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Late for dinner: Being the spouse of a chef is often lonely

<p>Rachel Crain, left, and Claudia Barrera. PHOTO: JEFERSON APPLEGATE</p>

Rachel Crain, left, and Claudia Barrera. PHOTO: JEFERSON APPLEGATE

When Rachel Crain looks through her wedding photos, one image with her husband’s father stands out.

“He was telling me he loved me, welcome to the family,” she reminisces of a candid shot caught by her photographer.

“But don’t get in his way,” her future father-in-law continued to tell her. “Don’t stand in his way.”

Crain can never be accused of having gotten in the way of her husband of 10 years, Josh. She supported his culinary career in California, and moved with him to Las Vegas, where he’s run the kitchens of two Michael Mina restaurants — Nobhill Tavern and American Fish. He’s successful, and they’re obviously still in love. But Rachel isn’t shy about discussing her husband’s “mistress.” Like so many successful chefs, Josh’s career has always come first.

That’s not an unusual problem for spouses of people in any number of high-profile or high-stress fields, but being partnered with a chef has its unique aspects.

“When people find out I’m married to a chef, they have this image, immediately, that I’m living this glamorous life,” Rachel tells me over drinks and appetizers at a chain restaurant in Town Square. “[They assume] that he’s doing amazing high-profile things, and coming home in time for dinner, and we’re going to fancy restaurants all the time. They think the chef is coming home and preparing these exotic beautiful meals for dinner all the time, and our life is just really glamorous.”

The reality, she says, is quite different. In general, the couple eat approximately two meals a week together, and rarely see each other.

“We see each other for maybe five minutes in the morning,” she says of her husband’s typical workday. “And then I’ve been asleep for hours by the time he gets home. We’ve had some of our most important conversations via text message.”

Such stories are hardly unique among the women (and men) who love great chefs. When Claudia Barrera began dating her longtime friend Tim Doolittle, executive chef at Emeril Lagasse’s Table 10, she moved to Las Vegas to live with him. Their honeymoon period, however, wasn’t what she expected.

“We got all my stuff moved in and the next day he was like, ‘I gotta go to work,’” she recalls. “Then the next week he had to go to New Orleans for a charity event with Emeril.”

As for the great food she was expecting, she says, “His refrigerator had American cheese, eggs, tortillas and soda water.”

As rough as life with a chef has been for Crain and Barrera, they both admit that not having kids makes it a lot easier. For insight into the world of chefs’ wives raising children, I turned to Lynn Moonen, ex-wife of my friend, celebrity chef Rick Moonen. During their 30-year marriage, the two raised two sons. And Lynn says there were times, through no fault of her husband, she felt like a single mom.

“Dad’s not always gonna be able to be there for their band concerts, their plays, the things that they do,” she explains. “But mom is always there. Dad gets there when he can.”

And while she says she knew what she was in for when she began dating Moonen during culinary school, the reality wasn’t always easy to handle. “Sometimes, the reality of it is, even though you think you’re prepared, you’re not. But you’re willing to do it because this is the nature of the business, and this is what he has to do in order to be successful.”

While Moonen and others of her generation dealt with that loneliness on their own, Crain has decided to find strength in numbers. After moving to Las Vegas, she turned to www.meetup.com to find other culinary “widows” who could lend each other some support.

“I joked for years I need a support group, I need a support group,” she says. “And then once we got here, it really stopped being a joke, because I was for the first time by myself, completely by myself. I couldn’t find work out here. [Josh] was busy, invested in his job, gone the usual long hours. I couldn’t find work, I was never leaving the house, I didn’t know anybody.”

Her Chef’s Wives events tend to be one-on-one. Those without kids frequently get together for cocktails or meals. But she’s also happy to visit the moms at home, and lend them a hand with chores.

“Mostly they want adult conversation,” she says of the mothers. “They want a friend who understands their situation, and what it’s like to support a culinary career.”

So far, the group only has about five members. But Crain hopes it will grow.

“I want all the girls in the group to know that they can call on any of us,” she says. “That the women who have children can call on the moms in the group and can say, ‘I need help with the kids today, can we do a mom play-date? Can I babysit for you tonight, and can you take the kids next week?’”

Claudia Barrera's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. CityLife regrets the mistake.

Check out the rest of our Fall Dining issue:

Queen of the scene: Jolene Mannina throws the underground food events that attract big-name talent

Japanese table-cooking is making a comeback

Not all fast food is terrible

‘Dine-arounds’ are among the most popular foodie events in town. But are there too many?