If thoughts of a romantic dinner at a hot restaurant with your significant other are on your mind for Valentine’s Day, you are most certainly not in a relationship with a chef. Why? Because, like most other holidays, the love of your life will be in the restaurant kitchen cooking for everyone else in town, and you will be eating by yourself, laughing at your own jokes.
This is just one of the many life changes you should be prepared for should you choose to enter into a relationship with a chef; some negative, many positive.
Chefs have the reputation for being hard partiers but, while some are, those who are won’t last long in a stressful kitchen atmosphere. Chefs work exceedingly long hours. It’s sort of like being with a doctor, so 12- to 16-hour days six days a week aren’t out of the question. Besides that, line cooks call in sick and deliveries go missing, so chefs are always on call.
“The hours that I do see my husband are either while sleeping or waking up to try to sneak a quick breakfast in together,” says Nicole Mersmann, wife of chef Andrew Mersmann, executive director of operations for La Poste and Django Western Taco.
If you’re not prepared to live most of your life as a single person, there is one way around it, and Leigh Enderle, girlfriend of chef Mike Florea has it figured out. Enderle and Florea run Maribelle’s eat + drink together, with Enderle handling the front of the restaurant, while Florea mans the kitchen.
Most people envision life with a chef to be a constant rotation of glamorous five-star home-cooked meals. Well, yes, that can be the case — if the spouse is willing to do the cooking. Patrick Nalty, husband of Nectar chef Julie Francis, puts it this way: “Since Julie is not really going to cook at home, unless it is for the holidays or a special occasion, I do most of the cooking. I would describe it as ‘lost in the kitchen.’ But it has become enjoyable for me and a pleasant surprise that I can put together a meal we both enjoy.”
Nalty is often called upon to help out when Francis is “in the weeds,” the popular restaurant term for being super busy. “My background as a professional dancer does not always prepare me for some of the jobs I help Julie with at the restaurant,” Nalty says. “Julie is often busy with a million things and sends me shopping at Findlay Market. Usually, there is some confusion. Do you want chickpeas or garbanzos? Which? Or was it kombu, kimchi or confit? You wanted Italian parsley, not cilantro? They look pretty similar to me.”
Once you’ve gotten used to the fact that, like Valentine’s Day, spending holidays with your significant other is pretty unrealistic, you might have a more difficult time explaining this to your slightly less understanding family and friends. Missed birthday parties and anniversaries are the norm, but there are more expectations that must be lowered. Restaurant families can be like military families, moving often from job to job. And folks are always eager for a bite of that tasty, chef-prepared cuisine.
“When we visit friends or family out of town, they like to assume Mike will be cooking dinner without actually consulting him,” Enderle says. “Can you imagine going to visit someone and them expecting you to put together a marketing plan or sketch up some engineering drawings while you are there? Mike takes it in stride, but he really appreciates some notice for planning purposes. Ultimately, we would prefer to go to a nice restaurant, and let someone else cook for us.”
The upsides of being with a chef can be fabulous. They are creative, passionate artists who love to share with one another. When visiting another restaurant with your chef, prepare to be spoiled. Chefs also probably got into the field for a very good reason; they have the desire to please people, and that can make for a very loving, caring partner.
“Aside from the long hours and time spent apart, I have learned to appreciate that being married to someone who lives to work for his passion is quite amazing,” Mersmann says. “The passion that a chef holds is unmatchable and I have learned to appreciate this over time. When I first met Andrew, I asked why he wanted to cook, he answered very matter-of-factly, ‘I like to make people happy, and food makes people happy, so I cook food’ — how can you not love it?”