My husband’s passion for food is one of the most attractive things about him. In fact, it’s the main reason I messaged him on OKCupid. I think I said something like, “You have a nice smile and can cook. That’s hot.”
Since I like to eat and can’t cook for shit, it was pretty exciting when he messaged me back. After spending hours and hours on the phone over the course of three days, he asked me to visit him at his restaurant, after closing, promising to make me dinner. I obliged.
Our first date was basically like a scene from a movie. I wore a short, red dress and he had on one of those newsboy caps. A server greeted me at the door and directed me to where my now-husband was sitting. Candles were lit, wine was waiting to be poured, and Dan was grinning ear to ear.
He stood up and handed me a menu, instructing me to order anything I wanted. After telling him my selection, he went inside the kitchen and got to work.
I kept having to pinch myself, wondering which romantic comedy I had stepped into. I could get used to poached pears and filet mignon, I thought.
After weeks of eating out at other restaurants (and sneaking a peak inside Dan’s refrigerator), I soon realized that dating a chef is not the same as acquiring a personal chef. “Chefs don’t always eat that great at home,” he explained. “When the restaurant is closed, I usually order takeout or warm up a few Toaster Strudels. The last thing I want to do is cook on my days off.”
“Does that mean you’d like me to cook for you?” I asked, a little scared.
“That’d be nice, but honestly, it doesn’t take much to make me happy. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich after a long shift is like heaven. As long as I don’t have to cook it, I’ll eat it.”
This made sense to me at the time and makes even better sense now. After a sixty-hour work week, the last thing I’d want is for Dan to feel an obligation to feed me. Because we live within close proximity to his restaurant, he’s often urging me to order off the menu during business hours. After three years of marriage, I still don’t do this too frequently.
As an exhausted social worker, I know a thing or two about boundaries and never want to cross his. (When I’m sick, however, you best believe I ask him to make me chicken noodle soup. He always does.)
Even so, one of my biggest dreams is that someday we’ll be able to spend Valentine’s Day together. You see, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and Mother’s Day are kind of like Super Bowl games for chefs—they happen every year and require a ton of behind-the-scenes preparation. When we first started dating, Dan warned me that if I needed someone to woo me on holidays or Friday and Saturday evenings, it probably wouldn’t work out. His restaurant is like his child—one that needs extra attention on various holidays and every weekend. Some women aren’t cool with that.
As an introvert, this certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. I enjoy having the house to myself in the evenings and have had plenty of practice attending weddings stag during my single years. It sometimes gets annoying when I’m at a party and acquaintances doubt my husband’s existence, but as long as people like to go out on the weekends and holidays, folks like Dan will work hard to ensure they have a good time. Sure, I’d love for my birthday to NOT fall during Restaurant Week every single year, but when the bills are getting paid, it’s hard to complain.
It’s quite interesting to watch him mentally prepare for his work weeks, too. Seeing my husband cook food, manage staff, deal with staff turnover, talk to customers, book catering gigs, and shop for ingredients five days out of the week is pretty darn remarkable. It’s hard enough to be a chef, but I’m convinced that chefs who own their restaurants are pretty much superheroes. They work so darn hard because their passion for creating food is super important to them.
While it’s not a passion I share (I’m pretty sure my love of cheese doesn’t count), it’s one that I definitely admire. Before meeting this man, I had no clue about what is involved in filling folks’ bellies and bringing smiles to their faces. Now I can say, it’s no easy feat.
People often “ooh” and “ahh” when I tell them I’m married to a chef. “You must eat so well!” they jealously exclaim. I usually chuckle to myself and nod because in my opinion, scarfing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with my best friend is eating well. Depending on my mood, I might also mention my fifteen pound weight gain (due to our frequent restaurant visits), and they awkwardly chuckle. There’s not usually enough time in those moments to truly describe what it’s like to be committed to a chef. It seems more fun to let their imaginations run wild.
I have learned a lot. I knew what a fiddlehead fern was before I ever tasted one. I know to let certain meats “rest” after cooking them so they don’t get dry. I even know how to spell the word “späetzle.” The random food facts that have filled my brain over the last four years are endless. Marathons of Chopped can do that, I guess.
On the more challenging side, I also know that taking a weeklong vacation just isn’t in the cards for us anytime soon—closing the restaurant beyond a Sunday and Monday is rarely an option. I know that asking my husband to slow down a few weeks after surgery is a lost cause when the success of his business is at stake. Lastly, I know that some Sundays he needs to sleep for six hours straight, just to recuperate from the hectic week before.
Like many other marriages, mine is significantly and uniquely affected by my spouse’s career. Some days it feels all-consuming and others are just disappointing. Like the spouses of traveling businesspeople or medical professionals, I’ve had to learn the art of flexibility and support. A different kind of support, of course, but support nonetheless. (Hopefully my husband agrees.)
Most days, however, it’s rewarding. It can be quite nice to have a restaurant as your stepchild. It’s even nicer to watch your partner live into his calling every day. I love seeing his face light up when he tells me how he made customers happy or came up with some new recipe ideas. Being married to a chef has become a part of my eclectic identity, much like my work as a writer or my Afro. I simply cannot imagine my life any other way.
Marrying into the restaurant business certainly isn’t the life for everyone, but as for me, it fits. My husband and I fit, and this weird life we’re creating fits. Thoughts of poached pears and filet mignon helped lure me in, but it’s everything else that’s made me stay. My husband and his passion and his food made me stay.
No, that doesn’t include Toaster Strudel, but I’ve become quite a fan of the fiddlehead ferns.