Forget oysters—cooking in the kitchen together is a natural aphrodisiac for these talented power couples at the helm of LA's best restaurants. As chefs, pastry chefs and restaurateurs working side-by-side at fine-dining restaurants, bakeries and vegan joints around town, "yes, chef" sometimes means "yes, honey." So how do these married couples balance their lives in and out of the kitchen? And who does all the cooking at home, anyway? We grilled these lovebirds on the best—and worst—parts about owning a restaurant with their significant other.
RECOMMENDED: Meet the power couples of Los Angeles
Meet these restaurant power couples
Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Lee
Time Out: How did you meet and what were your first impressions of one another?
Phillip Lee: We met in middle school. ...I was in a punk band that played at the local all-ages club, where the average person at the club was 14 or 15. She was going to the shows and I was playing the shows.
Margarita Lee: I really liked his band. I didn’t really like him at that time, but all my friends were like, “Oh my god, he’s so cute,” and I was like “Ok, I don’t care, whatever.” I was more interested in the lead singer.
PL: We ran into each other at a party one night and I was there with my ex-girlfriend and she was there with her ex-boyfried.
ML: I went up to him because he had been messaging me on Facebook …I was like, “Phillip!” And he said “What?” [and ignored me]. So I just brushed him off. He messaged me after that or something…
PL: Long story short, we officially met each other at a party and started dating.
Time Out: When you decided to open a restaurant together, were you worried it would change your relationship at all?
PL: Yes and no. We knew it would change our relationship. Before Scratch Bar we had Wolf Cuisine, which was just the two of us cooking and prepping and doing everything. We were the only two employees in the business. Then when I took over D'Cache, she was working there four or five days a week as the pastry chef. The only difference between then and now is that then we worked for someone, and now we work for ourselves. Obviously when there isn’t a paycheck that comes from an employer every week and money falls on us, it’s much more difficult on a relationship.
Time Out: What’s the best part about working together?
ML: I think it’s really inspiring. When we’re working together, we always come up with better ideas. The nights flow better.
PL: The hardest part is when you work with someone you care about outside of work as more than just a friend. You can’t be a chef and have bedside manners when something goes wrong. If I yell at a cook or get into an argument with a cook, I’m right. And when I go home, I don’t have to see that cook. Substitute cook for wife and you can take care of the rest of that story.
Time Out: Do you two ever get to have a date night?
ML: Usually we just eat [out] a lot.
PL: The last date night we had, we went to Son of a Gun, and then Ink, and then …
ML: We wanted to go to Petit Trois but I was like, no way, my stomach.
PL: Didn’t we go to Jitlada after that?
ML: Oh god, I hope not, that would have been too much.
Time Out: When I first visited The Gadarene Swine, you told my friend and I that it was your wedding anniversary and that you were hoping to get out early to celebrate. Then Jonathan Gold came in and everyone went crazy in the kitchen. I've been dying to know—did you ever get to celebrate your anniversary?
ML: I remember that night! It was crazy. I remember thinking, Well, fuck our anniversary. It was fun, nonetheless.
PL: We got a great review from him! We got a better review here than we got at Scratch Bar.
ML: Did we go out after that?
PL: I doubt it, he was a late table.
ML: Wait—I think we might have gone to In-N-Out after that.
Walter Manzke and Margarita Manzke
Years together: 14
Occupation: Walter Manzke, chef; Margarita Manzke, pastry chef at Rèpublique
Time Out: You two met at Patina. What was your first impression of each other?
Margarita Manzke: I don’t even remember the first time I met you!
Walter Manzke: We worked together for two years before we started dating. It kind of just happened organically and slowly. I was the boss and she was an employee—which, in the restaurant business, is how most people meet. [When we started dating] I had talked to Joachim [Splichal] about it, and it was at a point where the company was really growing and installing a lot of policies. The first thing I thought was, 'Oh my god, she’s got to leave, we can’t have a lawsuit.' I was good friends with Josiah Citrin already and told him that I had this great employee. She quickly became the sous chef at Mélisse and was there until we moved to Carmel and worked there again. Ever since then we've worked together.
Time Out: What's the best part about working together?
MM: The best part is seeing each other. I think if we didn’t work together, we’d never see each other.
WM: Yeah! And for the most part we work very well together. Every once in a while we butt heads, which happens. But we probably butt heads with each other for the same reason we work well together. We’re opposites in a lot of ways. Marge is very good at a lot of things that I’m not good at. She's the one who bakes the exact amount of bread for a day, and a successful day is to sell that last piece of bread to the last customer walking through the door. I’m the one who would push her to have the whole wall full of bread. But we end up somewhere in the middle, which is a really good place to be.
Time Out: When you cook at home, what’s your favorite thing the other person makes?
