Shifting Gears

I suppose I should fess up to something.  It’s not that it’s a secret, or something I don’t want to talk about.  It’s just been a little hard to have to do, and sad to talk about.  I put my notice in at Veil.

It’s not really a surprising move, to those that know me well.  My schedule at Veil had been minimized from a salaried full time position to an hourly paid two days a week, and my focus had begun to shift to my internship and the ice cream shop.

My internship, I have been hesitant to write about at all, due to some threatening non-disclosure agreements and stern warnings not to write about it.  But I believe I am safe in mentioning that the powers that be are putting together a comprehensive cookbook on modern techniques.  I am beyond lucky to have been brought on as the first of many interns, to see the lab form, and watch the project grow.  So when people ask, “Is there a textbook, or some kind of guide to molecular gastronomy?”  I smile and say all I am allowed to, “soon….”

As for the ice cream shop, it’s a shift I never expected to make.  I have focused on plated desserts so long, made choices in my career to foster my growth in that area, and always worked in small artisanal restaurants.  I pushed everything out of the way that distracted me from developing creatively, including learning the business side of things.  One can only add so much to their life at once, only hold so much in their brains.  (I heard a professor once say, “for every students name I have to remember, there goes the Latin name for a butterfly.”)

But as I come of age in the kitchen, and watch friends launch their own endeavors, it has become clear that the time to begin learning about business is here.  Without this knowledge, I am powerless.  I used to say that I never wanted to worry about owning a restaurant.  I just wanted to cook.  While this still holds true, it’s become clear that if I ever want to make my expression, free from any restriction, I have to build myself a forum.  What that is, I don’t yet know.  I think about little treat shops, dessert only restaurants, tiny 6 table dinner houses, wholesaling dessert components and complete menu’s to restaurants that can’t afford full time pastry chefs, custom cakes, a culinary retreat with classes build on my in law’s amazing deep forest property in Oregon, little coffee shops with baked yummies, taking over The Frontier, (a real country restaurant on the outskirts of the Willamette Valley decorated with John Wayne posters and past members of the live exotic bird exhibit housed at the restaurant,) and reviving the 1950′s drive-in I worked at in high school.

But it’s become clear for the first time in my life, that knowing how to make perfect food won’t keep a business alive.  My innocent and naive belief over the years has been, “If I make perfect food, every day, people will come and I’ll be successful, the business will fall into place.”  But watching friends and employers struggle it’s become clear that my lack of business knowledge could take any dream of mine down quickly, breaking my heart with it.

Working for Molly, I am in part exchanging my culinary know how for her business knowledge.  This lady has put as much effort into developing herself as a businesswoman, owner, and employer, as I have into developing myself creatively.  Just as I would take a stage, she took a seasonal job at J-Crew because she wanted to learn their reputable motivational tactics to better lead her own staff one day.

As I help develop new flavors, and standardize the production as the company grows from one store to many and possibly into the wholesale market, she will mentor me through the process of opening a business and running it successfully.  I am proud to be a part of Molly Moon’s, as I look up to her business ethics and practices, leadership qualities, and believe in her and her company wholeheartedly.

As I was plating my new and last menu last week I felt a great sadness.  I love plated desserts with everything in me, and being in a small intimate restaurant like Veil.  Giving them up is painful, especially just as fruit comes into season!  But if I ever want something of my own, it’s a sacrifice I need to make.

Besides, making ice cream all day sure does make me happy.  You wouldn’t think it, but ice cream is pure science, and I look forward the years of learning attached to this discipline.

My last day at Veil is this coming Tuesday, and my final menu should run for at least another week or two.  If you have been meaning to come in and try my desserts, hesitate no longer.  Otherwise, come find me at Molly Moon’s ice cream shop in Wallingford, and try our flavors and some of my hand crafted toppings!

15 Responses to “Shifting Gears”

  1. congratulations and good luck

  2. Aaron says:

    Dana,
    Congratulations on what looks to be an excellent career move. I’m left with a question: Do you think it’s a general trend that pastry chefs are being pushed out of the kitchen? As a recession ensues and restaurants seek to tighten their belt, will the pastry chef become a fixture of the past? Will we be left with pastry drones and a few great consultant making dumbed down menus for someone with little experience and no feel to make?

