Early on, Dianne Christensen taught her four children about food and eating right and now all four are great cooks, the CEO of Christensen Associates and a partner in L’Etoile, said with a broad smile during a recent interview.
Christensen founded Christensen Associates with her former husband, Laurits R. Christensen, and Doug Caves in 1976.
The economic consulting company has about 50 employees, who now own a majority of the company.
Christensen, 63, is from Ottawa, Canada. She went to college and graduate school in Canada and moved to Madison in 1973.
She is now married to Roy Christianson (his last name is spelled differently than hers).
Christensen is the new chair of the Overture Center board, which she has served on for three years. Before that, she was a member of the Madison Cultural Arts District board, which ran the Overture Center from its inception until a nonprofit assumed operations in 2012.
She headed the Overture CEO search committee in 2012, and has presented Overture with two recent challenge grants, one for $250,000 and another for $100,000.
In June 2007, she became a partner in L’Etoile. She owns the restaurant and its more casual counterpart, Graze, with Tory Miller, Krys Wachowiak and Tracey Solverson.
Q: How often do you get to Overture Center performances?
A: Twice a month.
Q: What do you normally see at the Overture Center?
A: Broadway. We’re season ticket holders. I take my daughter and her family. ... I always try to see a couple of the CTM productions each year. The symphony, at times. And other of the Overture Presents shows. And Forward Theater is on my list to get to.
Q: What is best performance that you’ve seen there in the last few years?
A: Well, there’s interesting performances and there’s fun performances. “Jersey Boys” was the most fun performance. The performance I’m most excited about is “War Horse,” which is coming this year. I saw it at Lincoln Center and it’s an amazing story — you learn about history. It’s incredible staging and it totally captures you. I remember the horse going up the aisle in Lincoln Center and thinking, “There’s a horse going up the aisle, and then you say, “No, no, it’s a puppet.”
Q: Why did you get into the L’Etoile/Graze side of things?
A: I’ve always loved food and the restaurant industry, but I wanted four children, and I’m a very good economist, and it made far more sense for me to be an economist and grow this company, raise my children, and have food as an avocation. I always loved entertaining. I viewed it as setting the stage for conversation. And now I can do it in a bigger framework.
Q: How often do you get to L’Etoile to eat?
A: A couple of times a month. I was there the other night with my son. We were in the front window and I noted the people coming out of Graze. And everyone was hugging and high-fiving, and it was clear that they had had a wonderful experience. It’s more than just going in for dinner and good food. People come together, and that’s what I love about the restaurant industry. It brings people together to have a good experience.
Q: What is your favorite thing on the menu?
A: On L’Etoile’s menu it would be the bouillabaisse, and on the Graze menu, what did I last have? I had the gnocchi. They were wonderful. And I love our pickle platter. There is always a selection of pickles year-round. It’s great to be shared. I also love the charcuterie.
Q: With the economy in a fragile recovery, how is business at L’Etoile?
A: It’s great. We never receded. Last year was somewhat flat at L’Etoile, but this year business is up. Graze has been up every year.