In December of 2007, my husband got a text from his boss, desperate for his help on a busy, short-staffed pre-Christmas day. In the restaurant business, during busy season, this is nothing unusual.
But on that snowy afternoon, we were on our first date in three months, a musical theater show that had been a much-anticipated anniversary gift. Chef Matt checked his phone at intermission, gave me a very anxious look, and we left without finishing the show. He went to work, and I cried on the couch after he left.
In the eight years we have been together, anxiety and frustration from moments just like this have never gotten the better of us, but I would be lying if I said it did not occasionally make me wish he was a banker. As uncharitable as it sounds, I found myself screaming in my head: "Please go find a cubicle!"
But in a kitchen-marriage, you have to be in it together on every level, or the restaurant world will eat you alive. And to me that has meant learning to love the new cuisine at whatever new restaurant he was at (I have come to love short ribs and flatbread, cilantro and plantains, fancy foams, game burgers, and Julia Child), finding a lot of last-minute daycare, and most difficult, embracing the unpredictability in a (usually) gracious manner.
Throughout it all, we have whispered about the freedom that would come when he was, one day, in charge at a restaurant. We were under no illusions about a cushy job as executive chef, working fewer and shorter hours, but with Matt at the helm, it would give us greater control of our destiny.
An executive chef title would not erase the long hours or the crazy schedule. But it would be his food, his vision, his management and his pride, and somehow, that might make all the rest a little bit easier.
So for eight years, through six restaurants, hundreds of cookbooks read, and a few heartbreaks, he has slowly inched forward. Yesterday, the door finally swung open and the light of Executive Chef poured in. And I cried again, but this time in relief and pride and joy.
I cannot say that we will never again have to leave a date halfway through, or that we will not power through weeks where we are awake in the same room for a total of four hours, but at least it will be on his terms, and when he comes home late, he will be bearing to-go boxes of his own vision.