  3. gail says:

    Cool! I am coming to Seattle for a short holiday, and now we’re going to come visit and check out Molly Moon’s. Can’t wait. We followed a bunch of your Italy recommendations last summer, and loved them. THANK YOU. I hope you get everything and more of what you are looking for at Molly’s.

    Gail
    -Calgary, Canada

  4. Dana,

    I have been looking forward to your words on this subject for some time now. Congratulations on a graceful exit, new beginnings, thinking hard internally and investing in a more viable future.

    I loved seeing your ideas for growth in the fifth paragraph. Restaurants “tell us” that there is no other option than restaurants, but of course there’s a wide world for those of us who love working in the sweet kitchen!

    I am utterly happy for you, and inspired. Hunkering down and really being honest about “what’s next,” and not just meaning our next job, but our future, is so difficult. But also necessary and, ultimately, rewarding.

    Perhaps an R&D trip will need to be made to the Bay Area? As you know, we have a few stellar ice cream shops started by famous pastry chefs…

  5. lindsey says:

    i think you are reckoning with a lot of the industry’s great challenges…and it is wise to realize that you need to learn about the business side of things. i hope you find the ice cream shop and the mysterious internship to be very rewarding as well as the process of dreaming up what your next project will be.

  6. Congratulations on making a tough choice. It takes a lot of guts to walk away from something you love to build towards what you want in the future. I love your list of alt-restaurant ideas too. I hope to be building something alt but still profitable in a couple of years too, and I find it so inspiring how many things like that are going on these days.

  7. kirsten says:

    Congratulations Dana, I know that your passion will lead you in the right direction. But I am sad you will no longer be at Veil. I have not only enjoyed your lovely creations, I have learned a lot from what you have written and said (@gypsy) about the process. I do hope that you will start a new endeavor, something like Tailor or Room4Dessert? I think with the right location, Seattle would support something like that. I envy the vast canvas before you! I will keep my ear to the ground like a proper stalker, and visit MM’s.

  8. Erin says:

    Congratulations on your new adventure! I am in the middle of a great re-vamp myself, it is both exciting and nerve wracking. Good luck to you.

  9. Della says:

    Sounds like a wonderful adventure Dana. I wish you all the best and can’t wait to try some of your ice-cream :)

  10. Erica says:

    Good luck and congratulations, change is hard and exhilarating, exciting, stressful, and usually, the exact thing that we need. Looking very much forward to hearing about your journey.

  11. Meg says:

    I think there are so many careers- food, painting, writing, medicine- in which the amount of time necessary to become good at it is so incredible that then learning the business side is daunting. It’s great that you’re committed to doing it. Good luck with it.
    Also- my kids love the ice creams and sauces at Molly Moon’s (and I do, too).

  12. richard chan says:

    Good luck with your new adventure! I can’t wait to try your ice-cream at Molly Moon’s! I really like Veil you know and it is sad to see you go. It is my favorite restaurant in town because of the people and the team creating something truly incredible. Your leaving Veil is like Curtis Duffy leaving Alinea…

    A tribute to my (and my wife’s) favorite dessert at Veil
    “Mixed citrus “creamsicle” tahitian vanilla bean, blood orange sorbet and brioche pudding”

    http://www.vintnersgroup.com/Food%20blog/Wine%20tasting%20dinner%202008%20Jan/index.html

  13. Yvonne says:

    Best of luck! I look forward to following along on your next adventure. I’ve been reading your writing for awhile now, probably before I even knew that I wanted to be a pastry chef, you’re an inspiration.

  14. Rosemary says:

    Dana! I was browsing online for local food blogs and stumbled across yours – I remember when you were an amazing chef, even at 17, hosting great dinner parties for us. I’m so glad to see you growing in that, 10+ years later! My husband and I have our own food blog (just a hobby), and document favorite dishes we make at home and local restaurants we love. We’ll have to come visit you for some ice cream – the honey lavender sounds amazing!

    Rosemary Jones (formerly Woods)

  15. Carley says:

    Dana!! Where are you? This is the only way your roomates from a former life can spy on your glamorous new life! Updates!!! We need updates!!!!

    Carley Rapp (formerly Spears, now Rapp as in Mrs. Tony Rapp!)

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