Russell Braitsch didn't have the nerve to ask Sharon Mills out until she offered to slice fish for him. It was 1995, and Sharon was a culinary intern at Linwood's Cafe and Grill in Owings Mills. Russell was a saute chef there.
Russell was goofing around ("I like to lighten things up," he confides) when he looked up, saw Sharon and was smitten.
Days passed and Russell couldn't figure out how to ask Sharon for a date. One afternoon, he helped her make 300 hors d'oeuvres. When Sharon offered to return the favor by cutting fish for him, Russell suggested dinner instead.
The meal was a success. The couple found they had similar interests. Sharon has always wanted to cook for a living. She left Towson High School after her freshman year to enter the culinary arts program at Carver Center for Arts and Technology. Before she and Russell met, she had already been accepted into the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York.
Russell, who grew up in the Carroll County community of Sykesville, became a dishwasher at a local restaurant when he was 14. He worked his way up to line cook at another restaurant, but it wasn't until he was recovering from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in 1991 that he developed a real interest in the restaurant field, he says.
Getting to know Sharon added to that interest. A month after they met, Sharon's Carver internship took her to Peerce's Plantation in Baltimore County. Four months later -- while Sharon was still studying in Peerce's kitchen -- Russell was hired there as a saute cook.
Working in the same kitchen was great for the couple, who say they fell in love on their second date.
"It was the kind of head-over-heels crazy love -- confused but happy because you realize you've met the person you want to spend your life with," Sharon recalls.
With her parents' blessing, Russell proposed after Sharon's high school prom from Carver in 1996. That July, the couple left for New York. For the next three years, Sharon attended classes while Russell worked at various acclaimed restaurants in the Hudson River Valley.
Sharon and Russell's schedules were so hectic that they often found themselves sitting down to gourmet dinners (porcini-encrusted lamb with vanilla bean sweet potato puree ) at 1 a.m.
Sharon graduated from the institute's bachelor's program in restaurant management in October.
A month later, Russell became sous-chef -- the executive chef's assistant -- at Xaviar's, a 40-seat restaurant in the Hudson River Valley where the menu changes daily and diners have to wait for months to get a reservation.
In January, Sharon became sous chef at La Cremaillere, a French restaurant on the New York-Connecticut border. A 1998 Zagat review called the restaurant the "creme de la creme" of "beautifully presented contemporary French food."
On May 19, Sharon, 22, and Russell, 25, returned to Baltimore for an event they planned themselves: their wedding and reception at Westminster Hall.
Sharon's father Frank Mills was best man. Her mother Ellen and Russell's mother Joyce were among the guests. A candle was lighted in memory of Russell's father, the late John Braitsch.
The meal for 150 began with a mesclun salad in a champagne vinaigrette and ended with lemon chiffon wedding cake with raspberry filling and lemon buttercream icing -- a gift from a friend who is a pastry chef.
Sharon and Russell have already chosen a name for the four-star restaurant they hope to open someday. It will be called the Sixth Rose. When Russell proposed and gave Sharon a dozen roses, it was on the sixth rose that Sharon found her engagement ring.