In Unhitched, couples tell the stories of their relationships, from romance to vows to divorce to life afterward.
Together Gale Gand and Rick Tramonto built stellar restaurants and established their careers as celebrated chefs but the stress of having a child and being a powerhouse culinary couple caused their marriage to splinter.
Dates of marriage Oct. 1, 1988
Date of divorce Oct. 30, 2000
Age when married She 31, he 25
Age now 64, 57
Occupations Both acclaimed chefs, they have authored many cookbooks, including three together. They teamed to launch several restaurants, including Tru in Chicago. After their split Ms. Gand hosted the program “Sweet Dreams” on the Food Network and Mr. Tramonto has grown his restaurant business. He is an executive chef and partner of Restaurant R-evolution in New Orleans and runs a hospitality consulting company, Tramonto Cuisine. Last year, she launched Kitchen Sisters Cooking School with a partner and teaches frequently.
Children A son, Giorgio, now 25. Ms. Gand has twin girls with her current husband, Jimmy Seidita; Mr. Tramonto has two stepsons with his current wife, Eileen Tramonto.
Where did they grow up?
She, in Deerfield, Ill. Her father was a folk singer and her mother was a stay-at-home parent.
He grew up an only child in an Italian blue-collar family in Rochester, N.Y. His father landed in prison for embezzlement when Mr. Tramonto was a teenager. He dropped out of high school and began working at a fast-food restaurant.
When did they meet?
In 1983 at a restaurant in Rochester. She had graduated college with an art degree and was working as a pastry chef; he was a line cook. She had married her high school sweetheart but after eight years that marriage, her first, ended.
What was it about the other?
A shared dream of opening their own restaurant. In 1984 they moved to New York City to further their careers. “Gale understood what it took to work in restaurants which turned out to be both a blessing and curse,” he said. After a year, they moved back to Rochester and eventually to Chicago.
Why did they marry?
She wasn’t pushing for marriage but when he proposed she went with it. “I liked the idea of being a culinary couple,” she said. “We complemented each other.”
How were the early years?
“Going to bed with someone who smelled like fish and vinegar was true love!” she said.
“We shared a common goal and spent all our money dining out,” he said. They both suffered from dyslexia and, because of her own experience, she was able to help him learn to read. “She was a really good friend,” he said.
In 1990, they took jobs in England and on their days off traveled through Europe developing their culinary education and cultivating connections.
First signs of trouble?
In 1993 they moved back to Chicago to open their first restaurant; three years later they had a son. He continued to work from 6 a.m. until after midnight most days.
“We were great as a couple but never transitioned well to being a trio,” she said.
“Admittedly, I’m a workaholic,” he said. “I just checked out.”
Did they try to work out things?
They saw several therapists, but their shared focus had shifted: she was deeply involved in being a mother, he was driven to earn Michelin stars. In 2000, they decided to divorce, but continue to work together.
“I looked up from work and the marriage was over,” he said.
They opened four restaurants together after their split.
Did they feel stigmatized?
No, but he had grown up with the notion that “dirty laundry stays in the house,” he said.
By mutual decision they kept their split secret, fearful that their investors and restaurant staff would become spooked by such a disruption. She began hosting a television show on the Food Network and thought she was hired partly because of her relationship. (Not the case as it turned out.)
A year after their split, the divorce was reported in a Chicago newspaper. Condolences were offered by many but the couple made it clear there was no villain, and that no one needed to take sides.
How did they fare financially?
Their lawyers seemed to complicate details of their parenting agreement, so they worked things out themselves. He parented three days a week; she bought him out of their home.
How did their child react?
Soon he had a new normal, even attending an after-school divorce club. Their ability to work together helped them navigate any parenting challenges. “Rick really stepped up as a father,” she said.
How did they move on?
A few months later, a friend set her up on a date and in 2003 she married a third time. The following year, she had twin girls, now 16.
In 2002, he married a good friend from high school who had been a bridesmaid in their wedding.
The new spouses were entirely supportive of blending the families and of the ex-couple continuing to work together. “We were able to keep some of the best parts of our relationship going,” he said.
Post-divorce, they teamed up to compete on “Iron Chef.” (They lost by half a point.)
Should they have split sooner?
No, both say spending the early years with their child was important.
Is their new life better?
Yes, their families get along well and spend time together.
“Now I love being married to someone who knows how to relax, because I never knew how to do that,” she said.
“I’ve changed my priorities,” he said. “Family is now very important.”
Would you have done anything differently?
He wonders if they should have lived closer to their restaurant. (On a good day, it was an hour commute.) “Maybe I could have gone home for dinner or been more present,” he said. “But I couldn’t see solutions then with all that was going on.”
She expected more from the relationship and at the time he wasn’t able to give it. “Rick and I existed in that rare place where most chefs live, that culinary cloud where it was all about the cooking, kitchens, food, feeding others. Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the cloud, till it’s too late,” she said.
Has either person changed?
“I’m stronger. Early on Rick was the one with the big ideas and I helped actualized them. After our divorce, I had to find my own dreams and make those work,” she said.
“I’m no longer trying to prove anything to anyone,” he said.
Advice for others?
“The heroes of our story are really our new spouses who accept our hybrid relationship. I have no doubt that we would help each other with absolutely anything — we have a long and deep friendship and that remains,” he said.
“There’s no way to know if differences will become intolerable and create too much conflict, or just stay charming and quirky. Be honest, get out gracefully, and choose again if you want to,” she said.