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Dad-dom can be difficult no matter what you do for a living. Chefs know this better than most. (Photos: Greg Powers, Scott Suchman, MGM National Harbor)

4 chef-dads reveal how they strive to achieve work-family balance

Dad-dom can be difficult no matter what you do for a living. Chefs know this better than most. Finding a balance between the oftentimes-conflicting obligations of family and the kitchen is difficult and ever-evolving. In honor of Father’s Day, we chatted with four chef-dads about parenthood – the ups, the downs, their advice for fellow fathers, and how they strive to make it work.

David Guas

  • Chef-owner of Bayou Bakery and Lil’ B
  • Father of Kemp, 14; Spencer, 12

The unique challenges of being a chef-dad

I struggled initially to keep our home a sacred place, while protecting our children from the industry. I wanted to separate work from home life, which was extremely difficult and stressful. Over time, I started to recognize that there is no line. Our kids don’t know any different. I was doing it to protect them, but by embracing it and celebrating it, we’re all better off.

Biggest success

It’s the ultimate gratification when you run into a parent after your kid was over at their house and they say, “Spencer is so respectful and such a polite young boy.” You hope your standards carry over when they walk out the door.

Biggest failure

I don’t use the word failure, because you always have the next day to recover. Failure is when you’re dead and gone, and you don’t have a chance to fix something. I do have anxiety that the clock is ticking and there are things I haven’t shown my boys about the world that they need to know before they leave the house. There’s a little panic about that.

Do you want your kid to follow in your footsteps?

I want them to go to college and find their own identities and passions. Kemp has talked about wanting to work at Bayou Bakery, but summer comes around and he’s busy with camp and travel. Next summer, we’re going to start the routine of him having a job of some kind, so we’ll see what happens.

Advice for new dads

I’ve done a good job in my life of not giving anybody any advice. I say do whatever works for you. No matter what, show them love, be affectionate, be physical, and be present.

Never-fail trick for amusing the kids

We still jam out in the kitchen. We each grab our favorite spoon and play air guitar – from Eddie Van Halen to Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Future goal

It’s about running out of time to give them the right amount of money for college. We’ve been saving since before they were born, but the financial part constantly haunts me.

Golden rule

We don’t take the short route. Be willing to do what it takes to get it right the first time.

John Critchley

  • Executive chef of Siren
  • Father of Jackson, 6

The unique challenges of being a chef-dad

I work most nights, which means I don’t have a lot of time with my son. We do wake up early together, so we can hang out, play with LEGO, and have breakfast together. I treasure those couple of hours in the morning.

Biggest success

I’m proud of his character. He seems to always sticking up for his friends, he’s a very caring and loving, he makes friends easily, and he has a lot of independence.

Biggest failure

Not being there for the bedroom routine to read him books has been really disappointing. Also, it puts a lot on my wife at the end of her busy day.

Do you want your kid to follow in your footsteps?

That’s a tough one, because I know how difficult cheffing is – and it’s not like the rewards come easily. He’s definitely going to be in some hands-on field, but which one is up to him.

Advice for new dads

Make the most of every day. This year we’re paying someone else to mow the lawn, because I don’t want spend the two hours on it when I could be spending it with my son.

Never-fail trick for amusing the kid

Self-inflicted physical pain always works. Banging my head into a counter never fails to get a laugh.

Future goal

I want him continue being the kid who sticks up for others who being picked on, and the one who easily makes friends. So I’ll continue to support him however I can.

Golden rule

Never talk back to your parents, respect adults, and look people in the eyes when you’re talking or shaking hands.

Victor Albisu

  • Chef-owner of Del Campo and Taco Bamba
  • Father of Julian, 10 and Lucas, 8

The unique challenges of being a chef-dad

I’m putting a lot of time into my career up front and I’m hoping it pays off down the road, so I get more time with my family. I’ve driven for 40 minutes to see them for 20 minutes and then driven 40 minutes back into the city, just so they know I’m there and present in their lives. It’s a constant balancing act.

Biggest success

My kids are very loving. I feel like what we’ve done as parents – especially my wife Suzanne – is instilled in them that that’s the first thing that matters in the world.

Biggest failure

I’m a very driven person – which is good and bad. From the perspective of a child, it can be good, to an extent, to see someone who is constantly hungry to do more, achieve more, and help more. At times, that can be too much, because as a child they hold themselves to way too high a standard. I want them to be kids as long as they can be kids. Forever young, like Bob Dylan said.

Do you want your kids to follow in your footsteps?

Nope. Nope. Nope. I’m not here to push any career on them, especially one as hard as one in a kitchen. If they choose that, I will help them.

Advice for new dads

Nothing you say can prepare you for parenthood. It’s so drastically life changing for those who care about it, so it’s impossible to quantify it until you go through it. Just love – as much you can, as hard as you can.

Never-fail trick for amusing the kids

There is never time I can’t make a funny face or funny sound to amuse them. I’m never shy to do that, no matter how serious a situation might be. We try our best to always be as fun as possible and to not take life too seriously.

Future goal

As your kids get older, they start to really take on your attributes – especially the negative ones. It’s not about hiding them, but working on yourself. It’s a constant bettering of yourself for them.

Golden rule

Be kind in the moments when it’s most difficult.

Bryan Voltaggio

  • Chef-owner of Volt, Range and the Voltaggio Brothers Steak House
  • Father of Thacher, 10, Piper, 5, and Ever, 3

The unique challenges of being a chef-dad

We work every meal period, so dinners with the family are difficult to come by. My mom made sure we sat down at 5:30 dinner as a family, but I can’t do that because I’m making it happen for other people. As much as I enjoy hospitality, it does strip away at my soul sometimes.

Biggest success

I’m supportive of what my children enjoy. My business and what I do should not interfere with their childhood.

Biggest failure

My son was only a year old when I opened my first restaurant, so I missed a lot of the first few years of his life. Creating that balance was difficult back then. There was a lot of time missed; a lot of time I wish I could have back.

Do you want your kids to follow in your footsteps?

Thacher wants to go to work with me every day. One: he wants to hang out with dad. Two: He thinks the kitchen is cool. What boy doesn’t like seeing fire, clanging pans, and knives? It’s every boy’s dream. Every once and awhile I do bring him in, but I keep those times few and far between, because I want him to find his own career – I don’t want him forced into one.

Advice for new dads

Support your wife. Be involved every step of the way. There’s no division of parental duties. If you decide that there is, you’re going to kick yourself in the a**, because you’re going to miss out on something that would have been really important. I know guys that have never changed a diaper. How did that happen? How did you not want to? It’s gross, but so what. It’s a bonding moment with your child.

Never-fail trick for amusing the kids

We just do a group activity. It might just be yard work. The other day, we had a trailer full of mulch, so the kids jumped into dirty clothes and started helping.

Future goal

It’s about supporting them and what they want to do. I realize now that life is not about me any more; it’s about their lives. It’s not that I’m not concerned about my career or my own life, but there comes a time when you have to switch gears and think about what you’re going to do and the choices you’re going to make for your children to make sure they have opportunities.

Golden rule

No electronics at the table. We’re having dinner, so we’re going to focus on each other, spend some family time together, and talk about our days.

Nevin Martell is a D.C.-based based freelance writer focused on food, travel, and parenting. Follow him on Twitter @nevinmartell and on Instagram @nevinmartell.

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