Any dad knows how hard it can be to juggle work and family. Chefs have an especially acute awareness of this challenge as they work long, hard hours. This Father's Day, we are hearing from 9 chefs dads in Denver about how they make it work.
BOB BLAIR, FUEL CAFE
Chef Bob Blair cooks for thousands of people each month at Fuel Cafe, but his daughter, Celie Moon Blair (9) will always be his favorite to serve after whipping up a meal.
What kind of dad are you? Loving, but tough when I need to. My dad was military, and my Mom was the lovebug, so I get the balance from them.
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? Having energy in the mornings on the weekends. It hurts, both physically and mentally, especially when you are an older dad.
What's your favorite thing to do with her? Celie and I do two things: during Bronco season, when the game starts, we make stovetop popcorn. Celie puts Savory Spice Cheese powder on it. We sit on the couch, I put my legs up, and Celie puts hers over mine. I didn’t realize that was part of the tradition until I forgot to put my feet up. Celie prompted me, saying, "Dad, you forgot to put your feet up, so I could put mine on yours." The other thing is a run to Whole Foods and a farmer’s markets to get something for dinner. Sunday supper is still my favorite day to cook, even when I have to work the brunch shift on Sunday. Celie and her mom, Catherine will always be my favorite people to cook for.
What, if anything, do you cook for them? Celie and Catherine are my guinea pigs. I get to cook anything I want. The only issue lately, is Celie has chosen to be a pescatarian. Or, on the day we went for a noodle bowl, she became a tripeatarian. Sometimes the best dinner is just a simple Italian picnic. Nothing to cook, just a big antipasta spread. Olives, cheese, salami, prosciutto, bread, wine, fruit. That’s all we need. And no dishes to do either.
How would you react if she wanted to be a chef? I wouldn’t be surprised. She already knows how to use the pasta machine on the Kitchenaid. She is my taster at home too. She has learned to recognize when things need salt, or acid, or sugar. She has a surprisingly good palate. She is also one of the most adventurous eaters I know. She insists on trying anything. Her favorite things to eat are octopus, snails, sushi, and tripe. Of course, she also loves mac n cheese too. She is still a kid.
What advice would you give to new chef dads this Father's Day? Whenever you do get that day off, spend it wisely. Balance is so hard in this business, but you have to fight for it. For your kids, your wife, and selfishly for yourself. Get a staff behind you that you can trust. That is the best way to get away and not worry about work.
DANIEL ASHER, ROOT DOWN/LINGER/OPHELIA'S
Chef Daniel Asher relishes his various roles in life, as Culinary Director at restaurant collective Edible Beats and father to children Cat (17), Morgan (15), and Judah (2; pictured).
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? The hardest thing about balancing family and work is being away for so many hours and feeling disconnected. The restaurant world is full of constant adrenaline and chaos and chatter and the sound of tickets printing and glasses clanging. And then I come home and I need to be fully present and need to have energy and passion for my beautiful family. Many days those reserves run low. I don't want them to get the scraps of me and the restaurants get the prime cuts. Life in kitchens inevitably leads to making hard choices and the most important thing is having clear boundaries.
What is his favorite thing to do with you? I think he really likes to cook with me, I show him how to whisk eggs and slice tomatoes and how to sauté and grill and he is always captivated by it and he has his play kitchen that he is always using to cook. He also loves making our morning protein kale yogurt smoothie together. Some of my earliest and best memories are in the kitchen with my mom, age wasn't a factor in how she brought me into the beauty of ingredients and feeding the family so I try not to limit him because of his age.
Do you cook for them? Sunday night is my time to cook for the family. I usually plan something relatively specific and I want everyone gathering around the table and sharing in our collective experience together. I have two awesome teenage stepkids and we have this crazy eclectic family of five. Steph (my wife) takes care of the kids and house, there's high school-related activities right alongside toddler playgroups, and everyone is always so busy and with separate agendas. But Sunday Dinner is when all of that melts away and we can connect over the shared energy of a good meal.
Being a father is way cooler than any meal or any dish; it's better than the greatest restaurant, it's more inspiring than the most brilliant chef, it's more unpredictable than the busiest dinner service, it's more enchanting than the newest ingredient you've never worked with, it's more enlightening than any cookbook ever written. It's hospitality in its purest form.
What advice would you give to new chef dads this Father's Day? Being a father is way cooler than any meal or any dish; it's better than the greatest restaurant, it's more inspiring than the most brilliant chef, it's more unpredictable than the busiest dinner service, it's more enchanting than the newest ingredient you've never worked with, it's more enlightening than any cookbook ever written. It's hospitality in its purest form. It's about being constantly selfless yet always giving, especially when you are running on fumes but you have to keep smiling and saying "everything is going to be ok." It's staying up all night and then working 17 hours the next day and still feeling like a warrior. It's about making sure this amazing little person knows they are the center of your universe and everything that you thought mattered to you suddenly becomes meaningless next to changing their poopy diaper or getting them a glass of water in the middle of the night. Being a father is pretty much the most extraordinary adventure on the planet, so give it its proper attention, awe, and respect.
