What It’s Like to Date A Chef: Bruce Ricketts and Jae PickrellApril 2, 2020
The life of a chef is as difficult as you think—it takes tireless hours, never-ending stress, and maybe even a bit of your soul. We are by no means relationship experts, but we can only imagine that dating a chef could have more challenges than you’d expect. For this short series on Pepper, we’ve interviewed 3 couples in the industry, and asked them the tough and fun questions about their relationship and just exactly how they get things done.
Today, we have Bruce Ricketts, who has quickly become one of Manila’s most sought-after chefs, a force in the kitchen who transformed hole-in-the-wall Sensei Sushi into a serious dining destination. At Mecha Uma, he is cooking some of the best food of his career, with an omakase that has people clamoring for seats and booking well in advance. His off-the-cuff style is balanced by his incredibly cool demeanor and a formidable partner in Jae Pickrell, Features Editor at one of the country’s leading fashion magazines, Preview. With careers that are incredibly demanding, we check in with the couple to understand how they manage to both stay at the top of their respective games without compromising their relationship.
How long have you guys been together and how did you meet?
Bruce: We’ve been together for 4 years. I met her when she was filming the show “The Source” for Star World. I was going to cook their meals, but when I first met her, I was passed out in their make-up room in Robot. They were kind of waking me up, and when I woke up, I saw her. She was kind of intimidating. Jae: He was literally on the floor. I walked in the VIP room, and there was this guy randomly passed out on the floor, and I was like, “Who the hell is this?” He woke up and said “Good morning”, gets up and walks away. He was always there on Sundays for the show, but he never said a word to me. I guess he was so embarrassed because of how we first met. On the last day of shooting, the producers kind of set us up because they knew how much I loved food, and he was the chef so they made us sit together.
How do you deal with your hectic schedules? Both of your jobs, as a Features Editor and as a Chef, are pretty hectic in themselves.
B: It gets really bad. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have the ability to internalize things. If I was so full of myself, and if I’d always think that I’m right—then it wouldn’t work. That’s the truth about it. Unless you understand why you’re in this relationship or why you need to be with her—if there’s no deeper understanding, then there’s no point in it. Half the time, we only see each other when we’re going to bed. Half the time, she’s already asleep when I get home, and she’s already left when I wake up. So, how do you deal with that? It’s really better that you live together, because you can make things out of the little moments. But I’m not so good at it yet, even if we’ve been together for almost four years. For me, I’m always going to try to make up for lost time, and as long as we’re together, I’m always going to have to make it up to her.
J: It’s hard because people always think it’s glamorous when you’re dating a chef. They’re always like, “He probably always cooks for you.” And nothing can honestly be further from the truth; we rarely spend time together. He really spends most of the time in the kitchen. If we didn’t live together, we wouldn’t even see each other. When we first started dating, we would always fight, because I personally came from relationships where I spent a lot of time with my ex-boyfriends. For him, it was like a culture shock. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that he has to work so early in the morning and work so late at night. He had no time for me or even himself. He had no time for vacations and weekends off. It really took a lot of getting used to. It took me a few years to get used to this new dynamic. I used to give him a lot of shit for not having date nights. But now, I think I’ve gotten used to it. B: She’s changed a lot. The thing that’s different is that she gets it. But, as soon as you get home, you have to understand, and turn it off. Sometimes, when I’m at home, I’m not really at home, I’m still at work. For a few weeks I’ll be at work, and when I’m done when my vacation, I’ll realize I ruined it by thinking about what I’m going to do next. But, you know, it’s a learning process. For a chef, the rate of break-up and divorce is so high because you’re around all these things. Chefs and cooks in general sometimes are so tired that you can’t think properly anymore. They know who they’re going to come home to, but there’s nothing in between. It’s always a plus to date a chef, but the question is, what kind of chef are they? How deep are they into their craft? Are they in it for business or life or death? Then the next question is when to draw the line. J: What really helped me deal with the time problem is realizing and coming to terms with the fact that for Bruce, this is not his job, it is essentially who he is. For me, as much as I love what I do, it is still a job. I can simply turn it off, but for Bruce, it’s not the case. Cooking is really so much a part of him and his lifestyle. How fair would it be for me to tell him to turn it off? There’s no such thing. I used to tell him he needed a work-life balance, but that’s not the case. B: When I started dating her, my integrity and outlook changed. I’m very different. My standards changed, and there’s still so much to learn. When she came into this, she wasn’t just dating Bruce. She’s dating a whole restaurant. She’s dating a lifestyle. J: That’s what people don’t understand.
Wow, that’s quite heavy. But in the end, it must be worth it. In terms of his job, what are the most fun advantages?
J: The food. I respect his talent and creativity. The food is definitely a plus. It’s a pleasure to be able to see his evolution up close. Prior to dating Bruce, I always loved food, but I never saw cooking as an art and creative field. I don’t know, for some reason, when you think of the arts, you don’t always think of food as an art in the way we do now. When we started dating, it was really a form of creativity. That’s something that I really respect and admire, in the way that I appreciate art, it’s kind of nice to be dating an artist in his own creative field and see him evolve. It’s been awesome.
Are there parallels in your fields that bring you closer?
J: Yeah, the visual arts. Cooking is such a visual art, and I’m also inclined to it in that way. You have to pay attention to verbal and visual language. Whenever I find something visually appealing, I share it to him. My first love is literature, then art. I introduced him to Pollock and he started mimicking the strokes. B: How she dresses up is very inspiring. The thing was, before, when we were dating, I used to think I had to put up a certain face to keep up with her. And then I realized maybe I shouldn’t, and she had to lower her standards, and we met halfway. I apply what I absorb and what I learn from her; there’s just so much influence. She loves literature and reading, but unfortunately I don’t have the time, but I haven’t given up.
Have you ever brought inspiration from your relationship into the restaurant?
B: Yeah, there’s this new dish in the tasting menu. Basically, it’s eel liver and rice. This was done through her and her opinion. The thing is, nobody understands or sees the food the way she does. I’m more nervous cooking for her than for any other chef. She can smell the difference between a day of exhaustion and a good day. She has an eye for the nuances. I always joke: “you know if you were in the restaurant industry and part of the team, you would take the restaurant to another level.” She has an eye for detail that I wish I had, but some people are natural, like her. Jae: One of the perks is I always have a seat at the table. Sometimes I just come in, and I just sit here. What usually happens is he sends me things in progress. Like the eel liver. That time, I was having the degustation, so I tasted it within the context of the omakase. So I told him, what would be good with it is rice because it’s very comforting. You know how his style tends to be crazy at times? Wouldn’t it be nice if he segued from it? And then the next time I came, he was serving it with rice. It tends to happen that I have little suggestions for him. It’s flattering to see him really appreciate it. That’s pretty cool.