In Providence: Late Night Cooking

“Where I grew up, we just left the doors open all the time, so I’m used to it.”

Her wife gets mad at her. This isn’t the small town in the Midwest where she was raised, and even if it was, they have a little girl now.

“That’s when I had to find a place with a yard so I could leave the sliding glass doors open. I don’t know what it is about me. I need to cook with the doors open. The fresh air inspires me. At night, especially.”

When her restaurant in Massachusetts was open, she’d get home late every night and make herself whatever she could throw together in 20 minutes or less, before her final burst of evening energy gave out.

“My wife — back when she was my girlfriend — she moved in and that first week, she asked me if I always make dinner so late, and I told her I do. After that, she would make dinner for me and put it in the fridge, and I would make breakfast for her in the morning.”

But secretly, she missed the late night cooking.

“It’s time to myself to come down after working all day. I like making myself a glass of wine and I play music and I like all the smells and the sounds coming in from outside. When I left home I was 19. My first apartment was in the city, and I’ve been living in cities ever since, and– This is the quietest neighborhood I’ve lived in. I come home and I eat what my wife left me, and I go out into the yard, and it’s quiet. I’m not used to that. It’s like being a kid again, but even when I was a kid, you’d hear crickets and birds and dogs and– There’s not even that much nature here. It’s the suburbs. The silence is how they sell you on it.”

Their family lives a few blocks from LaSalle Academy, and when they bought the house, they had visions of their daughter growing up and walking to the high school. As hard as she tried, the chef couldn’t give up the stereotypical ideas of what an American life could look like if you got lucky enough.

“We were excited for the plans we made and we had talked about wanting another child once our daughter was a little older.”

Then the pandemic struck.

“I told my wife that I’m glad to have a house to spend all my time in, because when we closed the restaurant, it’s– I’m here all the time now.”

That means she can cook dinner at a reasonable hour, but now the tables have turned. Her wife is working longer hours at her company to make up for the staff that got furloughed. Now it’s the chef’s job to make sure there’s dinner waiting when her spouse returns, and she’s happy to do it. When I called her to check on a quote she gave me, I could hear the baby crying, and she’d been out of work for months, but she didn’t sound all that upset.

“I keep checking with my staff, but I’m worried about them, but for me– I saw myself as a worker. I’ve worked since I was 14. I always defined myself by that. By being a worker. When we had our daughter, I had told my wife that I wanted her to quit her job and stay home with the baby, and that I would be the provider. Thank god she didn’t listen to me, but– I wouldn’t have thought that I would be good at this or that I would want this, and now, I don’t know. I feel more like myself now than I’ve felt in a long time. I don’t know how much of me wants to go back to how it was before this. I know people are depending on me for their employment, and I take that seriously, but I’m thinking about a way to do it where I can be home more, because I didn’t know how much I was missing before this. I was missing a lot.”

One thing she was missing has returned.

“I’m cooking at night again, yeah.”

She makes sure her daughter is fed, and she puts a meal in the fridge for her wife. But when she gets home, she often finds her in the kitchen making a separate meal for herself.

“I always thought I cooked at night, because I had to. And that might be true. But I grew to like it — to love it — and I didn’t realize that. That’s why I’ve started doing it again.”

While her wife sits on their patio eating a previously prepared meal, she cooks, and plays music, and has a glass of wine. She has the baby monitor on the kitchen counter in case her daughter wakes up. She listens for sounds of the city that aren’t there, and listens for new sounds instead.

“My daughter has the loudest exhale you’ve ever heard in your life. She has this baby sigh she does, and it’s– I love it.”

She tells me this as she’s cooking a meal sometime after midnight. I’m a night owl too, so this is when we’ve been connecting. Over the phone, I can hear something frying, and music, and she puts the phone up to the baby monitor to try and get me to hear the baby sigh, but it’s too faint to make it over the line.

“I wish you could hear it. It’s my favorite sound in the world.”