On being Married to a Chef with Children

January 20, 2012 in Family, Life


Ask and you shall receive, right? I don’t know about you but I feel SO much better after reading Hilarys take on what it’s like being Married to a Chef with Children. I knew it was going to be challenging, that I would inevitably be the primary caretaker, but it’s SO good to know that the answer is finding what works for each couple, when times get tough.  I LOVE what she said about:

” Being married to a chef is hard enough without children. Having children is hard enough without being married to a chef. Combine the two and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of work.”

SO insightful. It’s amazing to me to see how similar we other halves are… PURPOSEFUL, STRONG and RESILENT… almost like we could carry the world if we knew had to.

Well, you are in for a treat. We have another wife and mama’s take on what it’s like… well, you know. I am receiving so much guidance in her wise words. I have a feeling you’ll end up feeling as empowered as I did.

Married to a Chef … With Children

by Gretchen Alfonso of GastroMami

I met my husband Reny during my last year of college.  I was bartending my way through school & he had just arrived in Memphis to take the helm of a nationally acclaimed restaurant.  He was cute, talented, covered in tattoos, completely full of himself & I was smitten.  After dating my way through the classic “bad boys,” mostly musicians and bartenders, I had found my ultimate man:  a badass in the kitchen who worked hard, played hard & loved hard.   I went to school in the mornings while he slept, we both worked 5-6 nights a week followed by drinking, eating & dancing our way through every juke joint and blues club in town.  Life was grand.

Fast-forward to 2008 and I caught the “Yes We Can” bug, heading to Pennsylvania to work a congressional campaign.  You see, with a chef as my partner, my “wild & crazy” idea to move 800 miles away for 6 months in order to work 80 hours a week didn’t seem all that “wild & crazy.”  The thing about insane work hours & exhaustion, however, is that one can let some important stuff slide and ‘well hello there double blue lines!’  Our son Reinaldo came in May 2009 and to say that he rocked our world (in a good way) is an understatement!  About 22 months later Fiona arrived on the scene.

Our life with children isn’t all that different from our life before:  we are up at all hours of the night, someone is always hungry, work never seems to stop and occasionally we have an out of control ‘customer’ that needs to take a seat & have a glass of water or he will need to leave (or go in timeout as it were).  The main difference is that, instead of us both working & playing together I am home, alone, much of the time – and that has not been the easiest of transitions.

It is difficult for me to put into words what is so hard about this lifestyle, with kids.  Is it the long hours or the weekend events alone?  Is it the fact that even when he is home he is usually sleeping?  Do I regret that I often turn down playgroups because they are almost always at 10am and that is his time with the kids or that all his time at home is taken up by two children who love him but what about me, his wife?  Do I look at other dads on New Year’s Eve and mourn the fact that my husband isn’t there to watch his 8 month old daughter as she is mesmerized watching fireworks for the first time or regret that he isn’t there for our nightly “get the wiggles out,” post-bath, naked-babies dance party?

There is a lot that is hard, really super-duper hard, about having a chef as my parenting partner but there are also a lot of really great things:

  • We get to go to the zoo, to the aquarium & museums in the morning, during the week, when no one else is there!
  • My husband is able to enjoy our children at their best time of day – early in the morning!  Granted, he is usually half asleep but the joy & love they have between the hours of 7-9am is unbeatable!
  • Reny & Fiona’s father makes a mean breakfast!  They want challah French toast with slivered almonds & macerated berries on a Thursday?  No problem!
  • When our babies are little I can pump a bottle before bed and “Dada” willingly takes the 1am feeding (because he is just getting home), thus granting a very tired Mama 4 solid hours of much-needed sleep
  • Jars of baby food?  Ha! – not in this house!  My kids were eating curried lentils & roasted squash while their playground companions were stuck with nasty-smelly “chicken dinner” & “pureed peas”
  • My  son’s favorite food is “pulpo” (octopus) & my 8-month old daughter just chowed down on some duck & rabbit goulash … picky eaters?  I don’t think so!
  • When we do get a date night Reny & I dine like we are part of the 1% and pay like we are below the poverty line