WM: Adobo fried rice. Adobo is a Fillipino dish and it’s such a great breakfast—fried rice with adobo and a fried egg on top. It’s one of my favorite dishes from the Phillipines.
MM: He cooks very farmers’ market-driven dishes. He doesn’t like to cook anything from the supermarket; he always has to cook something healthy and with fresh vegetables.
Time Out: Do you ever get to go out on a date, just the two of you?
WM: We usually go with [their three-year-old son] Nico, so it’s not as much the two of us anymore—it’s the three of us.
MM: We like to go to new places, or sometimes we just want food we know is good, so we go to Angelini Osteria—you always get a good meal there. We get a lot of Vietnamese food—Nong Lá on Sawtelle—and Thai food in Thai Town, like Ruen Pair.
Time Out: Are you big gift givers?
MM: We’re so boring.
WM: We went through times of extreme financial hardship. It is what it is, but it was pretty tough for us in years prior to this.
MM: When we didn’t have money, we couldn’t really go out, go on vacation, go out to eat and all this. Now that we’re earning money, we can’t go out because we’re so busy.
WM: But it’s a lot better to be stressed trying to deal with too much work than with no work. It gives you a lot of respect for having a job. It shows how important it is. We never imagined this—we wanted a little place and now we have Rèpublique.
Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan
Time Out: How did you meet?
Zoe Nathan: Our moms had become friends in a book group, and Josh’s mom had gotten a bee in her bonnet that she wanted to set us up. So she tried to set us up but Josh wasn’t interested in being set up, and neither was I.
Josh Loeb: I didn’t even know I was being set up! My mom told me that she knew we needed a pastry chef.
ZN: I called and asked, "Are you guys looking for a pastry chef?" I was kind of confused and didn’t know if it was a date or a job interview. I wasn’t even looking for a job, and it ended up being a job interview. We ended up working together, then dating shortly after.
Time Out: What was your first impression of each other?
ZN: There was something about Josh…he was one of the first guys that I had met who wasn’t a martyr in this business. He worked really hard, and I thought that was very cool.
JL: I thought she was adorable. At first I thought she was 12, because she was so giggly on the phone. It was one of those situations where, because I didn’t think I was being set up, I was able to be natural about the whole thing. From the beginning we saw who the other person was.
Time Out: When you opened Huckleberry together, were you worried that anything would change in your relationship?
ZN: It was fucking crazy!
JL: Here’s the thing: like every couple, we're similar in a lot of ways and different in a lot of ways. It takes me a while to process things and I’m a little calmer, and Zoe is a little more like “let’s just do this.” You need both, but those two things create friction.
ZN: When you’re opening a place, everybody feels crazy and everybody loves and hates each other. But you’re in a marriage and you can say that. Normally, if your boss is out front and schmoozing and the whole kitchen is going down, and your boss comes back you’re like, “Hey man." When that boss is your husband, you’re like, "What the fuck are you doing!?" You can let your emotions go. I actually don’t think I could do what I do without having my partner be my husband. I think that’s so much more fun than going home to your other husband and being like, “Oh, I’m so mad at my boss.” Now we can just duke it out. I think we’ve learned how to know what’s important to fight about.
Time Out: Are you guys big on gifts?
ZN: We are not gift people.
JL: Well, I’m big on experiential gifts.
ZN: I bought him a record player, and now everything we do as a family is centered around the record player—mostly around the Alvin & the Chipmunks record, which is pretty awesome. Things like that make our house a home.
Time Out: Josh, how did you propose?
JL: Everything moved very quickly in our relationship. We started dating in November 2007, and in January 2008 Zoe said, “Maybe we should talk about maybe moving in together.” So I was like, “Yeah, let’s talk about moving in.” She said “Alright, cool, I’m going to move in tomorrow.” She said she didn’t want to be away from her books.
ZN: I like to sleep with my books! He told me I could bring over some books, and I just brought everything.
JL: We were living together for two months, and we were going to Paris that summer. I think it seemed obvious that a proposal would happen there, and I hate obvious. So I decided I was going to ask her before that, because I knew she would be expecting it. My plan was that we were going to go back to a cove in Santa Barbara by a hotel that we had been to before. I had the ring in my bag, but everything was going wrong. We usually are able to check in early, but the room wasn’t ready and the hotel was packed. I was like, "Ok, let’s go for a walk, but I need my bag." She said “Just leave your bag at the front desk,” and I was like, "No I need my bag!"
ZN: I was like, "Why are you being so weird?"
JL: We start walking up this bluff area and the spot where I want to propose is packed. There’s a huge sign that says “Off limits, don’t enter,” so I said, "Do you want to walk in there?" And she’s like, "No, I don’t want to walk on the cliff, you’re being crazy." It’s imploding. Zoe said, “I’m sick of this. Maybe we just need a little bit of time apart right now.” I just got down on one knee and said, “Nope, I think we need to spend the rest of our lives together.” And she was like, "What? What? Yes! Yes!"
