Two rival chefs join forces
The Vellanos still fight over who makes dinner and critique each other’s cooking.
Photos by Rana Faure
If Jennifer and James Vellano’s backstory were made into a movie it would likely be one of those romantic comedies set in the high-pressure world of the restaurant business. Long days, competition, sabotage, and then the inevitable spark.
The couple met at Manhattan’s Per Se restaurant, as they were both vying for the job of saucier. They worked different shifts—James in the evening and Jennifer in the morning. They admit that they, in James’s words, “very aggressively worked toward that job.” So James wouldn’t have a sauce prepared that Jennifer needed for her shift, and Jennifer would leave work even if James needed some last-minute help.
They were both also dating other people at the time. James’s girlfriend lived in Albany, his hometown. One weekend he didn’t go to visit her and instead went with Jennifer to Union Square’s Heartland Brewery where they shared burgers and beers. They recognized the aforementioned spark, broke up with their partners, and a relationship—kept secret from their employer for a time—was born. As a bonus, they both got promotions.
Becoming a chef wasn’t initially what Jennifer envisioned for herself. She grew up in New Rochelle and attended the University of Vermont, studying wildlife fisheries and biology. She worked in cafes throughout school, and she called her father upon graduating, telling him she thought she wanted to be a chef. “He actually hyperventilated into a paper bag over the phone.” Her father told her she had to pay for training herself, so Jennifer got a job as an intern at Blue Hill in Greenwich Village and worked her way up in the industry.
While James had the restaurant field in his blood, he started school at University of Mississippi, intending to major in business. He then decided to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, eventually moving among the culinary school’s different locations around the world. He landed at Per Se in 2005 with Jennifer.
The couple became engaged in 2007, married in 2008, and Jennifer became a private chef in the city. “It’s difficult to sustain working those 12-14 hour days, five or six days a week,” she says.“And so, we began our slow migration out of the city,” James says. They opened Maison Privé, a gourmet catering company in Greenwich, while he still commuted to his job as chef at Bouchon Bakery. “We realized we could have a better life and earn better money being out on our own.” But they laughingly note as partners in business as well as in life, “certain lines do have to be drawn,” as Jennifer puts it.
Because they’re “gluttons for punishment,” in 2013, with a three-year-old son and a newborn daughter, they opened Bedford’s G.E. Brown. James notes the store “fell into their lap,” but admits it was a learning curve going from the catering field into retail. “We tried to shape G.E. Brown into the type of store we were looking for as residents—we open early and stay open a little later for commuters and people who are out early in the mornings with their children like we are,” James says. The couple recently put more on their plate by partnering with another Bedford couple to open Something Natural, a sandwich shop in Greenwich.
How to make time for themselves? The couple tries to go out to dinner once or twice a week, and Jennifer says they try to make those dinners “technology free.” And they love to take road trips with no particular destination in mind. “With three businesses, we’re so regimented, so we try to have some spontaneity in our vacations,” says James. And Jennifer notes that she particularly loves camping—going full circle back to her love of nature from her college days.
The Vellanos both say what they also love is Bedford—a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the city life they earlier embraced. “We’re embedded here and love raising our children in this environment,” says Jennifer.