Wooed By Food

Couples find taste of love is irresistible

Michael and Claudia Gettier

February 09, 2000|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Michael and Claudia Gettier met in the kitchen of the old La Brasserie restaurant in Ellicott City, where both worked. She was a lowly salad girl, and he was Chef Michel, the Paris-trained culinary master.

It was not love at first sight. She was 23, and awed by his expertise. He was 31, and too busy running the kitchen to pay attention to employees who came and went.

But when he finally "saw" her, his reaction was dramatic.

Claudia, whose family has Peruvian and Italian roots, tells the story, laughing: "One day I was wearing a leather miniskirt and black tights, and he was looking at me so much he walked right into a wall." "It was like -- bang!" Michael says, slapping the middle of his forehead with his fist.

But he was too shy to ask her out. "Beautiful women always intimidated me." So she asked him -- to a wine festival. They went.

And in the ensuing days, over the preparation of such dishes as Parisian Meli Melo tarts (tarts with rum-soaked raisins and buttercream) and Peruvian ceviche (marinated fish with boiled sweet potatoes), they fell in love.

That was 13 years ago, and they and food are still united. He's been at five other restaurants, from one in Italy, to the Conservatory atop the old Peabody Court Hotel, to M. Gettier, an intimate and highly personal space in Fells Point, to, most recently, M. Gettier's Orchard Inn, which they closed last year when renovation plans didn't work out.

Claudia has been at four of the restaurants. "It seems like we've spent 70 to 80 percent of our time somehow involved with food," Michael says.

But still, he says, certain distinctive tastes -- those tarts, or her aji de gallina (pulled chicken with Peruvian peppers) -- bring fond memories of those first days they cooked together. "Certain things that we made together in the beginning have hung on," Michael says. "Some tastes are so distinctive. It's like a guitar player. You hear it and you say, `Oh, that's so-and-so.' "

For now, he's writing software for cooks and cooking for charities, and she's working part time at Williams-Sonoma and cooking mostly for the family -- which includes son Michael, 7 1/2, and daughter Giuliana, 3 1/2, at their home near Towson.

Michael starts to explain -- "I don't cook much here because ... " -- and trails off, grinning at his wife. "He thinks I test his skills," she says, grinning back. "She says, `Are you sure that's the right temperature?' And I'm like, `Claudia, I know how to cook.' "

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