- Melissa Pasanen
- Lisa Fennimore and Nate Wright
Valentine's Day is special for Lisa Fennimore and Nate Wright — but not because the couple has ever sat down together for a romantic meal on February 14. The chefs, who co-own Rutland deli and catering business Marble Valley Kitchen, met on Valentine's Day 2006, when Wright hired Fennimore to work for him at a now-closed Ludlow spa resort.
They quickly became good friends. Both were married at the time, though Fennimore, now 45, admitted that she felt a spark. "He's a handsome devil," she said with a laugh, "but he was my boss."
After a year, Wright, now 46, moved on to a new job, and the pair stayed loosely in touch on social media. In 2020, about a year after they reconnected in person, Wright, his teenage son and their dog moved into the Brandon home where Fennimore lived with her then-5-year-old son and two cats. Coincidentally, that day was also Valentine's Day.
"We had a snowstorm, and you guys just never left," Fennimore recalled.
The following month, the country went into pandemic lockdown, and Wright's college-age daughter joined them. "That's one hell of a way to cement a family," Fennimore joked as the couple chatted in their small deli after the lunch rush.
- Melissa Pasanen
- Window décor at Marble Valley Kitchen
They opened the Marble Valley Kitchen deli last year on February 23, "a week late," Wright said, rueful at having missed the opportunity to mark a third milestone on Valentine's Day.
In the building that formerly housed the Killington Avenue Deli, the pair prepares sandwiches, soups, salads, baked goods, and heat-and-eat meals, on top of the catering Wright previously offered from their licensed home kitchen in Proctor.
For the new deli, Fennimore left her job as a high school culinary arts instructor, and the couple became partners in life and business. Or, as Wright put it, "copilots of our little kitchen spaceship."
In some ways, Fennimore mused, their professional relationship needs more tending than the personal one. Empathy helps. "When I start to get grumpy, Nate hands me a cookie," she said.
Wright generally specializes on the savory side, making soups such as chunky clam chowder ($6.95); curing corned beef in-house for the grilled Reuben ($10.95); and whipping up maple-walnut-basil mayo for the Marble Valley Melt ($10.95), which is stacked with turkey, smoked Gouda and apple.
- Melissa Pasanen
- Oatmeal chocolate chip cookie
Fennimore does most of the baking, including daily quiches such as caramelized onion and mushroom ($5.95 per slice), oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with a whisper of cinnamon ($1), and chocolate cupcakes topped with chocolate marshmallow fluff frosting ($2). The pair share the salad station, tossing greens, bacon, hard-cooked egg, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, black olives and avocado for hearty Cobb salads ($8.95).
Wright and Fennimore admitted that personal time is scarce. "The blessing and the curse is that we get up together, go to work together, go home together," Fennimore said.
"We're trying hard to say [sometimes], 'Tonight's date night; we're not talking business,'" Wright said.
As long as they are chefs, Fennimore and Wright will probably never enjoy a special February 14 dinner, though they do intend to get to Burlington's A Single Pebble for a long-postponed celebratory date night at some point.
This Valentine's Day, they'll be busy cooking preordered meals ($60 for two) featuring teriyaki steak tips, chile-lime shrimp skewers, twice-baked potatoes, asparagus, and a dessert of chocolate mousse or a strawberry-frosted lemon cupcake.
Even if they end up with leftovers, "We try it so many times to make sure it's good," Wright said, "we don't really want to eat it after that."
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