Twin Cities restaurateurs tell saucy tales of frisky foodies

Lovebird diners often caught in the act

Whatever customers are up to in the dining room, passions can also heat up in the kitchen. The Kleins met when Desta started serving at W.A. Frost during Russell's tenure as executive chef. Desta says she asked her future husband out by handing him a menu she'd supplemented with the item, "Cafe avec Desta?" In due time, she found herself following in the footsteps of her parents, a cook and waitress who met while working together. Shortly after the Kleins were married, they secured the site of their second date and their wedding reception—the former home of A Rebours—and turned it into Meritage. The events inspired Meritage's slogan: "Cooking is like love, it's all about timing and chemistry."

Chef Stewart Woodman admits he had a bit more trouble wooing his wife and namesake of his restaurant, Heidi's, whom he met working at a tony New York restaurant. "I remember the first time I saw her on the line at Le Bernardin," Woodman recalls. "I came around the corner and saw her standing there, and I thought, 'That's the woman I want to marry.'" Unfortunately, Heidi didn't feel the same initially. "She wouldn't give me the time of day," Woodman says. Three years later—after losing a bet on a Vikings game to Stewart—Heidi finally relented to a date and eventually drew him back to her home state of Minnesota.

Chef Lenny Russo of Heartland also confesses to having made a less-than-stellar impression on his wife and business partner, Mega Hoehn. When Russo took over the kitchen at the Loring Cafe, one of his first interactions with Mega, the cafe's best server, was to yell at her for breaking one of his rules. Russo recalls that after the incident Mega told her mother that she was going to have to quit her job because the new chef was "such an asshole." By the next time Mega's mom asked if things were any better with the chef, Russo says she responded, "I'm dating him." Why the change? "It was like one of those romantic comedies when the people hate each other's guts and end up falling in love," Russo says.

Chefs, for their part, tend to see Valentine's Day in terms more practical than romantic—they're always working, and often very hard. "It's kind of like blood and guts in the business," Woodman says. Fortunately, most don't seem too personally attached to the contrived celebration. "I like to think that I do not need Valentine's to have romantic nights all year long," remarks Vincent chef-owner Vincent Francoual—a tendency he attributes to his French genes. But chefs do appreciate February 14's ability to bring people into restaurants during the slow winter months. "I know it's a fake holiday," Russo says, "but it's great for our industry—it's such a shot in the arm."

If you don't have romantic plans this Valentine's Day, you may want to consider getting a job in the restaurant business. "It's a breeding ground for people hooking up," Russo says. "It's like musical chairs. You hope someone doesn't have an STD, because everybody's gonna get it." The position to shoot for, Russo says, is that of the chef, as the ability to cook is a powerful seducer. "You can be the fattest, ugliest, smelliest, homeliest guy, or the dumbest," he says, "but if you're good at it, you're going to get laid a lot." 

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