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“We can work out relationship out in the kitchen,” Courtney Burns of Bar Tartine told us of working with Nick Balla. And the couple has plenty of outlets for working it out—at the restaurant everything is processed in-house. They pickle vegetables, make the cheese and create the spices. With a menu based upon what the farmers deliver to them, they have plenty to keep them busy.

The paths that Courtney and Nick took to cooking were quite different. Nick grew up as the kid who would always cook for his friends—he simply loved cooking. He lived in Hungary throughout high school, then attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduation, he pursued an interested in Japanese cooking.

While Nick was learning to cook in a school setting, Courtney had packed up her bags after college and moved to Australia. In need of a job, she started cooking—it seemed like a natural fit, since she had attended culinary camp for years as a kid.

She was set to continue traveling, but a last minute change in her plans led her to reevaluate. She knew she wanted to cook, so that would either mean a move from her home in Chicago to New York or California.

With her car packed up and a backpack full of her belongings, Courtney hit the road to head west. Nick and Courtney’s paths crossed in California at a Japanese food conference. Courtney was teaching at the Culinary Institute at the time and Nick was in charge of a cooking demo.

When the two aren’t working, there’s one menu item they are always eating at home: the ploughman’s lunch. “It’s like an indoor picnic,” Courtney explained of the Hungarian inspired dish. It’s a spread of vegetables, cheese, bread, vegetables and some meats. It’s the perfect simple combination to be laid out on the table after work, and with endless combinations, it never gets old!

 
Nick is wearing the Crane in Mallard Green and Courtney is wearing the Sims in Striped Sassafras.
Photos by Nick Fay

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