BRANDON BIEDERMAN, STEUBEN'S/ACE
Chef Brandon Biederman can be found in the kitchen at Steuben's or on the floor at his house wrestling with his daughters Lilly (8; left) and Ava (5; right).
What kind of dad are you? I try to be the best dad I know how. I'm more of the rule-breaker with the kids, and let their mom be the strict one. I don't spend as much time with my kids as I would like to, but when we do get time together, I try to make it fun, do something different, like eat ice cream for dinner, go to the amusement park, stuff like that.
What is their favorite thing to do with you? Honestly, their favorite thing to do is tackle me. Any moment we are all in the same room, I have both of them on me, wanting to wrestle and mess around. They love coming to see me at the restaurants, and really any one on one time I can get with each of them.
What advice would you give to new chef dads this Father's Day? It's not easy, I'm not going to lie. You're going to miss events and milestones that will bum you out for sure. But, the satisfaction of being able to provide for you family doing something that you are passionate about makes it all worth while. Be honest with them about why you work so hard, and make the time you have with them really special. Those will be the memories that stick with them, not the school play or presentation you had to miss. You'll also be one of the coolest dads at career say, every year.
AMOS WATTS, acorn
Chef Amos Watts of Acorn juggles one of Denver's most celebrated kitchens while raising two kids: Loren Watts-McCabe (12; left) and Sloane Watts (5; right).
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? Not seeing them as much as if I had a nine to five job. I met my wife, Jess, in culinary school so there is an understanding of what my schedule needs to be. I try to make breakfast on Sundays and sleep in on Mondays if I can.
What is their favorite thing to do with you? Sloane likes to "help" cook. It usually entails her coming up with something to make for dinner and then going outside to play after we start. I got tricked into making sushi rolls the other night.
What, if anything, do you cook for them? Sloane likes meat and potatoes and raw vegetables. She is super picky. Loren will eat almost anything but likes fish mostly. I do cook on my days off but Jess is a great cook herself so we are spoiled.
How would you react if they wanted to be chefs? I think they are smarter than that. Just kidding. I would bet that they don't from what they tell me now but if they did I would help anyway I could.
FRANK BONANNO, BONANNO CONCEPTS
Chef Frank Bonanno, arguably the busiest and best-known restauranteur in Denver, spends as much time with his boys Luca Bonanno (14; left) and Marco Bonanno (11; right) as possible, relishing this season away from the kitchen.
What kind of dad are you? I'm a very involved father. We spend a lot of time together. I make breakfast every morning , and I usually drive them to school. I attend all of their sporting events, we cook dinner together, we golf, go to the pool, read at night, go to movies—we're together all the time.
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? The commuting is a big challenge. They're both very involved in extra curricular activities and both go to different schools, so I'm in the car a lot, but I really enjoy supporting their activities. Fortunately I'm in a position where I can do that because we have wonderful management teams at each of the restaurants. I've learned a lot about new music with all of the car time, especially with Luca. He hates when I listen to sports radio.
What, if anything, do you cook for them? They love fried catfish, mussels, fried chicken and any form of pasta.
How would you react if they wanted to be chefs? Marco has already expressed that he wants to, but I've explained that It's a hard business. I want them to both go to college and graduate. If Marco still feels drawn to the business and has a degree, I'll be supportive.
RYAN LEINONEN, TRILLIUM
Chef Ryan Leinonen keeps the kitchen cooking at Trillium with learning his new role of dad to Teija Rose Leinonen (21 months) and a new baby girl coming in July.
What kind of dad are you? I'm not sure yet. I'm just coming into my own as a dad since she's only 21 months old. I'm trying to balance between teaching her new things everyday and still having fun at the same time. And, with another daughter on the way very soon, I'm sure I'll morph into some new kind of super dad, hopefully.
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? Some days it breaks my heart to leave for work knowing that I won't see her again until tomorrow morning. I get up, play with her and have breakfast for an hour, and then I'm off to Trillium. By the time I get home, she's in bed. Some days, like during restaurant week or around Valentine's Day, or New Year's, I may not see her at all for two or three days. It's hard.
What, if anything, do you cook for her? A lot. She absolutely loves corn on the cob right from the grill, steak, hot dogs, chicken roll ups, all kinds of cheese, fruit, & scrambled eggs. I try to introduce her to new things. She's had seaweed salad, sushi, and caviar as well. She loves the truffled tater tots at Trillium.