Karen Hatfield and Quinn Hatfield
Time Out: How did you two meet?
Quinn Hatfield: We met in 1997 at Spago. I had been working with Wolfgang in San Francisco and he brought me down to work at the old Spago right around the time they opened. Karen was just out of culinary school, doing one of her first jobs as a pastry cook. I was a sous chef.
Time Out: What was your first impression of each other?
Karen Hatfield: I thought Quinn was very cocky at that time—25 and cocky. I actually like cocky, but I was like, “Ugh, this guy.”
QH: She was super cute, but she was a little bit tough.
KH: He was forbidden to date me, for whatever reason—and then of course that just made it all the more enticing. We became friends and then best pals and started a romance—all in six weeks. We moved in with each other after another week or two, and never spent another night apart.
Time Out: What are the best parts about working together?
QH: The best part is that it’s always really tough to hire people who you would ever trust as much as I trust Karen.
KH: You speak the same language. We worked at really good restaurants, and had a similar work ethic and background and training. We had the same vision, and were able to carry out that vision together.
Time Out: Who cooks the most at home?
KH: We share the cooking at home. Quinn usually cooks the meat, and I usually cook the vegetables and the dessert.
QH: We did a lot of recipe testing for Odys + Penelope at home, especially because it’s grill-, wood- and charcoal-based, so I literally couldn’t test it at Hatfield’s because we don’t have any of that equipment. I think we’re a pretty good team when it comes to testing and thinking about what we like and don’t like. A lot of our dinners are recipe testing.
Time Out: Why do you think there are so many chef/pastry chef relationships?
QH: Where else are chefs going to find a date? It’s a very incestuous career, just because there are a lot of hours (and they're all off-hours). You’re not going to meet a lawyer when you get off at 11:30 at night.
KH: Our chef friends who have non-chef spouses find it very challenging.
QH: I think if you’re going to make it as a chef, your spouse almost has to be in the restaurant industry—until you get to the point where you have kids and then it’s good to be opposite. We end up dating pastry chefs because they’re cute and we’re too lazy to go out.
KH: (sarcastically) You’re so sweet.
Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis
Years together: 10
Occupation: Ori Menashe, chef; Genevieve Gergis, pastry chef at Bestia
Time Out: What was your first impression of each other? Is it still true?
Genevieve Gergis: It’s definitely not true, or else we wouldn’t be married!
Ori Menashe: We met at a restaurant 10 years ago. She was the hostess and I was a line cook at La Terza. She walked into work on her first day and I was sitting on break, just smoking cigarettes outside. I yelled “Hey!” and she turned around, and I said, “You look like one of the beautiful women from my country.” It was pretty bad. She just turned around and walked into work.
GG: I was carrying my meal and he was looking up at me very sleazily, and he said that to me with the cigarette half out of his mouth, hanging off his lip. I decided to eat somewhere else.
OM: My coworkers were laughing and I was thinking, "100 percent I’m going to get this chick." So I tried a couple more times and it didn’t work. For nine months I wasn’t nice to her. I wasn’t mean to her, but I would tease her.
Time Out: What was the turning point?
OM: We went out many times in a group of employees, and one night someone bothered her and I protected her. The guy was drunk and trying to grab her—it was actually someone above me in the kitchen—and I just held the guy and said, "Hey. Be careful." She looked at me in a different way after that.
GG: My hero!
Time Out: What’s the best part about working together?
OM: The best part for me is that I like to run ideas by her—whether it’s savory or pastries, it’s good to have a great palate like hers for tastings. She does the same thing with me. Other than that, when we first opened the restaurant it was so stressful, and when I had a really bad day, she was someone to hug.
GG: It’s amazing to be able to work with someone you trust. Think about it: You have a partnership with someone and you don’t know if that person is eventually going to be siphoning money off. But when it’s someone you've been together with for 10 years and it’s your love and your family, we trust each other completely. I trust him as if he’s me, and he trusts me as if I’m him.
Time Out: Is there something you each make at home that the other person loves?
OM: My favorite thing that she makes for me is her chili. I think my favorite thing that I make for her is Georgian pierogi called khinkali. It’s dough that is cooked in garlic water and salt, then stuffed with ground beef and a lot of black pepper and onion. It’s good with vodka. I don’t drink it with vodka with Genevieve, but back home when my dad would make it, we would take care of business.
GG: I also love it when he makes me paella. His paella is so good. We were in Spain and none of them were as good as his.
Time Out: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received from each other?
GG: The best gift is [our daughter] Saffron.
OM: I was thinking the same thing!