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People 5 minutes 12 February 2019

The Power Couples Behind 9 Of The World’s Michelin-starred Restaurants

This Valentine’s Day, meet culinary couples running some of the world’s top restaurants and find out how they make it work.

Michelin star power couples Valentine's Day

Starting a business with your spouse sounds like trouble to most — especially in the high-pressure restaurant industry where long hours and high temperatures lead to short fuses — but for these seven couples who are partners in life and work, the returns are delicious.
Kyle and Katina Connaughton run three-starred SingleThread in California (Pic: Roman Cho)
Kyle and Katina Connaughton run three-starred SingleThread in California (Pic: Roman Cho)
Kyle And Katina Connaughton
SingleThread, California, Three Michelin Stars

Located in Healdsburg, California, SingleThread is home not only to a three-Michelin-star restaurant, a five-room inn and five-acre farm, it’s also home for husband and wife Kyle and Katina Connaughton and their two children. The couple got married and started a family at a young age, then travelled extensively through Japan and England, where Kyle honed his craft under top chefs Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal, while Katina studied sustainable farming techniques. The dream was to move back to California to open a farm and restaurant. Their dreams came true when SingleThread opened at the end of 2016 and quickly earned two Michelin stars the following year, and then three in the most recent 2019 selection. At the restaurant, Kyle creates tasting menus that are acutely tuned to each micro-season in the Sonoma County, thanks to the bounty provided by Katina who takes charge of the farm. “Our areas are very different, but we’re each other’s silver linings,” says Kyle. “We’ve evolved, but we’ve evolved together. Who we’ve become as individuals and what we do individually is supported collectively. It’s so compatible. If anything, it’s strengthened our relationship.”

Emmanuel Stroobant and Edina Hong are the dynamic duo behind not one but two of Singapore's Michelin-starred restaurants (Pic: Saint Pierre)
Emmanuel Stroobant and Edina Hong are the dynamic duo behind not one but two of Singapore's Michelin-starred restaurants (Pic: Saint Pierre)
Emmanuel Stroobant And Edina Hong
Saint Pierre, Singapore, One Michelin Star
Shoukouwa, Singapore, Two Michelin Stars

Chef Emmanuel Stroobant and Edina Hong are the husband-and-wife team behind the Emmanuel Stroobant Group that owns and operates Michelin-starred restaurants Saint Pierre and Shoukouwa in Singapore. The fine-dining edomae sushi-ya received two Michelin stars in the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Singapore in 2016, but it is the couple’s flagship restaurant Saint Pierre that holds a special place in their hearts. The duo met in Kuala Lumpur in 1997 and moved to Singapore in 1999 and opened Saint Pierre the following year, a fine-dining pioneer in Singapore’s young gastronomic scene at that time. Stroobant’s artful tasting menus, framed by immaculate service and ambience under Hong’s iron fists, earned their flagship restaurant Saint Pierre its first Michelin star in the MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2017, an accolade they have maintained every year since. Nearly a decade after opening their first restaurant together, Saint Pierre recently established its first overseas outpost in the city where they first met. “Malaysia was a turning point in my life 20 years ago, not only because it was where I met my wife, but also because it was my first encounter with Asia and it left amazing memories,” says Stroobant. “Going back now is like coming home after a 20-year-long journey.”

Bo and Dylan James combine their names and culinary prowess at Bo.Lan (Pic: Bo.Lan)
Bo and Dylan James combine their names and culinary prowess at Bo.Lan (Pic: Bo.Lan)
Bo And Dylan James
Bo.Lan, Bangkok, One Michelin Star

Bo and Dylan James are the dynamic duo behind one of Bangkok’s most exciting restaurants, one-Michelin-starred Bo.Lan. The restaurant’s name is a wordplay of the couple’s names — it combines “Bo”, Duangporn Songvisava's Thai nickname, with the second syllable of her Australian husband Dylan’s name. In Thai, it sounds like the word for “traditional”, something not many people would identify with the restaurant at first glance. The cuisine at Bo.Lan is a reflection of the culinary experiences in Australia and London, where the couple met working for David Thompson at his Michelin-starred Nahm. They both believe strongly in their mission of redefining Thai food into something authentic yet refined.

“We see each other every day, almost 24/7,” says Dylan. “Certainly, it can feel a bit much at times. But on the other hand, we’ve got someone we can trust implicitly. Let’s say if one of us got sick or couldn’t be in the kitchen for a day, we know that the other would make the most effort to finish the work and cook the best food. Such rapport is the biggest advantage of a husband-and-wife team in my opinion.”

