We continue our conversations with some of the esteemed women featured in our Top 10 Mom-Owned Restaurants in America with Suzette Gresham. Chef Gresham is an owner of Acquerello, opened in 1989 and regarded as one of the finest Italian restaurants in San Francisco and the nation. She has established herself as one of the Bay Area’s most respected chefs and guided Acquerello to numerous accolades, including a 2013 Diners’ Choice Award for Top 100 Best Overall Restaurant in America. She is a proud mom to two daughters, Bibiana, 22, and Azaria, 18.
Twenty-five years ago you opened Acquerello. In that time, you became a mother and have successfully raised your kids and your restaurant into adulthood, yet you don’t dole out advice on this topic too often.
Passion makes up for a lot — lack of intelligence and lack of experience. If you are passionate about what you are doing, whether you are raising children or running a restaurant, you have a fighting chance. I think the main thing in life is just believing that you can do something and finding a way. Chefs are kind of like firemen and policemen. We rush right in. We do what we have to do, and we don’t think about ourselves. It’s that attitude of ‘I can do it, I can fix it, and I can save it.’ Maybe it is foolish on some level, but it is what you do and how you are as a person.
You didn’t necessarily set out to become a mother. That wasn’t on your must-do list, but you have two wonderful daughters.
No. I even went to a therapist when I found out I was having girls, and I said, “This is an error. This is a huge error. I can’t have girls. I must have boys.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I’m such a terrible role model for a girl. I’m working in a male-dominated field.” He said, “You are the perfect role model for girl.” It made me feel so much better. What he did was he gave me license. He gave me permission to just love my daughters the way that I want, the way that the world was, and the way that they were going to be in a less perfect state.
The one thing about chefs is we are forever seeking perfection, and we are our biggest and hardest critics. I had to learn: Don’t be judgmental. Don’t be so harsh. Let it go. That is one of the hardest things ever. Things will not be perfect. You will settle for a little bit less, but you will get further and probably do better in the long run. I know what maturity parenthood brings. Part of your soul opens up that isn’t maybe sincerely as accessible without kids. They make you humble.
Chefs work odd hours compared to the rest of the world, yet you’re able to be present when other parents are not. How did your daughters handle this, though, when they were little?
They realized later, but when they were younger, I had to sit down one Saturday when I was at my breaking point and explain. I said, “Do you realize what I do? Do you realize that I was chairman of the book fair? Do you realize that I am at your Girl Scout troop meetings? Do you realize I bake the cakes for your bake sales? Do you realize I bring all of the products whenever you have an event and you need food? Do you realize that I e-mail and talk to all of these parents and I’m involved in all of your educational aspects hands on? The only thing I can’t do is show up at six o’clock in the evening for a PTA meeting because I’m at work.”
In the early years of Acquerello, working moms were certainly common, but I would venture to guess your daughters were probably the only kids at school whose mom was a chef/restaurant owner.
Yes, they were the only ones, and there was not a lot of support in some respects. Some people understood, and some were very disapproving, quite honestly.
It was interesting, yeah, because I was outside the home in the evening when my children needed me, and that’s the way they thought.
Right, it’s like you’re in a circus or something. Continue Reading