It's late, and for the first time all night you're all alone.  Tonight was your last night in this kitchen.  The past three weeks since you gave your notice were full of lots of jokes about being a short timer, and pats on the back, and reminiscing.  You felt your once iron grip on the kitchen start to loosen as you took a step back.  You trained the folks taking over your responsibilities.  Every night your bag was a little heavier, as you slowly started taking home all of the spoons and spatulas and knives that weren't necessary for a typical service.  Tonight was amazing;  a perfect service (because none of the cooks wanted to fuck your last one up) followed by drinks, and hugs, and a tear in the eye of that hostess that had a crush on you.  And now you're standing in a dark, quiet, shiny kitchen.  You've known this moment was coming--in fact you were even looking forward to it.  But now you're filled with this strange melancholy.  Walking out of the building feels weird.  It's not exactly like the leaving the hotel after a great vacation, but it's pretty close.  Everything is about to change.  You're moving on.  A quick "Oh shit.  What happens now?" flashes through your head.  It's part excitement, part self-pride, and all terror. 

Some cooks never move on.  They find a spot they like, and they stick.  There is no shame in that.  It's amazing to hear the stories;  cooks that have thrown down on the same station for 10+ years.  Even better are the tales of dishwashers that became prep cooks, then sautee cooks, and eventually sous chefs.  Sometimes it's about money.  Sometimes it's about comfort.  But the vast majority of cooks are always looking to the horizon, wondering what comes next.  So go ahead:  Ask yourself, right now, what's next?  Where do you go from here?  Have you paid your dues?  Are you ready for the next step?  Do you still find a good challenge in your current place?  What is it that's making you stick?

In my life, i've only ever been good at two things:  writing, and cooking.  I've tried so many things--most of them utter failures.  Writing has been easy for me since I was young--it started in sixth grade and hasn't stopped since.  Cooking came later, but came on strongly.  That the two have intersected to become this blog has been great;  it's been such a huge part of my life for the past 2 years that at times it's overwhelming:  Work all week.  Write notes, take pictures, jot down quotes.  Run errands all day Friday, until the podcast.  Saturday, wake up, go to market, come home, write, edit the podcast, return emails, go to bed.  Sunday it starts all over again.  The fucked part is that I actually want to cook and write more.  It seems like there is some much to do, and no time to do it.

In a month and a half, I turn 30.  Sometime in the next year I will probably become a father.  Things are going to change.  I have no current plans to leave Nopa, nor do I want to:  Nopa is like a warm hug on a cold day.  It has this amazing power to energize and inspire you, and in this industry, that is a true rarity.  But no one is going to end their career in that kitchen.  Hopefully the Nopa kitchen becomes a breeding ground for the next crop of great chefs...but who knows?  I think I have a pretty solid idea of what I want next....but how do I accomplish it?  I'm stuck at this scary, unfamiliar crossroads, with no idea what comes next.

The reassuring thing is this:  a good cook will always have a job.  People need to eat.  The only disheartening thing for me has been that i'm probably better known at this point for writing than cooking--but that's not exactly bad.  I will do both, for the rest of my life, regardless.  It's easy to lose track of why you do something when you're a slave to numbers:  how many covers did we do?  How many hits on the blog this week?  How many twitter followers?  What were sales this week?  The truth is, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is you.  That sounds selfish.  It is.  That doesn't mean its wrong.

I want to know what you think about this.  What do you do next?  What has guided your decisions up to this point?  What is next?  How does a person leave their mark?  Are you scared?  Where do we go from here?


  • merrell's list of why i'm a geek:  comics, video games, blogging, dumb jokes, etc.
  • corey can still kill it at night
  • sous vide is coming to nopa.  shhh, don't tell anyone
  • i dont get nervous cooking for chefs.  but cooking for eddie and scott beale was a bit nerve racking
  • sometimes genorosity in this city is overwhelming;  coffee at blue bottle, strawberries at dirty girl, a free tee from eddie, and mourad letting me use his ultravac.  dang
  • leaving your rabbit out of the cage when you go to market is not recommended
  • summer is in full effect at the market

quotes and conversations:

"I had a rabbit once, but it got eaten by an owl."

Merrell:  Fire flatbread. 
Goose:  You fire flatbread.
Merrell:  I don't know how!

Me:  Eddie, have you had sex with yourself lately?  You really shouldn't deny yourself the pleasure.
Eddie:  I really haven't.  Fucking busy lately.  Plus, I don't have internet.

Eddie:  Guess what I was reading this morning?
Me:  What's that?
Eddie:  Best Women's Erotica 2009.

Me:  You might get a guy to give you a western style handjob.
Eddie:  That guy being Paulie.

