Calgary couples cookin’ up romance in the kitchen

If you work in the restaurant industry, you likely don’t do much — except work — on Valentine’s Day. While other couples meet for romantic meals, you’re setting the stage for their special day.

But there’s still plenty of romance in the restaurant industry. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find couples in the kitchen in Calgary.

Heather + JP Pedhirney

Heather and JP Pedhirney met while working together at Parkerhouse restaurant, an eatery that briefly operated downtown a decade or so ago. Sparks may have flown — no one confesses — but the pair kept things professional. JP went to work in Chicago for a time, and Heather started working at Rouge.

heather and jp pedhirneyThe pair reconnected a few years ago at Rouge, and the rest is history.

JP is now the Concorde Group’s vice-president, culinary operations, while Heather is the operations manager for River Cafe and Deane House.

And they still love to talk about — and eat — good food.

“We’ve had some really romantic dinners,” says JP, recounting tales of unforgettable feasts at Hotel Villa Franca in Italy, and the three Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago. “We definitely have a shared passion for our industry, and for eating out.”

But they’re just as happy at home on a rare night together, off from work. “Any time we can sit down together is romantic, I think,” Heather says. “I love any Italian pasta, but I also love when we do a hot pot together, too.”

JP’s the best cook, but Heather’s organized. “When JP cooks at home, he cooks like he’s in a restaurant,” she says, laughing. “I have to remind him that he doesn’t have a sous-chef to clean up after him. I’m his sous chef at home. He goes through so many dish rags!”

As for a Valentine’s Day meal together? Highly unlikely, they both say simultaneously. They’ll be busy at work that night, one of the busiest days in the year for anyone in the business.

Vanessa Rundell + Pierre Lamielle

Pierre Lamielle and Vanessa Rundell have long been part of Calgary’s culinary scene. Lamielle is a cookbook author, chef, caterer and culinary instructor, while Rundell has worked at Rouge, Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant and The Lake House on Bonavista.

vanessa rundell and pierre lamielleThe two met when Lamielle was emceeing a culinary event at the Calgary Stampede. Rundell — chef and owner of Preserved — had her jams in the event’s black box and was offering tastings nearby.

Now they live together on a farm near Okotoks, where they are creating a garden and expanding Rundell’s food business. “We make pickles, jams and preserves, all from Alberta-grown ingredients,” she says.

Lamielle does most of the cooking at home — but he relishes the days when Rundell takes over. “Vanessa makes the most incredible barbecue. I think she should compete,” Lamielle says.

“She’s a great chef, much better than I am.”

Who’s messiest in the kitchen? They both laugh. “Pierre thinks it’s me, but I think it’s him,” says Rundell.

Nhi Tran + Tanner Ennis

Paper Lantern co-owners Nhi Tran and Tanner Ennis discovered a shared passion for good food while working in the oil and gas world.

nhi tran and tanner ennisWhen the two became disenchanted with their corporate careers, they began making plans for Paper Lantern.

Tran had worked at her family’s restaurant, the now-defunct Orchid Room, while doing an accounting degree, and says it felt like the right time to start something new. “We didn’t want to be corporate kids anymore,” she says.

Opening in June 2020, Paper Lantern quickly gained a following for its on-trend cocktails and Vietnamese cuisine.

As for a favourite romantic meal? “It’s always changing,” Tran says. “We like going out to new places and supporting local spots. It’s not just about one place.”

But it is always about being together. In fact, the couple married in June 2021 at Orchard, one of their favourite local restaurants.

“We’re pretty much together 24 hours a day these days,” says Tran. “People joke that it’s not the life they’d want with their partner, but we’re really happy.”

Michal Lavi + Aviv Fried

Park by Sidewalk Citizen instantly conjures up romance with its sharing menu and modern yet cozy interior, made for everything from casual dates to intimate weddings.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, to hear that Aviv Fried and Michal Lavi, the couple who own it and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, have been sharing meals for more than 27 years.

“Aviv is the best cook by far. We both agree on this,” says Lavi, adding that she loves a good roast chicken, roasted potatoes and salad.

But if she was to make a romantic meal for him, she’d spend time roasting peppers for his favourite sauce, “or really, I’d make him anything that was hearty and vegetarian.”

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Culinary legends Dwayne and Alberta Ennest are at The Nash restaurant together. Alberta is restaurant manager, while Dwayne is executive chef.

Then there’s Fiona and Giuseppe Di Gennaro. They met in London, England in 1989 and are now the co-owners of Cotto restaurant in Kensington.

And there are many, many more.