If there’s one thing ALEX RAIJ the talented chef behind Spanish restaurants El Quinto Pino (photographed above), Txikito, and La Vara and mother of two wanted to make clear at last week’s Toklas Society Work + Life talk, it’s that this industry does not come with a great deal of balance. “I don’t think my life has to have a lot of balance in it, and I just have to accept that. I’m happy to have a lot of work and then enjoy when I have time,” she said at the top of her talk. “It’s pretty chaotic most of the time. I can’t do everything well, I do everything with difficulty,” she added, noting that she wouldn’t really have it any other way (and doesn’t really know any other way).
Raij spoke on a variety of topics including the pitfalls of business partnerships gone wrong and the importance of a good lawyer, the burden of childcare, and how to keep a fresh perspective. Some highlights:
On being a working mother: “We just pay for a lot of child care. We have a really loving nanny. I don’t think that’s necessarily worse than having a mom who’s miserable at her job and has more time at home…You’ll disappoint yourself. And the biggest thing is you’ll disappoint yourself by disappointing your kids.” Raij notes that one thing having a family forced her and her husband (and co-owner and co-chef) to do was take vacations and time off at the same time. And though they work similar hours, one always makes sure to leave at 7.
On partnerships: “I think that my biggest advice to anybody, especially if you’re looking for balance, is to make sure you hire [a lawyer] and make sure you avoid everything I’ve been through. I don’t want to sugarcoat it even though I’m a success story. Sometimes it’s better to be an employee than to become a partner with someone. Take a good salary. Because it’s extremely hard to get out of the business with people if they don’t want to play by the rules…It costs a lot of money to get out of business. Even if it costs you just a little to get in. So just wait for your moment and take good jobs and learn good work. Just because you have a piece of paper doesn’t mean you won’t have to fight for your rights and fighting for your rights is very difficult.”
Great restaurants she’s tried recently: Atera, M. Wells Dinette, Battersby.