There are a lot of really difficult moments of parenting with a chef & there are a lot of really good moments.  We have also made some huge changes in our relationship over the past 2 ½ years:

My husband wakes up with the kids at least 5 days a week. Ouch, right?  This schedule started when I used to wait up for my husband to come home from work, usually around 11pm (at his old job); the deal was that if I waited up to see him, he would wake up with Ren since it was usually at least 1am before we rolled to bed together.  Now he has a new restaurant that keeps him at work later but he still wakes up and does breakfast & gets the kids dressed while I spend some much-needed alone time in bed!

We moved closer to my family. My parents are still a 7 hour drive from Philadelphia but the fact is that I CAN drive it, ALONE, with 2 kids instead of (from Memphis) taking 2 flights ($$) alone, with kids.  This means I can travel home for weddings, long weekends, ski trips & holidays and my husband can still fly, drive, or Megabus it, to meet us for part of the trip, if his schedule allows.  We also have relatives in NYC, DC & Baltimore if I need a quick hand!

Family comes before the restaurant. This seems like a no-brainer but sometimes chefs get so wrapped up in the restaurant, their staff & the customers.  I understand that it is a huge stress to run a restaurant and know that your staff of 50+ depends on you for their, and their family’s, livelihood & that each and every customer can make, or break, the restaurant that your chef so loves.   It has taken years of communication but Reny understands that our family comes firstIf I absolutely, desperately need help – he comes home. Granted, Reny is Executive Chef so he can always leave knowing he has the most capable sous chefs, and believe me, I know I am lucky in that ability.  I suffered from horrible post-partum depression after the birth of Fiona & was grateful that his schedule was flexible enough to give me, and our family, the time & extra set of hands we so desperately needed.

I hire a sitter so I can have adult time. I don’t have a husband to stay home with the kids so I can go to dinner with friends or attend book club so I hire a sitter – without feeling guilty! We budget that extra expense every month so I don’t feel isolated or “stuck” at home.

I don’t work outside of the home. As both a woman that loves to be busy & a feminist this is very hard for me but not having a job outside of our home is what works best for us, for now.  Since I am home with the kids we can be available for my husband whenever he is free.  The schedule is different this week and he is off on Wednesday instead of Monday?  Fine.  He’s out picking meat up from the market and wants to meet us at the nearby coffee shop for hot chocolate?  We can be there.  He’s working a double?  We pack up a lunch and have a picnic in the bar lounge.  I know that this flexibility is not forever, especially once our kids are in school, so we enjoy the moments together now and I will re-enter the workforce in the future.  He is a chef, however, with a paycheck to match, so we sacrifice & save to make it work but it does work, for us, for now.

I am going to be honest that there are times when my heart aches and I miss my husband and our children’s father; there are times that I am so overwhelmed and resentful of his job that I simultaneously burst into tears and call him to bitch and complain and vent.  There are also times when I am so eternally grateful that the passionate, fun-loving, badass of a 26 year old has turned into the most passionate, fun-loving, badass of a father that any kids could wish for.


Gretchen Alfonso is a stay at home mom to Reny, 2 & Fiona, 9 months.  Her husband, Reny, is the Executive Chef at Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, PA.  She spends her free time writing about her culinary & parenting adventures at GastroMami & volunteering as a “spokesmom” for The Clean Air Council and Sierra Club of Southeastern PA.  Gretchen loves exploring her new city, its museums & restaurants with her family.  An avid runner, eater & nature-lover, she and her husband work on instilling a healthy love & respect for food, and its origins, in their children.

On being Married to a Chef with Children


    1. Ashley says:

      Reading your story gives me peace in a sense. At times it’s hard to stay positive and not let the craziness get to you . Some days are harder And longer than others but at least I can be home with my baby girl and not miss a thing

    2. I love the idea of hiring a sitter so you can have adult time. I wish I could do that more often. But it’s gets expensive fast!!

On being Married to a Chef with Children

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