How La Palma chef Craig Harding found love across the kitchen pass

Chef Craig Harding’s name has become synonymous with delicious Italian food in the city. He is the chef and owner of La Palma, Constantine and previously Campagnolo. He’s spent much of his life in the kitchen, and it was also in the kitchen where he met his wife, interior designer and creative director Alexandra Hutchison.

How they met

We met on opposite sides of the kitchen pass. I was a young first-time sous-chef and Alex was a part-time server and a full-time interior design major at Ryerson University.

The first date

We met for drinks at the bar at Canoe where I surprised Alex with tickets for John Mayer’s Continuum Tour Spring 2007. We drank tall mugs of beer and took selfies before selfies were a thing. It was unforgettable.

The courtship

It was slow at first, as Alex was convinced she was going to do her design post-grad in London. It was probably the “let’s have fun with no pressure” that ultimately pulled us closer together.

The proposal

It was Christmas Eve 2012. We had a fun, dressy dinner planned at the Royal York Hotel and the ring box was inconspicuously hiding in several larger gifts, like a Russian nesting doll, under the tree for weeks. We have a tradition in our house of giving each other a single gift on the 24th, so it was the perfect opportunity to open that single gift before dinner with a little bubbly already on the go. We were almost derailed with gift-giving neighbours and an early Uber driver at the door, but the ring was revealed, and we were only 15 minutes late for our dinner reservation in the end!

The wedding and honeymoon

We were married on Aug. 3, 2013, at Stratus Winery in Niagara. Alex grew up in Niagara, so it was the perfect place to celebrate. We chose our honeymoon destination over pho at Golden Turtle in the fall of 2013, and on Dec.  24,  we went to Hong Kong for five days before flying to Vietnam and exploring Da Nang, Hanoi and Halong Bay.

craig harding

The offspring

No kids — just a bernedoodle named Jane.

Balancing careers and marriage

I think that’s the toughest part. We are both entrepreneurs, so the work is constant, and there is no real schedule most weeks. We are just sort of on and available for whatever the business requires. Now, the saving grace is that we are working together on several projects and we work well in that environment, so we get to spend time together and collaborate on our restaurants.

Surviving lockdown   

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. The stress of our business downturn is real, but we have both had success trying new things and we have some really good ideas for new businesses going forward in 2021. We also got a puppy in August, so that just made everything better.

The home

We’ve been living in the Humber Bay Shores area for the last two and a half years.

Secret of success

I think allowing each other the space to create unique personal and professional goals and then helping each other achieve those dreams has been the key to our success. Whether it’s risking everything for a restaurant or moving to New York City for a master’s degree in interior design, we are always each other’s biggest cheerleaders no matter how lofty the plan is.

Life after retirement

Continuing our charity work and being a little more hands-on with the organizations that we support, like the Jane Goodall Institute. Spending time by the lake up north at our cottage and of course eating very well!

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