Falling in love
Something was cookin' when these two chefs met in Seattle
Linda Raymond had just completed her studies in pastry at the London Cordon Bleu in 1999 and returned to hometown Seattle with plans to head to Maui and work in one of the Big Island hotels. On a lark before leaving, she applied for and got the pastry chef position at famed chef Jeremiah Tower's Stars restaurant. Little did she know that love was just around the warming ovens.
Cunninghame West was a newly hired sous chef at the restaurant. "I'll never forget meeting him for the first time at our first management orientation," she recalls. "The tall, handsome blonde walked up to me and I think my heart was beating out of my chest . . . I remember watching him walk away and thinking to myself that he was the one."
He soon asked her out and took the young pastry chef on a culinary adventure to a small taqueria in one of the grittier corners of Seattle. She thought he was a bit looney at the choice — that is until the food emerged from the kitchen. "It was the best authentic Mexican food that I had ever tasted . . . After that meal, I never questioned Cunninghame's taste for good food again." Soon their mutual passion for things culinary blossomed into a perfect soufflé of love.
One problem. Inter-kitchen dating was a no-no at Stars. But they managed to keep their romance undercover even if he was sending her "love bites" from his post at the wood-burning oven in the front of the house. "He would make these delightful mini-plates of shrimp cooked perfectly in a succulent garlic butter sauce and send them back to me in the pastry kitchen," she remembers. A year later, the restaurant closed.
Both out of work, they headed together to Las Vegas, which was exploding as a restaurant mecca. Linda snared her dream — working at Le Cirque in the Bellagio. Cunninghame landed a job at Luciano Pellegrini's kitchen at Valentino in the luxe Venetian. From line cook, he soon rose to the plum position of sous chef. After a year together in Vegas, they were married in a private ceremony at Cupid's Chapel on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Eight years, a stint in his home stage of Virginia and two babies later, the Wests make their home in Houston where Cunninghame is executive chef at Valentino in Hotel Derek. The love fest continues. The Valentine's Day menu that Cunninghame has created for Valentino is romantically based on Linda's favorite dishes.
Saturday: Kimberly and Charlie Nettles' romance began in high school at Kinkaid and continues in the Dominican Republic.