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Many married couples work hard to keep their romances hot. But when you’re both restaurant professionals, sharing a lot of time in the same kitchen, things naturally tend to sizzle.

That’s what lots of us imagine, at least. Driven by the passion of great food and wine, a high-energy workplace and the fiery personality of most chefs, it would seem the restaurant business fuels powerful relationships. Think husband-and-wife team Kyle and Katina Connaughton of the new, high-profile Single Thread Farm-Restaurant-Inn in Healdsburg, for example, or Lucas and Karen Martin of the longstanding French favorite K&L Bistro in Sebastopol.

But what does it really take to keep the flames alive, without burning out? Some local chefs share their secrets.

Josh Norwitt, Miriam Donaldson of Wishbone, Petaluma

Could it be any cuter? Norwitt and Donaldson met while working at what she calls “Romeo and Juliet restaurants” in San Diego. That’s her playful reference for two places that were in competition, meaning the couple’s love should have been forbidden.

“A mutual friend knew that I wanted to go to a really weird event and that no one would go with me,” Donaldson recalled. “A televangelist — I think it was Billy Graham, actually — was hosting a huge free event for an intense evangelical Christian cheerleading show. Everyone thought I was crazy, because I’m an atheist, but I’m always interested in what excites humans.”

The friend promised her that Norwitt was weird enough to go, too.

“We agreed to meet up,” Donaldson said. “But we never made it. We found each other more interesting, and 15 years later, we still do.”

After moving to Norwitt’s northern Petaluma family cattle ranch 10 years ago, the couple immediately sought out fellow “artists, musicians and weirdoes,” Donaldson said. They found a community at the Black Cat Bar in Penngrove, known for its colorful gay and punk rock clientele. They opened their six-table Humble Pie café next door to the bar in 2008, followed two years later by the larger Blue Label restaurant in Santa Rosa. Then, they debuted their rustic California-chic Wishbone in 2014.

“I call myself the chef, but that’s because I was the first one who could make pie crust,” said Donaldson, with a laugh. “Also, we find it helpful to switch up the usual ‘guys are chefs’ structure, since when we play with those perceptions, we are a stronger team. Josh is the rancher, because he can lift more hay than I can, but after almost a decade working together, our jobs have melded.”

Today, the couple works around the clock, finding connection in their shared labors of love. Rather than complain about demanding schedules, they encourage each other, and collaborate on everything, down to the pasta homemade daily with local duck eggs.

“I cannot imagine doing this alone,” Donaldson said. “If Josh was the only one doing this, I simply would not understand. I would be upset that he was never home, and the same would be true for him. But because this is our common goal, we have each other to lean on, and we always have a partner who understands the burden of our passions.”

So far, it’s been a recipe for success, with Donaldson admitting that when things get really tough in the kitchen, they pour each other a shot of whisky and take a time out.

“We settle arguments by avoiding them,” she said. “What are we fighting for, instead of solving? Besides, I’m always right.”

Details: 841 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-763-2663, wishbonepetaluma.com.


Sam and Carol Morphy of Red Grape, Sonoma

Forget Facebook. Back in October of 1981, Sam and Carol Morphy met through the Yellow Pages.

“Carol was looking for a packaging company, and mine started with an ‘A’, Sam said of his previous business in San Francisco. “She walked in the front door, and it was love at first sight.”

The couple married in 1985 and moved to Sonoma in 1989. In August of 2000, they moved to Connecticut but disliking the cold weather, moved back to Sonoma exactly a year later. Yet they found themselves craving Connecticut’s New Haven style pizza, so in 2002, they opened their restaurant off the Sonoma Plaza, dedicated to the thin, crispy crust pies plus from-scratch pastas and burgers.

“We worked together to develop many of our menu items,” said Sam. “I think the Pear & Gorgonzola pizza is one of our best hits, inspired when the first summer we were open, a friend dropped off a bucket of fresh pears.”

Today, the couple relies on their chef, Miguel Soto Arreaga, to keep the cooking top-notch and relieve much of their kitchen stress. Sam remains in charge of menu development and finances while and Carol helps with décor, including a complete revamp that had the eatery closed for two weeks in January to install a new marble floor and bright red furniture.

“We try to stay out of the way and let our longtime managers handle the day-to-day things,” Sam explained. “We also brought our children in to the business as soon as they were old enough. We are very lucky to have a family that works well together.”

Details: 529 First St. W., Sonoma, 707-996-4103, theredgrape.com.


Patrick and Casey Van Voorhis of Spoonbar, Healdsburg

Patrick and Casey Van Voorhis can thank their Culinary Institute of America instructors for their marriage, because the teachers assigned the two as station partners in several cooking classes at the academy in Hyde Park, N.Y. Immediately, the pair felt the chemistry, swooning over what Casey calls their shared “OCD” and “cheesy romantic” personalities.

After graduation, the duo worked together at San Francisco’s Aquarello, Jane bakery and Cotogna, and now, they command the 850-square-foot kitchen at the creative-California Spoonbar in Healdsburg’s h2hotel. As co-executive chefs, they spent a lot of time together, often on the same work schedule, and partner in creating dishes like their popular smoked octopus with warm potato salad, pimenton aioli and olive vinaigrette.

