How They Met

These three creative couples share their lives—as well as their stages, kitchens, and newsrooms. Now they share their origin stories, too.

The way we love and how we work forms the bulk of our personal biographies. For many of us, there’s a strict separation between the two, but for these three couples, their jobs and their romantic partners exist in the same sphere. We presented them with the eternal conversation starter: How did they meet and, eventually, become both creative and life partners? (Because the world can always use a few more love stories.)

On the Stage:

Tracey Maloney and Kris Nelson

They have been seen on multiple stages in the past decade-plus, including recent Guthrie Theater turns in Tribes (Maloney) and Pride and Prejudice (Nelson). They most recently worked together in the Guthrie’s A Christmas Carol, in which Maloney played the Ghost of Christmas Past and Nelson portrayed Bob Cratchit. They will both appear in the Guthrie’s production of Othello opening in March.

“I remember the first time I saw her,” Nelson says. “I was at a bus stop and a bus came by that I wasn’t going to get on, and I saw her in the window. I thought she was so unbelievably beautiful. I was Charlie Brown and she was my Little Red-Haired Girl—I would always talk about her with friends.” 

“It’s such a small world,” Maloney says of the Twin Cities theater scene. “So I knew of him, and we had mutual friends and all of that.”

“Her 30th birthday party was at [now-shuttered Minneapolis restaurant] Auriga,” Nelson remembers. “I was at another friend’s party and crossed from one to the next, and I went up and introduced myself.”

“He showed up and we talked all night,” says Maloney.

The two became friends when they both worked at the Guthrie Theater in a 2002 production of Antony and Cleopatra.

“He played a eunuch, and I was a handmaiden to Cleopatra,” recalls Maloney. “We had so much fun together and such a great time, but we were just friends.”

“I only had three or four lines,” Nelson says. “The only thing I had to convince the audience of was that I didn’t have any genitalia—but it was a really friendly and cool way for us to spend time together.”

“I would always get comments—‘you guys seem to have such fun together,’” says Maloney. “That dropped in the back of my mind, the way that people seemed to notice how much we enjoyed each other.”

A year or so later, the two found themselves single and went on a date—for dinner and to see the film Big Fish. The night included a kiss and a powerful feeling of, as Nelson puts it, “this amazing thing of having both our worlds come crashing into each other.”

“We kissed that night, and that answered the question of how we would be together,” Maloney says. “From that day forward we were just together. We just knew. I totally knew.”

“It was intense and emotional, a really thrilling thing,” Nelson adds. “We knew right away: Yep, this is who I want to be around. And now the world is wide open.”

In the Kitchen:

Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer

Chef Shack

Celebrating their 13th anniversary together this month, Carlson and Summer are the duo behind the Chef Shack food trucks and restaurants, including the brand new Chef Shack Ranch in Seward. They each have more than two decades’ experience in fine dining and spend their time away from work looking for culinary inspiration through travel.

In 2001, chef Carlson had arrived in Minneapolis after a stint at New York’s Lespinasse in the St. Regis Hotel and was charged with opening the new Barbette in the Lake Street space previously occupied by Café Wyrd. Summer was among those she interviewed for the position of sous chef.

“I thought she was really attractive, of course,” Carlson says. “Sometimes as soon as you lose hope and think there’s nobody out there… I had just gotten back from living in New York and traveling quite a bit. I wasn’t really looking. But she came in, and we had a connection right away.”

The feeling was quite mutual. “I was really excited to work with another female cook,” says Summer. “She was very talented—she still is. I had heard a lot about her, and I was really attracted to her kind of high-end creativity.”
Summer points out that female chefs were, and still are, exceptions rather than the rule. And that Carlson’s experience lent her an undeniable glamour.

“She had just gotten off her New York stint of five or six years,” Summer adds. “She had taken a six-month tour of Southeast Asia. It was really exotic, a very attractive persona.”

There was a lot of work to do on the nascent Barbette, including developing a menu and renovating the space. Summer arrived with a skill set that extended beyond the professional kitchen.

“I had renovated a few homes in the past,” she says. “In addition to cooking, I had done some carpentry, some basic plumbing and electric. I was able to help develop recipes, style food, cook, clean, and contribute to the renovation.”
“She helped quite a bit with tiling and whatnot,” says Carlson. “It was when she showed up in her coveralls that I really fell in love with her.”

By the time Barbette officially opened, the two were an item. “Every day felt like a date when we were working together then,” remembers Carlson. “It was magic at the time, creating dishes. When you’re in love everything is so great—there’s no need to eat or sleep. It was a creative high all the time.”

“We’re very lucky,” adds Summer. “We collaborate, work, play, live together. Our magic keeps moving ahead.”

In the Newsroom:

Curtis Gilbert and Annie Baxter

MPR Annie Baxter Curtis Gilbert

Annie Baxter is a senior business reporter at Minnesota Public Radio; Curtis Gilbert is a member of the MPR News metro reporting unit. Most recently they co-hosted the special storytelling event Holidays on Our Minds for MPR. They have an 18-month-old son.

“I started at MPR in 2003, and Curtis started about a year after me,” Baxter says. “And for many years, he was just ‘Curtis Gilbert from work.’ I had no rapport with him whatsoever, although I thought he was really nice.”

“She was transferred down to the Twin Cities, and we were both seeing other people for quite a while,” adds Gilbert. “But we would hang out every now and again.”

As time went on, Baxter began to notice her coworker’s talents; slowly, this respect began developing into interest.

“He was a producer, which is a behind-the-scenes job, but occasionally he got to report his own stories, and I thought, Who is this?” she remembers. “At one point he was passed over for a job I thought he should have been offered, and I was advocating for him. Still, I never dreamed we would end up getting married.”

Over time, Baxter and Gilbert began spending more time together outside of work, although she was dating someone she now describes in less than flattering terms. One night, she observed her then-beau and Gilbert in the same room together, and the comparison firmly favored her colleague. Still: “It was not like, ‘I should be dating Curtis Gilbert,’” she says of her mindset at the time.

Soon enough Baxter had jettisoned her boyfriend, and Gilbert also came out of a relationship. “We started hanging out a lot more,” Gilbert says. “We were both talking through breakup stuff at that time—and potential adventures in online dating.”

By this point there was a tinge of romance in the air. But it was an evening with sweat on the agenda that pushed the relationship forward, when Baxter invited Gilbert to join her at a hot yoga class.

“I know yoga is really good for me, because it’s really hard for me,” Gilbert says. “Things that are supposed to be relaxation poses are hard for me—the only one that’s easy is the one where you just lie on the ground. And this hot yoga thing—I couldn’t even stay in the room, it was cranked up to like 90 degrees in there. We were doing stuff that makes me sweat like a pig anyway, so I had to step out to gasp for cool air in the lobby.”

Baxter invited Gilbert to her place for dinner afterward. “That’s when we had our first kiss,” he says. “Even if we had seen it coming, it was still a bit of a surprise. Things were a little awkward at work the next day.”

The two decided to get together for another dinner, in Gilbert’s words, to “maybe talk about what had happened.” They decided to continue what they had started.

“It was weird that I would date someone from work,” Baxter adds. “But then I trusted his opinion more than anybody else’s. If I had a problem with a story, or personally, I just found myself thinking that he was the person who would have the best counsel.”

These days, Gilbert recalls his and Baxter’s pre-parenthood era with a hearty laugh: “Those are starting to become foggy memories of a past life.”