Plate to Pasture

This beautiful couple has found domestic bliss in their rural paradise.

A CULINARY HISTORY



Meet Deborah and Annichele. Deborah is a celebrity chef, in addition to being (as she puts it) “a fairy-farm-mother, possum assassin and snake tamer.” Annichele has a corporate background and is now a self-described chicken wrangler/Chihuahua tamer/healthcare proxy and outdoor retail sales associate. They make their home in beautiful Hillsborough, NC; on a piece of pastoral paradise they’ve dubbed Rockabilly Farm—a real, honest-to-goodness, working farm. “It's a happy marriage of natural surroundings,” they say, “with a large vegetable garden, free-roaming chickens, a big red barn and a big green tractor (John Deere, of course).”



This couple didn’t always rock the rural lifestyle. Both women are former residents of NYC, the nation’s biggest urban metropolis, and that’s where they met in 1996. “Deb came rollerblading into the Espresso Bar on Christopher Street where I worked part-time with a longtime friend of hers,” remembers Annichele. “I was wowed by her smile and her confidence as she glided past me. We were introduced, but since I was manning the counter while they chatted, I didn't get to hang out and get to know more about her.” Later, Annichele found out just enough about Deborah, then a well-known chef at a Union Square eatery—she was already taken. So it would be a few more years before the two got together. But get together they did. After a lengthy phase of admiring from afar, casual conversations and a bit of humorous miscommunication, the timing was finally right. Deborah’s wingman, Daniel, helped move things along.



“THIS MORNING WAS DIFFERENT”



By the end of millennium, Deborah felt on top of the world. She was back in New York after a stint in South Beach, where she owned an Asian restaurant and had had a show on the Food Network; her culinary career was a great success; she was dating Annichele; she was training to fight in a Golden Gloves boxing competition. Then her world changed forever. “On October 12, 2000, I strapped on my blades, kissed Anni goodbye and started down Ninth Avenue toward SoHo. I was enjoying my favorite time of the day—early morning—[but] this morning was different: I was struck by a Jeep Cherokee and woke up in an ambulance.” Left with severe spinal damage, it was uncertain if she’d ever walk or work again. Thankfully, a talented team of neurosurgeons implanted bionic devices to electronically intercept pain signals to Deborah’s brain. With her own inner strength and determination—and with Annichele's love and help—Deborah did walk and work again. Just a week before 9/11, she opened a West Village restaurant, the critically acclaimed Deborah Life Love Food.



For much of the next decade, with Anni by her side, Deborah not only survived; she flourished. “My body was and is a work in progress…Anni has been by my side always, anything to help, even after a long day on her job, then heading to wait tables for me in the restaurant when I needed her. She is, in a word, amazing. Period.” Anni has a little trouble choosing her favorite thing about Deb: “I have to pick just one? Her warm, generous heart and winning smile can turn anyone's day into a better one. I've witnessed her strike up a conversation with a complete stranger who might look a little down and the next thing you know, they're smiling, and we're invited for dinner.” They both seem to have found strength in each other, so when they decided to set off on a brand new adventure, they had an enduring, time-tested bond to take with them.



PUTTING DOWN ROOTS



When they started searching for their bucolic dream property, Deborah and Annichele looked long and hard before settling on the historic town of Hillsborough, NC, with which they both fell in love. With its art galleries and restaurants—and the occasional gay couple holding hands—there’s enough of a cultural vibe to attract two city girls. It’s not Hooterville. But the surrounding landscape is, as Deborah describes, “a rural mecca of century-old, family-owned farms.” There, they found a place in the country to put down roots, an older homestead that needed renovation.



They started Rockabilly Farm slowly, taking one day at a time. After decades in NYC, the quiet and total nighttime darkness that came with living out in the country took a bit of getting used to, while insects and predators of all shapes and sizes also made their move closer to Mother Nature more challenging. But they adjusted, and today Rockabilly Farm is shaping up quite nicely.



Although Annichele and Deborah became legal domestic partners in 2004, it wasn’t until last December that they officially tied the knot. After same-sex marriage became legal in New York in 2011, they considered returning to say their “I do’s” there, but Deborah was insistent that they do it in the state they now called home. So after Amendment 1 was overturned in North Carolina, they got married on December 13, 2014 in an intimate outdoor ceremony in the woods. “It was a beautiful, sunny, cool day, the sounds of the river flowing, birds were chirping and our dear friend, Mary, played and sang a song she wrote for us for our wedding, as well as ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ because it’s one of our favorite songs,” they remember. “It was beautiful. Simply beautiful.”



WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS



This extraordinary couple has big things planned for the future. They’re planning a large New York wedding to celebrate their union with  all their northern friends. They want to continue helping their community, providing fresh foods and educating as many people as possible about the importance of nutrition. According to Annichele, “We want everyone to grow their own food even if you live in an apartment and, most importantly, buy what's in season…In time, we will be a sustainable farm with educational outreach programs to help everyone have access to better fresh food choices.” They’re currently working to create a farm-fresh local food bank. Says Deborah, “To feed the world would be a pretty cool goal. With Anni by my side, I feel we can do anything.”