Married to a chef: Q&A with Erica Knecht of That Wild Road
Photo credit: Yan Palmer
Erica is an amazing photographer now living in Shanghai with her two beautiful children and chef husband.
1. Well, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a photographer, a nomad, a mother, a wife. I’m originally from Canada, but life has taken me around the world, through Asian megalopolises and sleepy ski towns. I love airports and train stations, tropical morning light, and a neon city at night.
I have two kids, a six-year-old daughter born in Japan, and a two-year-old son born in Indonesia, and I’m expecting a third baby in a few months. If all goes to plan, this little one will be born in China.
2. How did you meet chef?
After I graduated from university with a degree History and no idea what to do with my life, I moved to the Canadian Rocky Mountains to snowboard for a year and figure out my future. A few weeks later I met my husband, so I guess my plan worked? ;)
3. The relocations, dropping your work/commitments on chef’s schedules and demands – is that frustrating? How do you magically make it all work with children in tow?
Okay, first of all. I toooootally don’t magically make it work. Like, let’s talk about the fact that there have been times, especially early into a new posting, when I’ve been crying down the phone to my husband while he’s at work, demanding that he drop everything and come home and wrangle the children because I just can’t with the boxes and the chaos and the stove that won’t work.
However, The relocations get easier with experience. Early on, I did find it really difficult. After giving up a rewarding job, a city I loved, an amazing group of friends, a sense of purpose, and a great lifestyle, I found myself newly pregnant with no job prospects in a small, lonely town in Japan.
My husband worked Japanese hours (aka basically always) and I was totally isolated, with a major identity crisis, an acute case of culture shock, and a pretty bad attitude about it all. Needless to say, I was pretty miserable and not thhhhaaaat into the idea of this chef wife lifestyle. But, it got easier.
We moved again to Jakarta, a city that’s notoriously tough to love, but a city that provided me with community, purpose, and belonging. And after three lonely years, I appreciated that community so much. I was determined not to live in negativity for another three years. So, I made an effort to fall in love with the city, and to fall in love with my life. And I did. That experience taught me a great lesson on perspective and gratitude.
We’ve just gone through another move, this time back to China. Although I was heartbroken to leave Jakarta, I carried that attitude of determined gratefulness with me. And I try to pass it on to my kids, acknowledging the things we miss, the hard bits about moving, the melancholy and sadness. But also revealing in the positive changes our new life brings. (Sidewalks! Outdoor playgrounds! A functioning transport system! Pork product!!)
On a practical level, I keep expectations really low during a transition period. Like, if my kids eat nothing but french fries and ice cream for six weeks while we move, I’m okay with that. I know my kids’ behaviour will tank during the transition period, and I try as hard as I can to accept that too (though see above re. my own personal temper tantrums). I also make a commitment not to work during the transition period, so I can focus entirely on my family.
4. Did marrying chef change your career goals/ direction in life?
Considering I had noooooo idea what to do with my life before I met my husband, I was probably a good candidate for this type of life. I like surprises, change, chaos, and challenge. A typical suburban North American life has no appeal to me, really.
I expect to change and reinvent myself, personally and professionally with each transition, so, mostly I see this as a positive.
5. Best thing about being married to a chef?
I’ve learned how to properly salt pasta water? I can instantly taste the difference between grain-fed and grass-fed beef? Super delicious home made bread? Or maybe it’s the time we got to stay for a week in a presidential suite of a five star hotel for free?
I dunno. I think, really, the best thing is this opportunity to be able to live life intentionally, travel, see the world, understand it a little deeper, and realise just how lucky we are to have the life that we do.
6. Pet peeve about being a chef wife? (apart from dealing with the repetitive “oh you must be so lucky with professional gourmet meals daily!” haha)
For me, it’s got to be how my husband and I can hardly go to a restaurant without dissecting the whole experience, and hearing how much better it would be if my husband ran the show. Haha. Chefs are suuuuuch egoists!
7. Work, life and chef schedule balance – how do you manage it all?
I’m super privileged in that we live in a place where I have access to affordable domestic help. That makes things infinitely easier for me. Normally I try to work most mornings while our helper watches the kids, and then I get to hang out with my kids in the afternoon. We can’t do family dinners, obviously, but we’re all at home in the mornings, so we do family breakfasts instead.
We go to the hotel once a week to eat dinner together while my husband is at work, which is a big treat for my kids. And as much as we can, we keep weekends for our family, although this isn’t always possible given the demands of my husband’s job (and, actually mine too!)
8. I suppose photography work gives you much more flexible hours (like my marketing consultancy) that can work with chef’s schedule. Did you stumble into it post chef marriage or has that always been your life calling?
My job totally does give me flexibility. I can more-or-less make my own schedule, and pick and choose projects that I want to take on. I did stumble into photography after marriage, after several years ambling through the professional world, trying on different jobs, seeing what fit. And actually, this is one of the great privileges of my life.
I was given the time and the resources to find a career I love, one which brings me artistic and creative fulfilment, while at the same time allowing me to spend time together with my kids. If we lived in North America and I had to work a typical office job, I wouldn’t get to spend nearly as much time with my family.
9. Raising children as a chef wife – any tips?
It’s totally doable! If you modify your expectations. Your partner will realistically not be around to help with bedtime, and you’ll have to count on weekends at work, and missed holidays and all that stuff. However, I think it’s helpful to get really clear about issues that are non-negotable for your family. In my case, I insist that my husband not work on Christmas day. No matter what. And other smaller things like, when we eat a meal together, phones be off. Over time we’ve hammered out an agreement about how to handle other sticking points like public holidays, “smoked salmon emergencies”, and other demands of his job.
Since I always do bedtime, I ask that my husband get up with the kids and manage the morning routine (this is going to be even more critical as the third baby comes along!) And I’m pretty insistent that he find occasions when work isn’t too busy so that he can come home a bit earlier. Basically, you’ve really got to be clear and firm about what is important to you, and set limits and boundaries for your family.