Sweet and Savory

People who work in fine dining tend to be night owls who eat their first meal of the day around two p.m. They carry a wine service wherever they go but often lose their car keys. They’re rock ’n’ roll junkies who, more often than not, have been married multiple times. They put up with exorbitant urban rents in order to be close to the action. As a rule, they don’t balance their checkbooks. I’m not being critical here, simply stating facts, based on four years of reporting on restaurants, which also happen to apply to me. They do not, however, describe Karl and Annamarie Rigelman.

We meet at Brix, the suburban bistro on Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park. Karl orders a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, pronouncing it “light, crisp, and simple.” He bicycled eighty-seven miles that afternoon and this—in addition to plenty of water, his wife reminds him—is exactly what he needs. After the glasses have been poured, the Rigelmans sit close to one another and speak in voices so soft, I have to strain to hear.

They met at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, NY, early in 1986. He was a 20-year-old from Red Wing. She was an older woman—26—and Southern. After graduation, they went to Alaska for their first chef jobs, surviving for a year despite the fact that Annamarie hates cold weather.

“So what did he do?” she deadpans. “He moved me from Alaska to Minneapolis.” They married in 1988. Karl was working as a cook on the line at Goodfellow’s. This was when the art deco space with enormous chandeliers and somber, tuxedoed waiters was a top-rated fine dining spot. Then Karl encouraged Annamarie to apply. “Goodfellow’s had the most extraordinary pastry kitchen,” she says. “It was climate-controlled, with its own thermostat. It had a sheeter, a steam-injected oven—and all this in the tiniest space.”
She’s a morning person and always has been. This is one of the reasons Annamarie became a baker. She liked the solitude: “starting off when the kitchen was empty and quiet and still.”

Karl, on the other hand, loved the movement and buzz of a busy restaurant at night. After a second tour of Alaska, where he bartended by night and ice climbed all day, the Rigelmans returned to the Cities in 1990 and he managed the bar at Azur.

“That’s where I found out I love wine,” Karl says. “The flavors, the styles, the parts of the world they come from. Every wine I taste, I keep notes—I have scribbles going back to the mid ’80’s. I like to taste blind and guess what a wine is and where it comes from. I can do it, too.” His wife touches his leg and he laughs. “About half of the time.” He loves the wines made from European varietals grown in California, what he calls “developing international style.”

For some couples, working opposite shifts would be a problem, especially in an industry that encourages the every-night’s-a-rock-concert mentality. But for Karl and Annamarie, it was a means to an end. Their daughter, Sophia, was born in 1992; the following year, Annamarie took the job she still holds as pastry chef for Lucia’s restaurant. She gave birth to Celeste in ’94.

“Being a bar manager was surprisingly great for when the kids were young,” Karl says. “I was the day shift, Annamarie was the night shift, and we were able to raise our kids without any daycare at all.” Adds Annamarie: “I think it was easier on our marriage to be apart so much during those years. We were actually glad to see each other at the end of the week.”

Shortly after Celeste was born, Karl took a demanding job as general manager of the downtown Minneapolis Table of Contents—a glitzier reincarnation of the former St. Paul location that was once attached to the erstwhile Hungry Mind bookstore—but Annamarie had built a career at Lucia’s by this time.

“Lucia [Watson] is tough,” Annamarie says. “But as long as you’re turning out good food, she’s pretty flexible. When my kids were out of school for summer, she let me work a schedule with three days off in a row.”

Meanwhile, after the St. Paul storefront closed in 2000, TOC-Minneapolis began to flounder. Karl eventually left to help JP Samuelson open jP American Bistro, and stayed on as general manager for several years. Then Lucia’s Bakery and Take Home opened, with an emphasis on baked goods, and Annamarie’s job became more demanding. So last year Karl went to work for the Minikahda Club as food and beverage director; he misses the activity and late-night vibe of a real restaurant. But this job is secure and consistent. And it was his turn to step back.

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