Me:  Gerardo, did they violate you?
Gerardo:  YES!

from top:  everything is going just fine, corey at night!, duck pancetta, brooks cherries, induction, jamon iberico, merrell and chop, late night snacks, dinner, eddie, rooftop plants


Alvin said...

It's an gift to see when opportunities present themselves - sometimes we need our friends and family to hit us on the head and tell us. It's an ability to make opportunities happen for us or, in your case, to strive towards excellence day after day so that happens. If you're happy where you are and you can continue to benefit your environment while your environment continues to benefit you, why not stay?

jer said...

"sous vide is coming to nopa"

do you know why i'm excited?

-because a youtube search of "sous vide" was how I found this blog over a year ago...in fact i think i asked you in the comments section how to clean the damned circulator. as far as i know, we were one of the first places to experiment with sous vide cooking in Nashville.

this is so full circle it boggles my mind.

keep on keepin' on

kirchartfour said...

Haha: teary eyed hostess...I love it. Nice one, Rich'

Lisa said...

What a lovely, thoughtful post.

Not The Rockefellers said...

Rich, for the first time your blog made me fookin' cry...

And in answer to your questions...when you find all of that out will you please let me know?

You are a rockstar, sir and you will make one awesome Daddy.

Lucky kid

Peace - Rene

Courtney said...

Ultimately, moving on is always about making something in your life better. Better/new exposure. Better money. More experience. This post and the one about the real me almost made me cry (in a good way). I'm in Portland Maine and the food bloggers here are way negative. Your blog is so on point and real. Cheers.

Anne said...

Change is always frightening . . . there is comfort and security in established patterns.

Unfortunately, without change you can't evolve and go further.

My life right now is all about change, and I am terrified, but I'm also fully committed to making it happen.

Congrats on your upcoming parenthood, btw. :)

epicure said...

This post is incredibly timely, as I leave my current kitchen on Thursday. It's not the same calibre as the kitchen I came from, but "the Detroit of England" only has so many options for the cook. That said, I've introduced standardized recipes and procedures, I've gotten serious input on the seasonal menu changes, and I'm leaving the sous chef with a copy of Cookwise. It's a lot for a line cook.

Next? I'm worried. The job market back home is rumored to be rough, but I'm excited to move back to a place where I can name 10 restaurants I'd love to work at.

My decisions up to this point have been guided by convenience and necessity, but entering year three cooking, I feel like I've got the experience to both recognize the right kitchen and advance.

I want to go into a good, fast kitchen, where I can fill the gaps in my technique, and do the things I love: cure meat, bake bread, work more with fish. I'm sad to be leaving, and sad that I will likely never see my coworkers again, but so, so excited.

Matt said...

i quit at the restaurant i have been at for the past 8 months and am considering moving...i am scared shitless as to what comes next

great post as usual man...keep it up!

JG said...

got any idea where you guys scored those movable planters? I am opening a restaurant in Dtown ST Louis and we are looking for solutions for fresh herbs..

Keep cooking!


martin said...

For me choosing a kitchen to work in, when to leave, etc. is about opportunity for growth (both professional and personal, they are one in the same), chemistry with the other cooks and an alignment of ideals and standards. Making the decision to become a line cook again (I was a sous) was all about opportunity to grow, learn and develop. Where I cook now has a great reputation and great cooks who all have skills. I find myself looking at things in a new way again and rededicating myself to the learning process. That is the greatest part, the doubt and the confidence that comes from challenges. Every dish is a little success or failure again and I love that. At the end of the day I am moving towards a goal and choosing opportunities that I judge suitable to help me achieve that goal both professionally and personally.

hessken said...

Thanks. I just left a hotel I grew up cooking at from an apprentice up to a chef. It was extremly hard to leave yet it was my time to do so. I am not a writer yet you captured everything that I felt. I know more of my friends and other Culinairans have been making this same decision and I know they will also appreciate it. "Even Peter Pan had to grow up and leave neverland!!!!" Thanks again Ken

Scotty B said...

Yet another of your posts that brings me to tears. I wish you good luck. I also think you'll be a great father. Enjoy the ride.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

somehwere where the lowest paid worker has the same enthusiasm for life as your forthcoming empolyer....

Peter Martin said...

I just came across your blog. As an ex fine dining chef who moved into the corporate world, I can now relive some of the craziness that was restaurant cooking. I look forward to checking out your podcasts also.

Alan H said...

this couldnt have come at a better time for me. i just got a new job at what will no doubt be the hottest most cutting edge restaurant in my home town ,minneapolis. and i am scared shitless. this will only be my second job in the industry. i know im going to learn a lot, and its going to be a blast! but i still cant help but be terrified.