John and Karen Shields of two-starred Smyth in Chicago. (Pic: Galdone Photography)
John and Karen Shields of two-starred Smyth in Chicago. (Pic: Galdone Photography)
John and Karen Urie Shields
Smyth, Chicago, Two Michelin Stars

John and Karen Urie Shields are the chefs and co-owners of Chicago’s two-Michelin-starred Smyth and its casual downstairs sibling, The Loyalist. While individually, the chefs have remarkable resumes working at the best restaurants across the country, what they have built together in their own kitchen is even more remarkable. At Smyth, the Shields display their technique and finesse through dishes like slow-cooked beet with beet blood Bolognese and black currant; brioche donut with aged beef au jus; and sorrel-wrapped squab with burnt honey and roses. Karen attributes some of their success to striving together toward common goals. “It’s that creativity and teamwork, the idea of setting goals and accomplishing them that is very satisfying. Somehow it just works for us.” Indeed, their restaurant is a testament to their relationship and how they’ve grown together over the years since meeting in 2003.

“Things now are naturally different. We’re married and have kids, and have our own business. The communication is seamless. It’s ‘I’ll pick up where you left off’ or ‘I’ve got this, you’ve got that’. Or when times are stressful or uneasy, we look at each other and say, ‘We got this, we’ll get through this’,” says John. “I feel like we’re more of a team now than ever because there is so much on our plate — we have to pick up where we left off without a hitch.”

Eric Ziebold and Célia Laurent run two separate Michelin-starred restaurants under one roof. (Pic: Greg Powers)
Eric Ziebold and Célia Laurent run two separate Michelin-starred restaurants under one roof. (Pic: Greg Powers)

Eric Ziebold and Célia Laurent
Métier, Washington DC, One Michelin Star
Kinship, Washington DC, One Michelin Star

Eric Ziebold and Célia Laurent started out as co-workers over a decade ago and today are married with a young daughter and two separate Michelin-starred restaurants under the same roof — the sophisticated a la carte restaurant Kinship and Métier, a more formal tasting room downstairs. The couple met in 2004 while working at The French Laundry in Yountville, California, then moved to Washington DC together in 2009 to work at CityZen and later opened their dream restaurants. They acknowledge that while it is hard to separate work and life, they make a concerted effort to unplug from work when at home and focus on being present in the moment. “It is difficult to never talk about the restaurant at home, but it is inevitable as it is one of the subjects we are both still very passionate about — we try to choose the wisest time to do it when we have to and keep it constructive,” they say. “We are very conscious that this is the most active moment in time in our lives. You could say that before was the honeymoon period and now we are deep into our marriage.”

Eric and Tina Vildgaard receive their Michelin star at the MICHELIN Guide Nordic Countries 2018 last year (Pic: Philip Davali/Scanpix 2018)
Eric and Tina Vildgaard receive their Michelin star at the MICHELIN Guide Nordic Countries 2018 last year (Pic: Philip Davali/Scanpix 2018)
Eric And Tina Vildgaard
Jordnær, Copenhagen, One Michelin Star

The restaurant’s name might translate to “down to earth” but the level of gastronomy soars high at one-Michelin-starred Jordnær in Copenhagen. The sustainable Nordic kitchen is helmed by Noma veteran Eric Vildgaard, while the front of house is hosted by his wife and restaurant manager, Tina. Together, they create an exciting farm-to-table dining experience with herbs from the surroundings and freshly caught fish from the Arresø lake nearby, served in the charming dining room located within the historic Gentofte Hotel. Their New Nordic cuisine has so won over the region’s epicureans that it was awarded a Michelin star in the MICHELIN Guide Nordic Countries 2018 selection just 10 months after opening.
Hidemichi and Mizuho Seki work together at two-starred Tenku Ryugin in Hong Kong (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
Hidemichi and Mizuho Seki work together at two-starred Tenku Ryugin in Hong Kong (Pic: MICHELIN Guide Digital)
Hidemichi And Mizuho Seki
Tenku Ryugin, Hong Kong, Two Michelin Stars

As head pastry chef and chef de cuisine of two-Michelin-starred Tenku Ryugin in Hong Kong, both Mizuho and Hidemichi Seki complement each other well in the kitchen. Hidemichi recalls the time that he was working on a recipe for a jelly made of oyster juice and he began overcomplicating things with every attempt. “Mizuho-san came over and tasted the jelly and suggested that it would be better if it was done more simply. After following her advice, I managed to succeed,” says Hidemichi.

The quiet couple first met in 2010 at the flagship Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo and later moved to Hong Kong together where they had their first child in 2014. Together, they steered the team at the contemporary kaiseki restaurant in Kowloon to a two-Michelin-star recognition in the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau selection. “It’s not about the romantic things. For both of us, it is about peace and trust, as well as the ability to spend time together — that is what makes a relationship work,” says Mizuho.

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