Before Mathilde Froustey met her now-fiancé, she invited him to come watch her dance—even though he'd never been to a ballet. He's now seen every single performance she's given since that night. "Even when I did six Nutcrackers!" Froustey exclaims.
A mutual friend brought the San Francisco Ballet principal to Mourad Lahlou's Michelin-starred restaurant, Mourad, last year. Although Lahlou wasn't working that night, the friend tagged both in an Instagram post. Lahlou wrote back that they should all grab a coffee together, but Froustey was in the middle of SFB's season and only had time after performances. So he came to watch her dance in Cathy Marston's Snowblind, and the two met at the stage door afterwards.
As the chef of two top restaurants in San Francisco—including his eponymous Mourad and the newly-launched Moroccan-Mexican Amara—he works long, late nights more often than not. But he'll always take off to watch her dance.
In August, he asked her to marry him.
"When we first started dating, we thought our worlds were so different, but we have the same pressure, the same joy, the same tiredness but feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day," says Froustey. "We don't work in finance, we don't save lives. Both of our jobs are about giving joy to people."
Lahlou, who's originally from Marrakech, Morocco, learned to cook when he grew homesick while studying economics at San Francisco State University, and started regularly calling his mother to get recipes. He never attended culinary school; his dishes are built around family traditions and fresh, organic food. That focus has rubbed off on Froustey, who now makes a point to focus her diet on organic, high-quality ingredients.
"Dancers are very careful about what they eat, and we sometimes get scared of certain elements, like, 'I don't eat meat, or else I will get fat,' " says Froustey. "Mourad's helped me make peace with elements I could be scared of. He cooks chicken with olive oil and vegetables—amazing, healthy food. It's not about quantity, it's about quality."
Still, Froustey's pre-performance meal plan remains the same: She eats about five hours before curtain, then keeps her sugar levels high with pieces of chocolate, granola bars or Gu, the energy gels that runners eat during marathons. She'll eat dinner with Lahlou after the show, unwinding and connecting with each other over a plate of good food.
Often, the couple is both so tired by the end of the night that instead of cooking, they'll snack on nuts, fruit and cheese. "He's been around food all day, and doesn't always want to cook," explains Froustey. "And it's intimidating for me to cook for him. He's really sweet so he doesn't say anything, but I can see he doesn't like my food." (When they do cook at home, she prefers playing the role of sous chef.)
But for their wedding in San Francisco this September, both are looking forward to a big party—and, we can only imagine, lots of good food.