In this edition of our Employee Highlights, meet Richard – a chemist turned foodie that found his way here to us at Chef & the Farmer!
Share with us a little about your background, your interests, and how it all brought you here!
My interest in local, fresh food really goes all the way back to my childhood. Growing up my family grew most of our own food including, not only a huge garden, but raising pork and poultry. So the farm-to-table work of producing food was just part of life from the time I was old enough to help in the garden.
Once I grew up, went away to school, and got married, there was a period where I wasn’t able to do much gardening, but my wife was home with our children, and she started baking bread and working toward a whole food diet for our family. From that came an interest on both of our parts in preparing delicious and nutrient rich food.
At this point in my life I was interested in changing careers from industrial chemist to chef, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to volunteer on Saturday nights at a local fine dining establishment to assist the young chef. This restaurant was much like The Chef and the Famer in that it featured local produce and meats and served up a sophisticated cuisine. I became the Saturday night salad maker and got very good at cutting up vegetables quickly and assembling quite impressive salads of all kinds.
By this time, my wife and owned land for gardening, so a garden—this time organic—came back into my life. I had an opportunity to work and learn at another fine restaurant in Charlotte doing whatever was needed, whether that was chopping 20 pounds of onions or assisting the chef. About this time, too, our son was working his way through Appalachian State at an Italian restaurant with an excellent wine list, so with him I began to learn about wine and added that to my list of avid culinary interests.
Eventually my industrial chemist career came to an end when my company closed the plant where I worked. Finding myself unemployed, I went to work at Olive Garden (with two of my teenaged children) and worked part time as a server. There I had some opportunities to assist and train in the kitchen and learn about the corporate restaurant business—very different from the small, fine dining restaurants where I had worked before.
By now I had spent a number of years watching chefs and restaurant managers work 12 to 14 hour days 5 or 6 days a week, and I reconsidered that type of career for myself. However I found that I had fallen in love with restaurant culture—lots of interesting and slightly crazy people seem to gravitate toward restaurants and have a grand time together, and I fit right in—even though I was old enough to be the father of most of my colleagues.
The final step in my career before Chef and the Farmer was as manager of a natural foods cooperative market in Indiana. When that job opened, I thought, “I’ve been eating whole foods for a long time. It seems like the right job for me.” There I found that I was good at retail management—which frankly surprised me.
What brought me to Eastern North Carolina was the lady I love and have loved for a long time. She got a job here, and we moved together. At first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do regarding employment, but my wife and I came to the Chef and the Farmer. I thought, “This is the right spot for me.” I came in, applied, and got hired on the spot. I’ve been here for about 2 and a half years now, mostly working in the wine shop. Recently though I have been working on developing a system for determining the cost of recipes along with analysis of the numbers aspect of the restaurant. It’s a perfect fit with my interests and experience: farming, whole foods, Southern cuisine, wine, restaurant culture, and fiddling with numbers. What’s not to love?