Cafe Society

After nearly six years as exec chef at WaterCourse Foods, Rachel Kesley gets the boot

"I like a good impromptu dance party," Rachel Kesley acknowledged last year when I asked her to reveal something about herself that most people weren't aware of. And while Kesley got the boot last week from WaterCourse Foods, the venerable vegetarian restaurant in Uptown, whose kitchen Kesley spearheaded for nearly six years, she's still dancing. "You know me: I'll try to dance through it with my head up," she says, despite admitting that "last week was a bad week."

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

It all went down last Tuesday, when the general manager and finance honcho at WaterCourse (owner Dan Landes, who also runs City, O' City, was in Mexico at the time) unexpectedly handed Kesley her walking papers. "It's complicated, but ultimately it came down to directions. I always gave 150 percent to my job, and they wanted a new menu, which I was working on, and then my responsibilities, including the beer-and-wine menu, were taken away from me, and four days later, on Tuesday, I was told I had five minutes to gather my things," recounts Kesley.

"I put my heart and soul into that place, and it's actually really sad," laments Kesley, who graduated with a degree in history from the University of Colorado and eventually enrolled in the culinary program at the School of Natural Cookery, splitting her time between the classroom and working on the line and waiting tables at Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery. In 2006, she landed the executive-chef position at Leaf Vegetarian restaurant, also in Boulder, before eventually joining the kitchen crew at WaterCourse.

But now she's a free agent and open to new opportunities. "I'm weighing my options and excited to learn new things, and while I ultimately want to open my own place, be that in six months or six years, I'm available for part-time gigs, and in the meantime, I'm doing some consulting, personal cheffing and catering, and I'd like to get into brewing," she says. "I've brewed with Strange three times, mainly coming up with the flavor profiles, and I love beer and pairing beer with food. It's just a fun new way to play with ingredients and flavor profiles," she notes.

As for her multiple years cooking at WaterCourse, Kesley looks back on the experience with thoughtful elegance: "WaterCourse was my home for five and a half years, and as a team, we pulled off some of the coolest events I've ever been a part of. The people I worked with -- and cooked for -- were my family," says Kesley. "I grew into my own skin and got to meet some of the top culinary minds in this city through working at WaterCourse, and I'll always be grateful for my experiences there and the community we had," she stresses.

"I'll admit that I'm feeling a little burned by the restaurant world right now, but when one door gets slammed on you, another opportunity usually arises," she concludes.

Sean Kendrick, the former sous at WaterCourse, has been promoted to exec chef.

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

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson