Portland Bound, My Culinary Journey And A Time To Reflect

September 19, 2013

We’ve been here for about fifteen years collectively. Trying to remember the places we’ve lived and the positions I’ve held in the almost nines back in the Bay Area is mind-boggling. I’ve had a history of staying in kitchens for years. And I’ve learned that I’ve stayed in kitchens years longer than I should have. I could say I liked the job security. I could say I enjoyed the people I worked for. I could also say I was afraid of change. What I will say is that its probably a combination of all three. I also made bold moves while living here. I took huge pay cuts to work as a line cook because I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn how California cooks. I wanted to hone skills that were not being used by working for corporate restaurants.

I also learned how to stand up for myself. To value myself. To realize I was a good cook who could also be a leader and mentor to younger cooks. I could have easily taken the easy route and stayed with RUI but they simply do not produce chefs. The produce managers of food, managers of people and managers of money. I wanted to cook. I wanted to learn.  I wanted to cook good food and try to find an identity for myself. A niche. Something that I could relate to as well as my customers related to. Sensible good food.

B Restaurant in Oakland afforded me that ability. It paid horribly but I had menu input, I created specials and finally got the feeling of what it was like to be creative and use local and sustainable products. True California cuisine. It wasn’t enough though. I wanted to a balance between being creative and still lead a kitchen. I loved  mentoring cooks. Not only teaching them how to cook but how to make money from the product they produced and appreciate how to turn food into money. I was good at it. I still am. Left Bank Brasserie gave me the opportunity to lead a kitchen as a Sous Chef while learning a new cuisine. French Bistro cuisine was very fun to create. I made dishes I never thought I’d have the opportunity to create. I got to cook for wonderful chefs like jacque pepin, Lidia Bastianich, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso.

I still wanted more. I made a very bold decision and moved to Portland but this time without my Wife Jude. I thought getting a job there, being with close family would convince her that moving would be the best choice. I had no realization that the job market was so challenging there. I also had serious self-esteem issues that I didn’t understand until I moved back to San Francisco. I did a lot of reading while in Portland. I also did a lot of cooking too. I wasn’t a Sous Chef anymore. I was a Chef and wanted my own kitchen. It was time. I had not choice. It was almost like a vocation and I ran with it. I applied at a number of places but received a call from the owners of The Monk’s Kettle. A new built from scratch Gastropub in The Mission District. A very ambitious undertaking in a supposedly cursed location. I created a menu from my head, scratching ideas down on a legal pad. No test kitchen, no history. Just what I liked to eat and what I thought went great with beer. I enjoyed three great years there. They are about to celebrate their sixth anniversary and I feel that my contributions during my three years there are a big reason while they are still open and thriving. I think about my time there a lot.

I also thought about my Dad a lot during that time. He was struggling with his health and it was taking its toll on him. I decided that my focus should be on caring for him and my family and took a break from the kitchen. My wife was absolutely wonderful and patient during these hard times. It was very hard dealing with his illness and subsequent death and I felt lost after his passing. Tragic events like this can make you question your talents, courage and determination to move forward and if I didn’t get back in the kitchen soon, I never would. Judy passed along an ad for a new restaurant opening in Berkeley just two months after my fathers funeral. I applied. I needed to cook again and I did. I was determined to cook my food again and migrated my menu that was highly regarded at The Monk’s Kettle and implemented it at Freehouse. I had very high hopes for this new venture. My vision of Freehouse business model did not go the same direction as the restaurant did and I felt compelled to part ways fifteen months later. There are certain things I will not sacrifice as chef and I felt if I stayed, I would be sacrificing those core values so I left. Judy’s job was also not evolving the way she wanted to after eight years at First Crush so we decided we wanted a change.

My Uncle and his partner bought a house in Portland Oregon. I truly feel this time my luck will be much better because of what I have learned while being back in the bay area. I feel that I truly am a chef. I can create, cost out and execute very pretty food that people can relate to and enjoy without feeling like it is something over their heads or unapproachable. I also learned how to not only pair beer with food but to cook with it. I also learned how to home-brew which is not only rewarding but inexpensive. We love the Bay Area. We have hundreds of photos of us camping, drinking, eating and enjoying family and friends.

There are things we are going to miss very much. Campsite #6 at Wright’s Beach, Samuel P. Taylor campsite, Jenner California. Going to Santa Cruz and having a great burger and craft beer at BURGER. Visiting our chiropractor Dr. Lei who has done wonders in keeping me in the kitchen. Trips to Berkeley Marina just to do nothing. Loving driving across the Richmond Bridge. Why? Because it’s beautiful. My butchery classes at 4505 Meats. Having dinner with Bruno and Ben.  Happy hour at Cesar. Going for late night burritos at La Pinata. Taking drives to Tiburon and people watching. Driving down highway 1 to Half Moon Bay. Seeing the clouds envelop the Golden Gate Bridge while driving over it. Saying we live in the most beautiful place on earth driving over the Bay Bridge. Hell, just sitting in our fairy garden area of our yard and watching our cats frolic and just doing nothing but talking. Life can be simple but it’s short. Live it to the fullest and enjoy where you are. We will miss it dearly but are also excited to experience new things. Which we will. I can’t wait to share this with you.

-Kevin.

2 Responses to “Portland Bound, My Culinary Journey And A Time To Reflect”

  1. Your latest missive touched my heart so deeply that I had to weep. Your introspection is so honest and real….few people are able to examine and understand their journey through this life with all the good and bad accepted and then used as the impetus to continue to strive for what will surely bring them, finally, to a place of comfort and the knowledge that it was worth it.

    Your eloquence in expressing your feelings about losing the Dad you loved so dearly will be with me always.

    I know, truly, that as hard as it is to leave the place you’ve come to love, that you’ve chosen the right path to follow to fulfill your dreams.

  2. Since I can’t access your FB page any more I still want to wish you a wonderful and Happy Birthday! I want you to know that no matter what happens you will always be my firstborn and I love you dearly and wish you all the success you so deserve!! Love, your mom

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