They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach ... but what happens when your man is one of Canberra's best Italian chefs?
Even more ironically, when you yourself head up your own restaurant in one of the city's premier hotels.
We're crowning chefs Francesco Balestrieri, from Agostini's, and Jennie Tressler, from First Edition, as Canberra's first couple of cooking. We caught them in a quiet moment, out of the kitchen, ahead of Valentine's Day, to talk romance, food, working together and how they've managed to last 12 years together while working in such a demanding industry.
The pair first met in 2008 when Balestrieri moved to Canberra from Rome, travelling the world as a young 22 year old. They were working together in the kitchen L'unico in Kingston and Tressler remembers the first time she laid eyes on Balestrieri.
"I came into work and the head chef said make sure you're laughing before you head into the kitchen, I had no idea what he was talking about," she says.
"I went into the kitchen and there's Francesco dressed in fluorescent chef's gear, I'd never seen anything like it."
Six months later Balestrieri worked up the courage to ask Tressler out for a drink after work and the rest is history.
There's a lovely sense of ease between them, they finish each other's sentences, Balestrieri pours two wines as props for The Canberra Times photo shoot and knows his partner would prefer a rose to a red.
Tressler says there was an ease about them from the beginning.
"When I first started working with Francesco it just worked well from the start," she says. "It was like dancing together in the kitchen.
"We just moved around the space well, instinctively knew what the other was going to do."
Tressler says she's learned an enormous amount from Balestrieri. Canberra born and raised Tressler was comfortable cooking all sorts of different cuisines but Balestrieri was trained in traditional Italian.
"We're from different backgrounds and cultures, and in Australia produce is accessible all year round, when you go to Italy it's only available in season, and he's taught me how to use produce in a more raw realistic way, instead of overloading dishes with different techniques.
"The simplicity of Italian cooking is showcasing the actual product rather than messing about with it."
Balestrieri says he has learned calmness from Tressler.
"She's so organised and calm and she thinks about things before she does stuff," he says.
"I'm the opposite, maybe impulsive, but together we work well."
In 2011 the couple moved back to Rome and opened a small restaurant together before returning to Australia in 2014.
Tressler picked up work at the QT Hotel, before moving over to First Edition at the Novotel in 2015. She's been executive chef there since April 2015.
Balestrieri too picked up work at QT but in 2015 moved to East Hotel and opened Joe's Bar. In 2016 the hotel's main restaurant became vacant and he steered the opening of Agostini's, a large family style Italian restaurant with a focus on fresh pasta, pizza and produce.
Food is a lot about memories, about moments in time, about taking someone back to a particular time and place with a meal.Jennie Tressler
They're both busy working split shifts, weekends, catering for large functions, the day to day details that heading a large kitchen dish up.
"I can't think of anyone else who would totally understand my job," says Tressler.
"Who would get the demanding side of it, the ups the downs, Francesco understands everything about it.
"Potentially, if he didn't work in the industry, it would be difficult to understand all those holidays and occasions and weekends you miss."
Balestrieri says it's nice to come home when you've had a big, demanding night and know that your partner understands what you've been through.
"We might pour a glass of wine, talk out a few things, hear a different perspective, it certainly helps."
Who does the cooking at home? They steal a glance and have a good laugh.
"Basically the rule is whoever gets home first is the one who's cooking," Tressler says. Balestrieri jokes about often being caught up at work in late meetings, "which might involve a glass of wine".
He'll often bring a pizza home from Agostini's kitchen. There's an eponymous pizza on the summer menu, the "Francesco", with pork and fennel sausage, roast potatoes, 'nduja (a spicy, spreadable salami) and mozzarella.
"That pizza is my favourite," Tressler says. "It's delicious and it shows how you don't have to do much with quality produce."
Can they remember the first meal they cooked each other, in those early days of a romance when you are indeed trying to find the way to someone's heart.
"I'm sure it was pasta," says Balestrieri. "I think it was a tortellini, with peas, cream, mushrooms and pancetta." Tressler is sure she was going through a duck ragu phase back when they first met.
"For Valentine's Day now I would cook him something that would bring back a memory," she says.
"For me that would be our wedding cake, which I made, I would redo the same flavour compositions, to go back to that particular time.
"Food is a lot about memories, about moments in time, about taking someone back to a particular time and place with a meal."
So think about that if you're trying to find a way to someone's heart through their stomach.
Or better yet, while you're cooking these recipes from Balestrieri and Tressler.
Francesco and Jennie's wedding cake
Bitter chocolate, rose water mud, white chocolate buttercream, fresh raspberry
125g unsalted butter
220g caster sugar
70ml almond milk
2 free range eggs
3 ml rosewater (you could also use orange blossom)
125g self raising flour
12 g plain flour
1. Preheat oven to 160C and line and grease two 10cm cake tins.
2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan heat the water, butter, caster sugar. When sugar is dissolved take mixture off the heat and let cool to room temperature.
3. In a separate bowl mix egg, rose water, and almond milk. Add this mix to the cooled chocolate mix
4. In another bowl mix all dry ingredients. Slowly add your chocolate mix. Fill cake tins and bake for 30 mins or until set.
5. When cakes is completely cool cut into four levels and set aside for filling
6. Fill your cakes with butter cream and fresh raspberries or any other berries/ passionfruit you like.
White chocolate butter cream:
125g softened usalted butter
115g icing sugar
200g white chocolate melted and cooled to room temperature
Method: Whisk butter and icing sugar. Take care not to over whisk as butter can separate. Slowly add white chocolate.
Makes 2 mini mud cakes can also be made as cupcakes can be made up to two days in advance
Fresh pasta with saffron and zucchini blossoms
If using dry pasta you can use mezze maniche or rigatoni
240g 00 flour
60g ground semolina
1. Attach dough hook to mixer and put flours in the bowl. In a jug, lightly mix the egg, oil and salt. Slowly add to the flour mix on low. Mix for three minutes. Take out the dough and rest for one hour.
2. Using the thickest setting on your pasta machine start feeding through the dough. Fold pasta over itself and put back through the machine. Continue this process lowering the thickness and folding two times. When your pasta is around 2 mm thick you can slice your pasta into fettucini.
Saffron and baby zucchini blossom sauce
25ml olive oil
5 baby zucchini blossoms
parmesan to taste
1. Fry eshallot in olive oil with the thinly sliced baby zucchini. Add cream and saffron and allow to simmer to bleed out the saffron colour and aroma. Lastly add your blossom.
2. Boil your fresh pasta in salted water for approximately three minutes until cooked.
3. Toss through saffron sauce. With parmesan as desired.