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Thursday, May 9, 2019 12:01 am

Chef mothers and kitchen kids

Denise Perry with daughter Norah, age 5, and Ben, age 9.


The food industry is notoriously tough. Long, physically demanding hours, erratic schedules, temper tantrums and razor-thin margins are commonplace in kitchens the world over. It almost seems insane that anyone would willingly sign up for such a grueling assignment. However, in spite of many inherent challenges, this work brings joy and deep satisfaction to the folks who are called to it, many of whom say they can’t imagine a different way of life.

Sounds a bit like motherhood, no? Like cheffing, mothering comes with little sleep and lots of stress, but lots of rewards too. This Mother’s Day we salute three hardworking chefs and restaurateurs as they juggle family and the demands of running a small business, all while making Springfield more delicious, fresh and fun.

Long Nine Junction owners Emily and Corey Faucon welcomed their first baby, Felix, in February. Since they opened in 2017, Corey runs the line back in the kitchen, while Emily manages the front of the house, does the bookkeeping and handles the baking for the busy eatery in downtown Springfield. It was Emily’s first full day back from maternity leave when we sat down to chat. Even though the restaurant wasn’t open yet, customers were already lining up.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” she said. The restaurant closed as planned during the month of March for maintenance and some small renovations, adding 10 more seats and updating the menu. “We’ve been so busy since we reopened!” Emily remarked. “I’m not sure what my schedule these days will be. Before the baby I’d come in with Corey around 7:30 and stay till five. Now I’m coming in a little later and trying to scoot out around three so I can go home and nurse him. But we’ll see. I’ve only been doing this for nine weeks.” On Mother’s Day, Emily is hoping for breakfast in bed and maybe a walk before heading to the restaurant to do the ordering for the week.

In a way, 18-month-old Walter is the second child of Aurora and Jordan Coffey, chefs and owners of American Harvest Eatery. For a decade, the couple has been passionately dedicated to growing what has become one of Springfield’s best-loved spots for casual fine dining. “I technically took about six weeks off after Walter was born, but I was still in and out,” Aurora remarked. “You know it’s scary, because at that point the restaurant was running well, but I’m not sure if that’s because we were a pretty constant presence, so being away was really hard. I was back in the building with Wally three weeks after he was born, and I was cooking three weeks after that. I’m not sure if my doctor was too happy about that, but still she eats here!” Aurora laughed. “Walter’s been a restaurant baby from day one. We are this place, and he is us, so it’s all fair game I guess.”

Just as her little boy is doing now, Aurora spent much of her childhood in restaurant kitchens. “My dad was a chef, and I grew up in restaurants too, and so it seemed very normal and easy to me growing up. But now I know how hard it actually can be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful having your baby at work. I mean, I got to see him all day, but when orders are coming in and stuff’s happening I’d prefer not having to hand him off to somebody and jump in there. People often assume I just make desserts and that Jordan is the one cooking their steak, but I’m just as likely to be behind the grill as he is.”

Aurora Coffey and Walter.

I asked Aurora about striking a balance between cheffing and mothering. “Being a restaurant worker and a mom, you know, the two arenas are not that different. It’s unpredictable and it’s go-go-go, and you’re always looking out for someone or something else. I guess we didn’t know we were preparing ourselves for parenthood. Up until now this restaurant has been our kid, all these employees were like our children.” Now that Wally is a fast-moving toddler he’s not at the restaurant as often, and the Coffey family has settled into a new normal, for now. American Harvest is closed on Mondays, providing a needed break for the busy family, and the couple is beginning to squeeze in some time for themselves. “Jordan and I just went to a matinee movie earlier today, I think that’s the first movie we’ve been to since I got pregnant!” Aurora mused. This Mother’s Day Aurora will be behind the line once again, serving up brunch to a hungry public. “For some people it sort of a ‘Mom-Christmas,’ but for me it’s our third busiest day of the year.”

When Denise Perry opened Copper Pot Cooking Studio in 2016, she already had a houseful of kiddos. Perry teaches cooking classes and caters out of her studio on Laurel Avenue in Springfield. Before opening Copper Pot Cooking Studio, Perry was a culinary instructor at Lincoln Land Community College, and before that she was the executive chef at Montvale Estates. The experienced chef and mom found a location close to home for the new business and placed a premium on creating healthy work-life balance as she grew her business. “My kids are a little older now, so I try to include them as members of the team,” Perry remarked. “I make a point to check in with them often, I really want them to be a part of it. I talk to them pretty openly about what’s going on with the business and what I need from them on any given day, and that helps me to tune into their needs as well. We’re constantly changing and adapting.

“I make breakfast every morning, and that’s a time when we regularly sit down together. My husband usually makes dinner and ferries kids around to activities in the evenings. We make it work, most of the time,” Perry remarked with a smile. Three years into running Copper Pot, Perry has reduced her class schedule slightly to make more time for family as well as take care of herself. “I started working out again last November, and that’s felt really great, to make that time for myself.” As long as the weather holds out, Perry plans to spend this Mother’s Day planting vegetables in the garden with the kids.  

Ashley Meyer is a Springfield-based cook, food writer and mother of two “kitchen babies.”


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