“Patrick loves to play around with interesting techniques and has the unique ability to compose dishes of ingredients you wouldn’t traditionally find together,” Casey said. “He has a strong understanding for balance and plays off of bold flavors, while I have a slightly more delicate palate and pick up subtle nuances, like vegetable dishes and herb and spice driven sauces.”

The two married in Ohio two summers ago, in Casey’s grandmother’s back yard amid oak trees. “The house is full of memories from my childhood,” Casey explained. “It was perfect, with only close friends and family attending.”

When the couple disagrees on something – and it does occur, Casey noted with a smile — they focus on talking the issue through. And what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen, with both agreeing that time off is strictly for personal togetherness.

Details: 219 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-7222, spoonbar.com.


Gaetano and Kimberley Patrinostro of Mamma Tanino’s, Sonoma

Kimberley Strain-Patrinostro wasn’t shy about making her feelings known when she met consulting executive chef Gaetano Patrinostro while dining at his Salute Ristorante in San Rafael 12 years ago.

“She invited me to dinner, as friends, on January 4, 2004, and I asked her to marry me on February 15,” Gaetano recalled. “I guess you could say it was love at first bite.”

After their wedding in Italy, the couple moved to Sonoma in mid-2004. Three years later, the couple opened their Italian trattoria with the Sicilian born Gaetano as chef and Kimberley running the front of the house.

“She and her staff put the love into our service and customers,” Gaetano said. “I put the love into our food.”

Given the nearly endless time demands of running a restaurant, the Patrinostros have found that their kitchen brings an important connection. And not just for them, but for their extended family, too, with menu tributes like Katarina’s Vitellina, a dish of veal sautéed with artichokes, mushrooms, and capers in lemon infused white wine, and named for Gaetano’s mother-in-law.

“It is easy to let the business absorb all your time,” Gaetano said. “It’s great to work together and spend so much time with the person you are in love with, but you have to work on making time for your personal life.”

When things do get stressful, the couple takes some deep breaths, and counts to ten.

“Anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant business knows that hot spots happen,” Gaetano said. “It can be high pressure with all the variables, and when they align in the wrong way, someone can blow off. But it’s just steam. It dissipates.”

Details: 500 W. Napa St. Suite 512, Sonoma, 707-933-8826, mammataninos.com.


Michael Dotson and Moira Beveridge of Crocodile, Petaluma

He is the chef, and she manages the front of the house, beer and wine buying and finances. It’s a well-oiled system that has proven fruitful with their Scottish-themed Martins West Gastropub they opened in Redwood City (San Francisco Peninsula) in 2009, continuing to their new French-themed Crocodile, which debuted this past October in Petaluma.

The couple credits their extensive restaurant experience to keeping daily life smooth. They met at Evvia Estiatorio Greek restaurant in Palo Alto in 2005, then worked at three eateries together before they became a couple. Now, even with a 3-year-old daughter to raise, they find the juggling invigorating.

“I think given that we met in the restaurant world, that is the only way we know how to be,” said Beveridge of the often high stress work demands. “We both understand that the restaurant has to be our priority, both individually as well as together. It just works. I think if we had a ‘normal’ life, we would get bored.”

While the two bounce ideas off each other, peace is maintained by job separation, too.

“We respect each other, and trust that we both know how to manage our departments individually,” Beveridge explained. “We also try not to take anything to too seriously. If we did, we could hate each other. We truly are best friends, and frankly we are both crazy in our own way, but we accept each other for our crazy.”

At the end of the day, the couple tries to fence off work from home as much as possible, and importantly, guard quality time with their daughter.

“It is hard, because the restaurant is our life and consumes most of it, but with the little one at home, we try to focus on her when we are with her and try as much as possible to be a happy family unit,” Beveridge said. “We are not perfect, or even close to it, but we make it work.”

Details: 140 Second St., Suite 100, Petaluma, 707-981-8159, crocodilepetaluma.com.


Todd and Nitsa Knoll of Jordan Winery

The two became study buddies at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, then by serendipity, reconnected when they got jobs side by side at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco.

“First it was chance, then it was love,” said Todd, who is executive chef and culinary garden designer at the winery. “We ran a catering company together before coming to Jordan Winery and implementing ‘Team Knoll.’” Todd was hired in 2003; Nitsa joined the team in 2006.

As director of hospitality and events, Nitsa oversees special events and the culinary service program, among other things. Yet she also helps with the food menus, such as co-creating the winery’s signature lamb marinade of sweet onion puree, black garlic, sumac, estate extra virgin olive oil and other spices.

“Working together, given the crazy schedules of professional cooking, is wonderful,” she said. “Not only does it give us time together — rare in the industry — but we also share the same challenges, frustrations and inevitable wins. It brings us closer.”

Over the past 13 years with the winery, the couple has learned what matters, and what doesn’t, too.

“At this point it’s hard to even argue without at least an inward smile,” said Todd. “We have shared far too many experiences together to be fooled by the heat of the moment. We always go home together — after all, we do share a car.”

Details: 1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-5250, jordanwinery.com.

Carey Sweet is a Santa Rosa-based food and restaurant writer. Contact her at carey@careysweet.com.

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