What advice would you give to new chef dads this Father's Day? Being a chef and a dad is really hard, but awesome too. Do your best to spend as much time with your kids and wife as possible. After that, there's work, and after that, there's no time for anything else, so you'll have three loves in your life now, your wife, your kid(s), and cooking. Some days, and I'm not joking, I get five minutes to myself at the end of the night. If there is anything left at all, try to love yourself just a little bit too, because your gonna need it to get through.
JONATHAN POWER, THE POPULIST
Chef Jonathan Power wears the chef hat at Crema Coffeehouse, The Populist, and soon-opening Bar Fausto. At home, he trades it for his father hat with his girls: Ramona (3; right) and Harriet (1; left).
What kind of dad are you? I'm pretty easy going as a father. We like to encourage adventure and imagination in our girls, be it playing in the mud, discovering bugs, or playing dress up, its a joy to see their minds and bodies at work learning about the world.
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? Foregoing sleep! I want to see and engage with my girls as much as possible, and that quite often means late nights at the restaurant and early mornings cooking breakfast and hanging out with the wee ones. Its a challenge to do both well, but operating on little sleep is just part of the deal. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
What, if anything, do you cook for them? Oatmeal with a side of fried eggs has become a morning ritual for us. They're pretty open-minded eaters, but that's they're daily staple.
How would you react if they wanted to be chefs? I resisted the kitchen personally for a while, but couldn't be happier with the career I've chosen. If my girls feel the call of the kitchen, and can find happiness in this weird lifestyle we all love, then more power to them.
What advice would you give to new chef dads this Father's Day? Prioritize your family. The kitchen isn't going anywhere, but your kids will grow faster than you can imagine. You don't want to miss it.
ROYCE OLIVEIRA, TO THE WIND
Chef Royce Oliveira opened his first restaurant To The Wind last year after stints with many well-known establishments in Denver. Pictured here with daughters Daisy (9; right) and Abigail (4; left).
I try to make sure I have one day to hang out with them but usually that involves cartoons and me asleep on the couch.
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? They spend a lot of time at the restaurant, so it is not so much of a balance but making sure that I can walk away at any time to give them some attention. I try to make sure I have one day to hang out with them but usually that involves cartoons and me asleep on the couch.
What's your favorite thing to do with them? Taking a walk in the foothills, stop by a local brewery on the way home and have some takeout while watching a movie.
What is their favorite thing to do with you? Daisy says tickle fight and Abigail likes to help with projects around the house, like raking up the grass or working on my bike.
What, if anything, do you cook for them? Abigail eats buttered noodles and Daisy is bistro steak. For a while, I had her cooking her own veal sweetbreads, but I switched them for a bit and was doing lamb sweetbreads and now she won't touch them.
How would you react if they wanted to follow in your footsteps? I would be stoked. They are witnessing how much work actually goes into working at and running a restaurant every day and if that is what they want to do I am all for it. I think nowadays with all these cooking shows and reality TV shows, people don't know the hard work that actually goes into a restaurant.
What advice would you give to new chef dads this Father's Day? Enjoy it. Slow down when you can—time goes by faster than you realize. Be patient and show your child your world, bring them into the place and let them enjoy the things that you do. Show them your passions and try not to shelter them too much.
KELLY WHITAKER, BASTA/CART DRIVER
Chef Kelly Whitaker of Cart Driver has his whole family eating pizza these days including daughter Somi Elizabeth Whitaker (7; right) and son Paxton Taylor Whitaker (9 months; left), whose encouraging onesie tells us to all eat more pizza.
What kind of dad are you? I love to be inspiring for my kids. I want them to know that their potential is unlimited and they are loved more than they know.
What's the hardest thing about balancing kids and work? If you fight the flow of the business, then it becomes hard. I believe kids growing up with fathers in the hospitality industry have a unique opportunity to learn about serving others and how you treat others can change their day. Flexibility is the hardest lesson. It's hard to say which days off I have in a week so I am always asking for flexibility from my kids. This business is hard to separate from home life so we try not to fight it and embrace it, but that's easier said than done.
What is their favorite thing to do with you? My daughter likes to watch sports with me. She was born in LA so she is always goes for California teams. She does not understand anything but the score, but I love that she watches just to hang out with me. So much fun. Soccer is also at the top of the list right now. I am super competitive and I want her to to dominate all the other first graders. Somi has been perfect at every age so far and we are super close. She has stolen my heart and I am just getting to know what it's like to have a boy. Not quite the same yet, but I love them both equally.
How would you react if they wanted to be chefs? If they wanted to be in hospitality than I would support that for sure. It's a tough life to sign up for but anything they choose to do with passion I would support, especially serving others. Ask me in ten years and I might change my mind.
What advice would you give to new chef dads this Father's Day? It can work; make it work. You organize so much and this industry demands a lot. When you're writing a schedule for the week or month don't forget to schedule the kids.