worked on our wedding anniversary. But there's great satisfaction in knowing that everything you've achieved, you've achieved together."

Erik & Michelle

From newlyweds to workmates, Erik and Michelle Robson opened the first Ely Wine Bar in Dublin in 1999. Eleven years and three restaurants later, the gourmands' greatest creation is four-year-old son Oscar.

And despite 80-hour weeks of endless double shifts, mum Michelle says a child was the missing ingredient in their marriage.

"Erik and I opened our first restaurant within two years of meeting each other," recalls Michelle, "so both our romantic and working relationships were fairly whirlwind. There wasn't much time to think about wedding dresses or cakes!

"People might think it's difficult working with your partner, but I actually think it's an advantage. The downside is that either one or both of us are working all the time. We never have the luxury of a day off together. With over 80 staff, the business has gone beyond Erik and Michelle. We simply don't have time to consider the impact of working together on our relationship."

"It's hard work," concedes wine buff Erik. "That goes for both running your own business and working with your partner.

"But I think our secret is that we don't take ourselves too seriously. We have a life outside of work and try not to talk shop at home.

"But having a four-year-old will knock that out of you fairly quickly anyway!"

"When I was expecting Oscar, my attitude was, 'Oh God, how am I going to cope with a child in this crazy industry?'" agrees mum Michelle. "But the minute he was born, he became the most important thing.

"Oscar is the sanity in our lives. It might sound clichéd, but if we're having a bad day at work, seeing his face at the end of it makes it better."

Kevin & Catherine

TV chef Kevin Dundon and wife Catherine run rustic escape Dunbrody Country House Hotel in Wexford. The couple married in 1994 and have three children, Emily (nine), Sophie (seven) and Tom (two).

"Working with Catherine has its ups and downs," says The Afternoon Show's resident chef. "On the one hand we're both passionate about what we do; on the flip side, we're always in each other's ears.

"But unless you worked in the industry, you'd never understand it. Even as a single man, I always ended up going out with girls who worked in the business.

"There's a different dynamic between Catherine and I at work than there is at home. Most of the time we talk to each other like colleagues, not a couple. The odd time one of us might throw our toys out of the pram and then it gets personal, but nobody's perfect. The past two years have been particularly difficult, with the stress of trying to survive a recession on top of family issues and working together."

"The fact that we work in different departments of the hotel gives us a break from each other," says Catherine, who fronts the gorgeous Georgian getaway. "I never venture into the kitchen. We try to take time away together throughout the year too -- that makes all the difference to our relationship."

Kevin admits his female fans make romantic breaks with his wife almost impossible. "With my TV work, I can go nowhere without being recognised," he says. "Other women often ask Catherine how she puts up with women coming up to me, and she says 'Well, he always comes home'. We were very solid before we worked together and we're still solid now."

Oliver & Sabine

When Bon Appetit chef Oliver Dunne first clapped eyes on French waitress Sabine Leroy 10 years ago, it was love at first sight. Now parents to Evan (four) and Kimi (six months), the fine-dining duo are set to marry this October. And Oliver, who won his first Michelin star aged just 29, reveals regular date nights help keep their business and personal relationships separate.

"Like all fellas, I was totally oblivious to the fact that Sabine liked me when we worked together at The Clarence," says Oliver. "It wasn't until one of the chefs told me to cop myself on that I asked her out. We always dreamed of having our own restaurant, so opening Bon Appetit in 2006 was a really exciting time for us as a couple.

"It took a while to adjust to being together 24/7. But after lots of trial and error -- mostly error -- we've managed to strike a balance between work and home.

"Sabine truly understands me; another woman might get pissed off that I work every Friday and Saturday night without fail -- she doesn't. And when I do get time off, we capitalise on it.

"Both Sabine and I are very stubborn," he adds, "which can lead to tension at work. Nine times out of 10 we agree, but when we don't there's that temptation to cross the line and tell the other to 'f*** off'. I don't think you can mix relationship, parenthood and work though -- I have to pretend she's not my partner.

"At times when I'm browned off, I certainly wouldn't give Sabine the same answer that I would another colleague. But there's zero contest between my restaurant and my relationship. The restaurant is my work, Sabine and the kids are my life."

It's precisely that hot-headed streak that attracted Sabine in the first place, she says: "He was the macho man of the kitchen. I loved the way he was giving out to people!"

At home, however, Oliver is the first to admit it's his fiancée who is boss. "She's definitely the boss at home; I wouldn't cross her!"

"I don't care what he does at work," Sabine laughs, "once he puts his foot past the door at home, he's in my world."

Nick & Denise

Hell's Kitchen Maître d'-with-the-mostest Nick Munier and wife Denise opened Dublin bistro Pichet with chef Stephen Gibson last July. But the married stars of TV3 fly-on-the-wall series Nick's Bistro, who have three sons, reckon if you can survive working with your spouse, you can survive anything.

"Mixing business with pleasure is always difficult," says reality star Nick, originally from Kent.

"You vow not to bring work home with you, but ultimately if there's something festering from work it's going to affect your relationship too.

"Denise and I met after I was hired to manage Conrad Gallagher's Peacock Alley where she worked. Basically I hated it and left after two weeks."

But not before Cupid could take aim, reveals Denise: "At the time, I was engaged to someone else but didn't get married after I met Nick. So it must have been fate!"

The culinary lovebirds got a crash course in working together at Marco Pierre White's restaurant in London, so their latest venture "wasn't too much of a shock to the system," says Nick.

"Yes, we fall out, but I think working together has actually helped us last the course. We're both obsessed by the business."

"Without trying to sound picture perfect, we make a great team," adds Denise, "although we kill each other as well. It surprises staff that I don't always take Nick's side in an argument and vice versa.

"I think they expect us to always back each other up and then sort it out afterwards behind closed doors. But viewers actually thought that I was Stephen's wife because I sided with him more on screen.

"Since the show, we get gaggles of girls coming in to see Nick, which can be hard for me. I don't suffer from the green-eyed monster because most of the time they just tell him: 'My mother loves you!'"

And if he ever irks her, Denise has her own way of letting him know: "Last year, Nick forgot our wedding anniversary. I do the roster at work, so I made sure we didn't see each other for a few days."

L'Ecrivain, Ely Wine Bar, Dunbrody Country House Hotel, Bon Appetit and Pichet are all taking part in Taste of Dublin 2010 at the Iveagh Gardens, June 10-13. Tickets from €15 -- call 0818 300 030 or see

Irish Independent

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