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Desperate Chefs Wife

Ah, a kindred spirit! I knew somewhere out there in the Internet world there had to be other people who needed to vent about the nutso aspects of being involved with a chef. Meet Hilary Battes, a self-proclaimed Desperate Chef's Wife, and founder of the Desperate Chefs' Wives blog (which includes hysterical pieces, such as, the restaurant-related phrases her husband mutters in his sleep.). Finally, the perfect spot for wives left alone while their lunatic chef husbands are off cooking into the wee hours of the night for others! Hilary is married to a very talented chef, Erik Battes, who is the Chef de Cuisine at Perry St. in NYC., one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's highly regarded restaurants.

How did you become a Desperate Chefs Wife? Was your husband a chef when you met him? Did you know what you were getting yourself into?

I met my beloved chef in middle school, in a large suburb of Los Angeles where we both grew up. A couple years later, while in high school, we started dating and I was instantly hooked. He was different from other guys in high school because he was so dedicated and so passionate. Since we met at such a young age, Erik was not cooking, but he was obsessed with something: drumming. I used to claim that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, that I would never have married a chef had I known all there is to know. Well, after thinking about what was going on before he was cooking, it's pretty obvious that I did know. I watch Erik cook now the same way that I looked at him longingly with my teenage-smitten eyes back in high school when he was drumming.

Erik was a serious drummer. He practiced all the time, between classes, at my house, on the weekends, after school, and before school. I loved his passion but I hated the fact that he was always drumming. So you can read that sentence again in the present tense and substitute "drumming" with "cheffing- same thing. I should have known that whatever he chose as a career he would be doing it from sun up to sun down.

Tell us a bit about your wonderful website and how it came to be.

I started the website because I'm addicted to the Internet. When I have a problem, any problem, I seek my BFF , Google, to solve it. Health problems, money problems, job problems, the Internet solved it all. But when it came to searching out help for my lonely life as a chef's wife, there was nothing. I was desperate for some other people to talk to. I had already met two other women whose boyfriends worked with my husband, and I wanted to turn our threesome into something that more people would want to be a part of. A few quick keystrokes and I had a blog. But I do have to say I loathe the term "blogger"; with some many bloggers out there we are oftentimes looked at as cyber losers who like to stand on a soap box. I hope that my readers can agree that the soap box is more like a couch with room for all of us to sit and chirp.

What are some of things the Desperate Chefs Wives commiserate about on your website? Common joys and frustrations?

Once the website started getting some serious feedback I began to notice that so many other women shared the exact same frustrations as me. Of course we all agree on several things: our chefs work too much and too hard with pay that is never equal to their worth. But it was the little things that I thought were only characteristics of my chef husband that I saw many other chefs shared. For instance, the love of restaurant size aluminum foil and plastic wrap; who would have thought? Not only that, but so many women have written to me and confessed that their chefs have promised that, "things will get better soon." We must all be complaining about the same thing: quality of life. We want to see our men more!

But we do share joys as well. Not one of us can deny that there is nothing better than our chef in his clean whites. The regal stance of a confidant man in uniform is something all women can appreciate. We love their confidence and drive; if our husbands can do 200 covers on a Saturday night with two cooks out and the health inspector in the walk-in, then they can handle anything.

What is the best part of being married to a chef? The toughest?

The best part-they can cook! Being a chef is such a unique career; no two chefs are identical in the way that recipes develop in their mind. Some say that cooking is an art and others say it's a craft, but cooking is like writing. Cooking is creating a poem that some will love and have an instant connection with while others will hardly be moved at all.

The toughest: I never see my husband. I'm a teacher so I am getting home just as he is starting dinner service. He gets home when I'm fast asleep. It's those damn hours! No weekends off, no holidays, and certainly no evenings together. Hands down, this is the hardest thing to deal with. When big events come up like weddings, shows and events at my school, it get depressing when you keep going alone. I have no children and my closest family is an 8 hour drive away, so I spend my evenings preparing for work and the only conversation I have is between me and my cat. Sounds pathetic, and it really is.

Ive found that most people have misconceptions about what its like to be married to a chef. Do others think its glamorous that you are married to a chef? How do your families and friends feel about his career?

I hate every misconception that people have about chefs. Most people seem to think that my husband cooks me gourmet meals at home and cooks things at work like "chicken parm". It's actually the opposite really. My family knows all the ups and downs that I experience from being a chef's wife yet this still adore him. They think that what is does is just amazing. When I call my mom hoping she'll help me convince my husband to move closer to my family, I get the opposite reaction. She wants him to stay in New York as long as he can. She saves every article written about his boss. Actually, she has a huge crush on Jean- Georges.

