To get ready for Valentine’s Day, we asked some husband-wife chef and restaurant management duos to share their romantic stories: how they met, what they like to cook to celebrate the holiday and whether their restaurants go all out in the name of love.
Written by Mary Catherine Mikula, a partner behind NYC’s Salinas restaurant, along with her husband, Donald Mikula, and Nicolas Matar. Inspired by their extensive travels along the Mediterranean coast of Spain, they opened this Spanish tapas restaurant in 2011 with chef Luis A Bollo at the helm.
Donald and I met while on a photo shoot for Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. He has been a celebrity hairstylist for 25 years; by the time I returned to New York from the trip, he had left a message with my agent insisting I come in to his salon for a haircut. I obliged, and the rest is history.
Together, we bring our diverse backgrounds and passions to Salinas – an unusual formula that works well for the restaurant, we think. Everyone calls Donald “the captain” – he makes the restaurant livelier by engaging guests in conversation and forming personal connections, and adorns the walls with photos he’s taken during our travels. And I am known as “mama bear;” I like to make sure all is well with the staff, handle all the office tasks – scheduling, reservations – and create a new playlist for the restaurant every day.
Before Salinas, we rarely went out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. We could never find a spot that felt romantic and cozy (or well-lit – a major pet-peeve of mine), and so we (and by we, I mean Donald) would cook. Ironically, one dish we loved to prepare was paella – and this was years before we opened the restaurant. We would open up a bottle of wine and share some Manchengo cheese while cooking.