Cafe Society

Rachel Kesley, exec chef of WaterCourse Foods, on produce-driven menus, vegetarianism and her fascination with figs

Rachel Kesley WaterCourse Foods 837 East 17th Avenue 303-832-7313 www.watercoursefoods.com

This is part one of Lori Midson's interview with Rachel Kesley, executive chef of WaterCourse Foods. In part two of that interview, Kesley dishes on umeboshi vinegar, the traveling food cart and eating a buzz button.

The best advice from Rachel Kesley? Listen to your body.

The 29-year-old executive chef of WaterCourse Foods, Denver's most popular spot for vegetarian food (along with City, O' City, its sister restaurant in Capitol Hill), became a vegetarian in 1997 after dissecting a fetal pig during biology class as a freshman in high school. "It was really the first time that I'd physically equated the animal to food, and it just totally grossed me out," recalls Kesley, who later became a full-fledged vegan after watching the documentary Baraka, which includes disturbing scenes depicting the injustices of factory farming. "There was this whole part about chicken and poultry plants and the inhumanity of it all, and it really hit home for me, so I became a vegan," says Kesley, who maintained a vegan lifestyle for three years while living in the People's Republic of Boulder, prime feeding ground for earth-muffin diets. But her body eventually balked. "I was living in a city where you hike and run, and my body could never keep up -- I was tired -- so I listened to my body, and started incorporating fish into my diet, starting with a small piece of halibut," she remembers, "and, boom, just like that, my energy level surged and I felt like I was bouncing off the walls."