Cooking and music… and ooh la la, 25 years later

| January 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

THE WEDDING was at the groom’s family home in New Jersey.

“Food kind of brought us together,” says chef and financier Gene Straub of meeting his wife Janneke.

To be fair, music and the City of Lights also played a role in the Larchmont Village couple’s romance.

While Janneke lived in the French capital, Gene’s route to Paris was a circuitous one, starting on the East Coast of the U.S.

“In 1987 I was on Wall Street. I worked at E.F. Hutton for three wonderful months,” Gene recalls. His dream of being a commodities trader was cut short when the stock market crashed.

He moved to Chicago and worked in finance at both PBS and at Hyatt for seven years, when he decided it was time to pursue his other dream — the one he put on hold to appease his father.

He packed his bags and left the states for Le Cordon Bleu, where he got by on “kitchen French… I can swear like a banshee. It’s all slang in French kitchens.”

Two years later he was getting ready to move to Hong Kong to hone his culinary skills, when a friend offered him a catering job at a two-week chamber music festival in Saint-Nazaire, on the west coast of France.

While Gene was busy roasting and baking for 40 violinists and cellists, Janneke was coordinating the concerts. She couldn’t drive, and so Gene chauffeured. He also set aside a lunch for her every day, and she reciprocated with candy for him and his friend.

“I liked her from the moment I met her,” he recalled.

At the end of the festival, Gene opted to take the train back to Paris with Janneke instead of the car with his friend, and “from there we started dating.”

Hong Kong was now out of the picture, and Gene put his talents to good use at a restaurant. He hoped to open a catering business but didn’t get far with the French, who, he said, were averse to entrepreneurship.

When a friend told him about a job opening at 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles, the New Jersey native and Michigan State University grad was not keen about Los Angeles, but he went to interview anyway and returned to Paris with a job offer.

Unsure of what to do, he accompanied Janneke to London for a chamber music festival at Wigmore Hall, where they talked about their future options on London Bridge over the River Thames.

When they returned to Paris, Janneke learned the restaurant where she worked, and they lived above, had been sold, and she no longer had a job.

The decision made for them, they gave away their possessions and left for Los Angeles, where they rented a purple Ford Fiesta and dined at a Denny’s before settling in an apartment on Rossmore Avenue. Without a social security number or driver’s license Gene drove Janneke to her first job at Tower Records. “She was totally reliant on me.”

STRAUBS at a game at the Los Angeles Football Club.

Born in La Jolla, where Janneke’s father was getting a Ph.D. at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Janneke is a first-generation daughter to Dutch parents. She moved back to France when she was five and studied music also at Sorbonne University.

“Growing up in Paris, I never thought that I would be so adventurous, would marry an American, live in the U.S. … until I met Gene,” Janneke says.

“I started working at the LAPhil shortly after we arrived in 1995. And, I am very fortunate, to this day, to work in a field that I am passionate about. LA Opera is one of the best and most forward-looking opera companies in the world.”

She raises funds for Los Angeles Opera, where she has been director of leadership gifts since 2015. She also ran the Ojai Music Festival and was executive director of American Youth Symphony following a long stint at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

After the Fox job, Gene launched several charter schools including Larchmont Charter, and he now is executive vice president and chief finance and operating officer for Children’s Institute (CII). Founded in 1906, CII supports families who have seen the greatest injustices. Its three volunteer auxiliary groups are the Colleagues, C.H.I.P.S. (Colleagues Helpers in Philanthropic Service) and Les Amis.

The couple has two children: Nicholas, 19, plays guitar, and Juliette, 23, is a marine biologist for SeaWorld San Antonio. She studied flute like her mother and plans to incorporate music in her work with sea animals, a growing trend, explains Gene.

Janneke and Gene shop at farmers’ markets and cook spontaneously, whatever’s fresh. “We still keep to the French style,” Gene says, adding that returning to France to run a B&B is not off the table.

Of course, he does most of the family cooking, preparing everything from duck to Janneke’s favorite — a Meyer lemon tart.

To celebrate their 25th, they may head up to Lake Tahoe, pandemic allowing, for some hiking and kayaking.

They were married on April 2 at his family’s home in New Jersey. “There was no way I was going to get married on April 1, April Fool’s,” says Gene.

Sounds like that was a good omen.

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Category: People

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