For two hospitality industry superstars, it’s cozy nights in that matter most
by Emily Waldmann
Photograph by Casey Chapman Ross
Rene and I met through producing a wedding at Hotel Saint Cecilia back in 2013, but two years of missed connections passed before happenstance brought us together (for the record, I asked him out first). Plenty of miscommunications and misread text messages gave way to plenty more dinners and drinks at fancy restaurants, but the night Rene first invited me over for paella goes down as my favorite from those early months and the turning point in our relationship. When two people who both work in the hospitality industry start dating, an evening dinner at home together is a rare and sacred night filled with spontaneity and laughter and, most importantly, an element of vulnerability. A dinner at home becomes what a dinner out is to the rest of the world.
One of the first things Rene told me when we got together was that as a chef, no one ever cooks for him since it is too intimidating. Always up for a challenge, I have made it my mission to change that. I’ve found great joy in pretending to take the lead in the kitchen despite my significantly inferior skills. Rene plays along as sous chef to my dorm room level cooking skills — for which I am always grateful — convincing me I have a great palate and then taking the lead in the home stretch to make it taste the way I imagined it would in my mind.
Both our jobs are spent putting together unforgettable experiences for the rest of the world to enjoy, so a home cooked meal created together is a special kind of self-care and time to connect. When in the kitchen together, the most pleasure comes from the process, whether it’s as simple as a salad or a stir fry, or Rene teaching me and his children to make dumplings or spring rolls (now a family night favorite). Time moves slowly and is generally filled with laughter. Most meals end up consumed around the kitchen island rather than a perfectly designed florally candle-lit tablescape. Connecting in the kitchen to create something together is always worth coming home to, and we will always say cheers to that.
Rene Ortiz is the Executive Chef and Partner in The Century Club, the restaurant group that owns Launderette, Mr MC’s and Fresa’s Chicken. Emily Waldmann is the General Manger of Fair Market, an East Austin event space managed by Bunkhouse.