What is the best meal your chef husband has cooked for you? Any terrible ones? (We wont tell shhhh.)

My palate changes over the years so I cannot really pick the best meal Erik has ever made, but I can tell you about the most memorable one. During Christmas of 2006 Erik was lucky enough to come home with me. My parents were hosting a huge family dinner and my mom (who usually does all the cooking) got sick at the last minute. Erik had only the food my mom was going to prepare to work with and very little time. But he made all the "down home" favorites that only my mother could have done. He even asked my little sister to pitch in as his sous chef and they had a blast. Erik has a tiny family and for him to feel comfortable cooking the unfamiliar food for my family was truly a blessing.

The worst meal was last week. Erik, like most chefs, is crazy for kitchen gadgets. He had just got a vacuum sealer and an electric pressure cooker. He made black beans, potatoes, and pork in the pressure cooker. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. What was terrible about it was that the black beans turned all the potatoes and pork a sickly, prison- food shade of gray. I was super hungry one night after work so I put the gray glob into a tortilla and added half of a vacuum sealed avocado. Not good at all-it was probably my mind reminding me of the gray mass in my mouth, but also the avocado was fermented! I was gagging when I realized it.

Tell us about meals at your house. Are you a skilled cook yourself? Were you terrified the first time you had to prepare something for your husband?

Meals at my house are simple. On Sundays Erik will make a large meal that will last a couple days. It's usually something warm and comforting that we both like, such as pasta, salad, tacos, or hamburgers. You know, things that are easily reheated at 2 AM when he comes home. Once Erik went to cooking school something in my mind changed completely and I never really cooked again. I don't like to cook. I mean, why the hell should I? He's so much better at it than me. I might make breakfast on Sundays or a simple frozen thing, but as for meals, nope. I'm not nervous to cook for Erik at all. I used to get a little annoyed if he would put Frank's Red Hot on my food, but now I know that's just him, he puts it on everything.

Did you watch the short-lived show, Kitchen Confidential? (I thought it was hysterically funny and so true to life and I was livid when it was canceled!) Favorite cooking/food-related shows? Favorite celebrity chef? Speaking of which, how do the chefs you know feel about all these celebrity chefs that are garnering more and more popularity?

I loved Kitchen Confidential, too! I love all chef shows actually, even the ones that are totally inaccurate. It's just humorous and I cannot seem to get enough of all things chef. My favorite show is on a new cable channel called Mojo. Daniel Boulud has a show called "After Hours" where he goes to NYC restaurants after they close and cooks with the chef for a group of restaurant figure heads, actors, and community leaders. They are all so relaxed, so real and they share the best food/cooking stories.

My favorite celebrity chef isn't really a celebrity. I have always loved Jean-Georges Vongrichten since my husband did his externship at Jean Georges in 2003. I know he is my husband's boss, but maybe that's why I admire him so much, because I feel grateful. I think I also appreciate JG because of his humility and his desire to stay clear of the limelight that so often warps chefs. As far as the popularity of chefs I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand there are more and more eating our and claiming the title of "foodie". But on the other hand becoming a chef is becoming annoyingly popular and people seem to think that my husband's job is similar to Top Chef.

Whats your take on why there are fewer women in the culinary industry?

That's the most heated question here. My answer is in generalities; there are many wonderful female chefs in the world so nothing is black and white. Honestly, I don't know why more women don't work in the field. Maybe they just can't get an answer at the door. I know that a lot of chefs won't hire women. From what I hear, women oftentimes (again, a generality) have children at home which means they ask for more time off.(Oh, geez, I can see the hate mail rolling in.) Anyways, statistically most women don't hold jobs in labor fields. Kitchens are loud, fast paced, rough environments with a strong male-ego state of mind that lives thick in the air. Right or wrong, it's just the way it is. I think if more women want to get into the field they need to work together to promote and support each other because help won't be coming from anywhere else. (Jessica's note: Yup, I hear you on this issue. Check out Turn Up the Heat for Chloe's thoughts on this...)

Many thanks to Hilary for stopping by and sharing her insight into this funny subculture of being a Desperate Chef's Wife! Please stop by her site and check her out. Whether your married to a chef or not, this is a great place to visit.


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