Relationships on a plate: What's it like to be married to a chef?

Well, when they make supper, it's a dream, but the long hours – and having to cook for an expert – are a kitchen nightmare.

Gillian Orr
Friday 24 August 2012 01:23 BST

Lara Gilmore, wife of Italian chef Massimo Bottura

I was born in Washington DC and, foodwise, grew up in a typical American family. After high school I became a vegetarian, which I remained until I went to stay with Massimo in Italy in 1993, having met him in New York.

He picked me up, brought me to Modena and we had a glass of Lambrusco, which I'd never had in my entire life. Then he put a plate of cold cuts in front of me and said: "Welcome to Modena." I realised I had to dive in or I wasn't going to have any fun.

In Emilia-Romagna, where Massimo is from, it would be impossible to be a vegetarian. It's a real nose-to-tail culture in how they eat, so I quickly started eating everything. It was a difficult introduction, but the thing about Italy is, if you're going to understand the culture, you understand it through the food more than anything else, and you can't say no at the dinner table.

There are some things I eat now which I never, ever would have imagined eating. One is coppa di testa, which is a pork cold cut made with everything that nobody else wants. They literally take the head of the pig and boil it.

I have witnessed it being made and it amazes me that I can still eat it.

Jules McNally, wife of Russell Norman, chef and founder of Polpo, Spuntino and Mishkin's

Unsurprisingly, food has always played an important part in our relationship. Russell wooed me with lovingly made dishes such as pea and mint risotto and I, then, was too intimidated to cook for him for two years. Before marriage and babies, on our frequent trips to Venice, we'd drift around the bacari scoffing baccala mantecato (which still tastes of romance to me) and getting rather smiley on prosecco and negroni.

We'd talk about how great it'd be to eat and drink like that back home. Now we can at his restaurants and I rarely choose to eat out anywhere else.

When Russell's out I'll happily whip up a rainbow stirfry and fruit crumble for our girls. Maybe it's the observer paradox, or learned helplessness, but I seem to balls up everything that I cook for him. I do have a short attention span for cooking and often wander away from the stove to read or do a bit of gardening.

Our date nights are precious and when we eat out in others people's restaurants I've learned to make sure Russell sits facing the wall to prevent him doing his restaurant analysis over my shoulder. We share a love of unfussy food and are guilty of terrible inverse snobbery about effortful cooking – anything presented as a tower or with a foam. But there's one thing I can enjoy only when Russell's away: croissants. He cannot hear the word without reaching for the cyanide.

Dean Martin, fiancé of chef, television presenter and food writer Gizzi Erskine

I grew up on meat and two veg British classics until university, when I migrated to brown food of varying hues cooked in the oven for 20 minutes. Meeting Gizzi changed my eating habits for the better. The first thing she ever cooked me was fillet Rossini en croute with foie gras and a jus, followed by a gooey-middled chocolate fondant. It was an incredible experience and she has since introduced me to every imaginable cuisine. She is always trying to get me to eat cheese, which I hate. I can deal with the basic pizza toppers and burrata but I can't for the life of me understand why people love it so much. Gizzi tries to sneak it in dishes and I'm OK if I can't smell it, but parmesan just makes me gag.

Gizzi is a lover of offal and there was recently a sweetbread dish she devoured as I tried not to bring it back up. And don't get me started on Andouille (tripe) sausage.

She can't stand baked beans, which I love: on jacket potatoes, with sausage and mash, a side with a fry up and especially on thick-cut toast, but they're really not her bag. To be fair, she eats everything else. There are times when she's drunk when I have to steer her away from fastfood outlets where her morals go out the window.

Plaxy Locatelli, wife of chef and restaurateur Giorgio Locatelli

I do the majority of cooking at home for the family but I tend to cook things such as Indian and Thai food so I don't get told off that I've done something wrong. If I do a curry and it's not very good, then Giorgio's less likely to realise. My children are older now – my son's 24 and my daughter's nearly 17 – so I'm nearly off the hook with the cooking thing, which is brilliant because I'm not somebody who loves to stay at home and bake cakes. We co-own the restaurant and I work there most days, so I do bring meals home after working sometimes, which is pretty lazy, but a nice little perk.

It's brilliant working together. Sometimes I think if you're married to a chef it's the only way to do it because it's the only way to see each other.

I do like to eat out, but unless we go to a standard Chinese, Indian or Thai place, Giorgio will be recognised and often we end up with the chef sitting at the table telling us what they're doing for hours. It's a bit of a bugbear of mine, because we don't get to go out that often. Giorgio's a bit of a feeder and by all rights I should be huge. We'll go to a restaurant and I'll say that I really don't want a dessert and then he'll order three and make me eat them with him.

Vicki Byatt, wife of chef and restaurateur Adam Byatt

Adam was training to be a chef and working in a kitchen when we first got together and I didn't get to see much of him; but it did prepare me for what it would be like to be with a chef. It's a lifestyle choice because the hours are very long and unsociable.

One of my big memories of first going out with Adam was when he took me to a French restaurant near where we lived. When our main courses arrived he leant across and dipped his finger into my dinner to try the sauce. It horrified me! He thought it was fine to do. In fact, he still does it now. He'll stick his fork in my dinner and say: "Yeah, that's alright" or "That's disgusting."

I'm at home with the kids, so I do all the cooking for the family, which I don't mind, but I do find it a bit of a chore. If I know he's going to be home, then I go to the butcher or fishmonger and buy a really nice sea bass or piece of beef. Then when he comes in he'll discover the lovely piece in the fridge and won't be able to resist cooking it for everyone himself. It's my little trick.

Sara Galvin, wife of chef and restaurateur Chris Galvin

At school, home economics was my least favourite subject because I'm a really atrocious cook. Nothing has changed; I've had such bad experiences and I just can't do it. There's one word to describe my cooking and that is charcoal. When I married Chris my family congratulated me on a shrewd move. About the only thing I can cook better than Chris is a roast potato, which really upsets him. If I'm in the kitchen he can't help but interfere; I think he finds it too painful to watch.

While I love good-quality ingredients, my food tastes are really basic. I wish I met Chris when I was in my twenties when I was much more adventurous with food. He relishes travelling around all the Michelin starred restaurants in Europe but, if I'm honest, I'm more at home with hot dog, chips and a glass of champagne at the Delaunay or a cheese and lettuce sandwich and a cold beer. I feel for him. I'm allergic to shellfish, I don't like anything that is frothed or runny, I hate foams and emulsions, or any meat that is remotely raw or undercooked. I'm a nightmare to dine out with, particularly if we get gifted extra courses from chefs. Chris ends up having to eat mine as well.

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