Being a chef is intense work. So is being a mom. Being a chef-mother? That’s a next level challenge. Finding a balance between the sometimes conflicting obligations of family and work can be a difficult proposition, and one that is ever evolving, since duties and schedules on both fronts are always shifting.
The struggle between the opposing poles of responsibility begins even before childbirth. Barbara Sibley, chef-owner of La Palapa in New York City (pictured above), remembers the morning her daughter, Arielle, was scheduled to be induced, she was called into the restaurant at the last minute to finalize the Cinco de Mayo specials.
Once a baby is a part of the equation, achieving equilibrium becomes even more problematic. Shortly after pastry chef Megan Garrelts (pictured below) and her husband, Colby Garrelts, opened Bluestem in Kansas City, Missouri, their first child, Madilyn, was born. Though Megan was able to take a few weeks off for maternity leave, she was soon back on the job with the little one in tow. “We had a pack ‘n’ play that we set up in the bar where she slept during the day, since we were only open for dinner,” she says. “I would come out periodically and feed her. We even had a swing in the kitchen at some point.”
Not everyone has the luxury of bringing the baby to work. Executive pastry chef Jennifer Paul of Atlanta’s Canoe, had her son, Jeremy, when she was 19-years-old. The baby’s father didn’t stay in the picture, so she raised him on her own with help from her parents. Within a short time of giving birth, she was baking again, while simultaneously earning an online bachelor’s degree in pastry. She remembers being constantly tired and skipping out on socializing with her colleagues. “People would go out to unwind after their shifts, but I never really did that,” she says. “I had to go straight home to the baby.”
Though Lisa Ito (pictured below) took 12 years off to be a full-time mother, she is now the pastry chef at Umi in Atlanta; her four children are all teenagers. “There are days I only see them for five minutes in the morning before they go to school,” she says, though she always texts or calls them in late afternoon. “When I come home, they’re already asleep.”
Parenthood is a seismic shift no matter how you earn a living, though cheffing presents unique lifestyle alterations. Sibley, who also has a son, Alex, 13, often used to work seven or more days in a row and was on the line. Now she takes off days based on her children’s needs and isn’t on the line. “There are not enough hours in the day,” she says. “You can’t do everything 100 percent and I’m someone who likes to do everything 100 percent. You have to make compromises.”Continue Reading