It's barely 6 a.m. and celebrity pastry chef Gale Gand's carefully crafted daily schedule has already blown off course.
Sometime in the wee hours of that Friday, her culinary partner and former husband, Chef Rick Tramonto, wrenched his back and landed in the ER. That means the TV spot the two had planned to tape early that morning in the downtown Chicago studios of Fox News is a no-go.
No matter. It's simply the latest change in the jam-packed life that has the ever-smiling chef in constant motion. Flexibility is crucial to keeping her full life in precarious, if not perfect, balance. In addition to her Food Network show, "Sweet Dreams," she makes regular promotional appearances for her six cookbooks-the latest, Chocolate & Vanilla (Clarkson Potter, 2006) debuted last fall-and donates her time to myriad charitable causes.
There's also a line of bakeware, a root beer company and, oh yes, the restaurants. She's a partner and executive pastry chef in the acclaimed dining establishment Tru and in Cenitare Restaurants, a management and development company behind four new eateries that opened within months of each other last fall in the new Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling. (For the record, they are Gale's Coffee Bar, Tramonto's Steak & Seafood, Osteria di Tramonto and RT Lounge.)
But the job Gand most clearly relishes is the most challenging one of all: Mom.
Gand, 50, has three children: an energetic 11-year-old named Giorgio-Gio for short-from her marriage to Tramonto and cherubic 2-year-old twin daughters, Ella and Ruby, with her husband of four years, Jimmy Seidita.
Despite the Fox News cancellation, Gand's schedule still dictates that she head downtown. So she fills her silver travel mug with black tea, slides behind the wheel of her Honda hybrid and begins the commute from her North Shore suburb towards Tru. There she'll sign cookbooks and meet up with a farmer from Michigan who's coming with a truckload of organic red apples.
The apples are for a program called "Fun Lunch" at Gio's school, a semi-regular break from cafeteria fare where classes are treated to a catered mid-day meal in the gymnasium. Gand, who often lends a hand at school, says she especially loves serving on the Fun Lunch committee since it gives her a chance to pop in and say hi to Gio in the middle of the day. But her involvement also allows her to introduce organic produce to the school menu and provide some business for a family-owned farm.
Gand uses the drive back to the suburbs to make phone calls, and she squeezes in a stop at the dry cleaners to drop off some chef jackets before pulling up to the school. Once inside with her apples, she directs fellow Fun Lunch volunteers with friendly efficiency and plenty of laughs. The diminutive Gand, with her long, shiny hair, nearly makeup-less blue eyes and funky shoes-black suede Van's-easily blends in with the kids swirling around her.
Gand's ability to take on such commitments is the result of many careful and deliberate career moves. When the twins arrived, she and Seidita both took leaves of absence and, with the help of a doula, shared early caregiving responsibilities.
Now that the twins are older, they attend daycare a few mornings a week. Gand relies on two women to share some weekday babysitting shifts, plus some odd hours here and there when early mornings or later days are required. "I don't have a life that happens just when daycare is open-it tends to be somewhat unpredictable," she concedes. "Sometimes I am on a book tour, sometimes I have to get up early to do a cooking spot on TV, everyday it can be something different."
Gand and Tramonto share custody of Gio, so some days are heavier than others with pick-ups, drop-offs and lessons.
Still, Gio and the twins spend a significant amount of time with both parents. Seidita, an environmentalist at a major nonprofit, works part-time and Gand limits her hours as well.
To keep track of it all, Gand relies on two Cenitare staffers who help vet professional commitments and her Franklin Planner. She's also a big list maker. She keeps two lists for herself-a running master list and a smaller daily one, kept up to date with a highlighter. "I feel good when I have a yellow page by the end of the day," she says.
Gand purposely tries to keep her schedule light on Tuesdays and Fridays, making it much easier to swing activities like the Fun Lunch.
With the school kids fed and back in class, Gand loads up the leftover apples and heads to the Westin for a meeting. On the agenda: adjusting budgets and reviewing blueprints for a new restaurant in Naperville.
Cenitare's four new restaurants are bustling and Gand easily spends her first 15 minutes greeting staffers by name. Donning her chef's coat, she heads into the meeting.
It's nearly 2 p.m. before it winds down. Gand sneaks a few spoonfuls of clam chowder and heads into the kitchen to check in with the pastry chefs. They eagerly show off trays of treats, and Gand listens to tales of taffy apples and sugar cookie solutions, clearly invigorated. "... I need to be touching flour, to be working in the kitchen."
Gand is mindful that these up-and-coming chefs view working with her as a career opportunity, so she tries to create an atmosphere conducive to mentoring. "Many of these women want to learn how to have it all, and there aren't a lot of mentors out there," she says. Now that she's a business owner, she adds, she strives to create a workplace where having children "doesn't mean you're considered a special needs employee."
Next stop, picking up Gio from his after-school sports program. Then home. Dinner tonight is a stew Gand prepared days earlier.
She hadn't planned on being home tonight, but the day's second major schedule change-renowned chef Alain Ducasse's cancellation of his reservations that night at Tru-gives her the all-clear to stay put.
Everyone lends a hand to get dinner on the table. "Cooking is a self-esteem building tool," Gand says of her all-hands-on-deck approach to meal prep. "Kids shouldn't be excluded from the kitchen-they're the most open-minded eaters."
Mealtime banter is lighthearted and constant, full of newsy exchanges and jokes.
The twins follow a tight schedule and 8 p.m. signals their bedtime. It's also the beginning of clean-up time, homework time for Gio and, if possible, couple time for Gand and Seidita. In all, a delicious end to a busy day.
And Gand makes a point to appreciate it at every point.
"There's always an e-mail waiting and the restaurant always needs you, but you have to set parameters because family time is sacred," says Gand, a smile crossing her lips. "I often stop and think to myself, what did I do to deserve all this?"
Gand created this treat for a kids' cooking class organized through a local charitable organization, Common Threads. Makes 3 dozen pieces. INGREDIENTS
4 cups chocolate-flavored crisp puffed rice cereal ½ cup packed light brown sugar ½ cup light corn syrup ½ cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted 3 nonstick mini muffin tins or a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or pan
Put the puffed rice cereal in a bowl. Have ready three nonstick mini muffin tins or a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish or pan.
In a saucepan, stir together the brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the peanut butter until combined.
Immediately pour the hot syrup over the rice cereal and quickly stir until thoroughly combined.
Using your hands, while the mixture is still warm, press it into the mini muffin tins or baking dish. Let cool for at least 15 minutes, or until firm and set. Unmold from the tins or baking dish.
Using a spoon, drizzle lines of the melted chocolate over the top of the cooled treats. If you used a baking dish, cut into bars before serving.
Stored in an airtight tin, these can be kept at room temperature for up to one week.
From Chocolate & Vanilla by Gale Gand with Lisa Weiss, Clarkson Potter, 2006, $22.50.
Jenny B. Davis is a freelance food writer and mom living in Chicago.