"It's a hell of a backyard," Fred Landman says, waving his ubiquitous cigar at the nine acres behind the stately Georgian house he shares with his wife, Seen Lippert. That's one way to describe a sprawling Arcadian fantasy that features a grotto, an orchard, an arbor dripping with wisteria and roses, a spirit bridge winding through a sea of 12,000 budding Siberian irises, and, coming next spring, a Chinese pavilion on its own island. He pauses to do a quick calculation, then grins. "I've planted 350,000 bulbs in the last seven years." On this sunny afternoon in Greenwich, Connecticut, the couple is having lunch in the outdoor kitchen overlooking the pool. "We practically live out here when it gets warm," Lippert calls from behind a grill banked with roses.
If the flower gardens are Landman's domain, the kitchen garden has been Lippert's ever since the two got married on the grounds in 2003. Although she's a long way from her native Fresno, Lippert still looks the part of a California girl, with her streaky strawberry-blond hair and toothy smile. (Now her legal name, "Seen" was originally a childhood attempt on the part of one of her six siblings to pronounce "Christine.") After graduating at the top of her class from the Culinary Institute of America, Lippert cooked for 10 years at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters. In 1998, Eli Zabar lured her to New York City to open the critically acclaimed but short-lived Across the Street. Then, while scouting for space to open her own restaurant, she was introduced to Landman.
"I'd resigned myself to being the old lady with twenty cats, but I thought, I'll do it one more time," she says of her decision to go on yet another blind date after 10 years of being divorced. On their second date, Landman cooked her dinner. It's no surprise that the former president and CEO of PanAmSat, a global commercial satellite company, knows how to close a deal. "I thought that was a pretty bold move," Lippert says with a smile. "When you're a chef, no one ever wants to cook for you."