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How to Be a Chef

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One thing I get asked a lot is how to become a chef, so I figured that I’d save everyone (and me!) time by putting my advice up here for the world to see. It all boils down to one word: don’t.

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It never ends well.

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If that doesn’t discourage you, then here’s my advice on what you need to do. This isn’t the only way, and it’s maybe not the best way, but I don’t know any other way. Like most people who own restaurants, I have tunnel vision and can only imagine doing things the way I did it.

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How Not to Open a Restaurant: Part 5

The fifth and final installment in a long (looooong) series of posts about how Dirt Candy came to be built. The story that took a year to tell. Thrills! Chills! Evil plumbers! Mentally ill contractors! Shakedown artists! Ransom demands! If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, then read these entries and avoid my mistakes. Plus, there is entertainment to be had in reading about bad things happening to people, so long as you’re not the person in question. So I offer my bad things to brighten up your day.

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(Read Part One, here’s Part Two, here’s Part Three and here’s Part Four)

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In October, everyone turned evil. Maybe it was because of Halloween, maybe it was because as you get towards the end of any project you finally have to handle all the irritating details you’ve put off handling, maybe it’s because I’ve been cursed by an invisible witch for crimes I can barely remember, doomed to pay penance in this life for violating some obscure taboo in another. But as Dirt Candy entered the crunch Moto and Jerry both went from being normal guys, to being bad contractors and then joined Anthony as downright crooks. To recap: we were in October, there was no gas, we’d blown past three opening dates without a sign of slowing down, staff was hired, they were starting to ask questions I couldn’t answer like, “When do we open?” and my dwindling cash reserves were dwindling like they were competing in the Dwindle Olympics.

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What things looked like on October 14 (from the

back of the restaurant).

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How Not to Open a Restaurant: Part 4

The fourth in a series of posts about how Dirt Candy came to be built. Thrills! Chills! Evil plumbers! Mentally ill contractors! Shakedown artists! Ransom demands! If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, then read these entries and avoid my mistakes. Plus, there is entertainment to be had in reading about bad things happening to other people, so I’m offering my bad things to brighten up your day.

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(Read Part One, here’s Part Two and here’s Part Three)

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So there we were, middle of June, Anthony the contractor was out, Moto the contractor was in, and I had just ransomed back my stolen materials from Anthony’s rage-a-holic daddy. You would think that, karmically speaking, unless I was Attila the Hun or an orthodontist in a previous life my troubles would end here. But no, because there was another loose end that needed to be tied up: Jerry the Plumber. If you currently have a plumber working for you and his name is Jerry, do yourself a favor and shoot yourself because sooner or later Jerry will make you wish you were dead.

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The front of the restaurant in mid-August.

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How Not to Open a Restaurant: Part 3

The third in a series of posts about how Dirt Candy came to be built. Thrills! Chills! Evil plumbers! Mentally ill contractors! Shakedown artists! Ransom demands! If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, then read these entries and avoid my mistakes. Plus, there is entertainment to be had in reading about bad things happening to other people, so I’m offering my bad things to brighten up your day.

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.(Read Part One, read Part Two)

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Anthony was finally gone in June, which was a month after we’d been slated to open. Around half the construction money had been spent and I barely had any restaurant to show for it. On top of that, after all the leveling that Anthony spent his time on, one side of the restaurant was still three inches higher than the other and everything had to be re-leveled. On top of that, even though Moto was back in the picture and contracted to finish the job, there were two loose threads: my missing materials, and Jerry the plumber.

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How Not to Open a Restaurant: Part 2

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The second in a series of posts about how Dirt Candy came to be built. Thrills! Chills! Evil plumbers! Mentally ill contractors! Shakedown artists! Ransom demands! If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, then read these entries and avoid my mistakes. Plus, there is entertainment to be had in reading about bad things happening to other people, so I’m offering my bad things to brighten up your day.

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(Read Part One: The Beginning)

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I had a location. I had (almost definitely) a liquor license. I had an architect (the long-suffering Craig Kim of Audo Architecture). Now I needed a contractor. Choosing a contractor is a bit like choosing your mugger – you want someone who won’t hit you in the face and will maybe let you keep $5 for cab fare. Unfortunately, we didn’t find that kind of mugger. We interviewed a couple of contractors and whittled it down to two: Moto and Anthony. Actually, when I say “whittle” what I mean is that these were the only two who would show up at meetings and give us a quote. This was taking place in late 2007 and that was when the real estate boom was going big and most contractors were imitating Naomi Campbell and wouldn’t get out of bed for under $10,000.

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This is what Dirt Candy looked

like at this point.

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Moto was a nice guy who had done a lot of work building restaurants in the East Village, but he played his cards close to his chest. I wanted a communicator, someone who would keep me in the loop, and Anthony and his foreman, Colin, seemed genuine, nice, kind and efficient. They would give us schedules, updates, weekly site meetings and paperwork tracking the project. It seemed wonderful – contractors who would talk to us and keep us informed of their own free will. Sure they hadn’t built a restaurant before but they seemed game for the challenge and this space is only 350 square feet. What could go wrong?

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Everything.

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How Not to Open a Restaurant: Part 1

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The first in a series of posts about how Dirt Candy came to be built. Thrills! Chills! Evil plumbers! Mentally ill contractors! Shakedown artists! Ransom demands! If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, then read these entries and avoid my mistakes. Plus, there is entertainment to be had in reading about bad things happening to other people, so I’m offering up my bad things to brighten up your day.

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There comes a point in a mountain climber’s life when they want to climb Mount Everest. There comes a point in a speed freak’s life when they want to get ripped out of their minds and drive really fast the wrong way down the highway. And there comes the point in a chef’s life when they want to open a restaurant; the mountain climber and the speed freak look pretty smart in comparison. A little over two years ago I decided to open Dirt Candy. I’d been working for other people for about ten years and I was dying to do something new with vegetarian food and I was tired of working really, really hard for people who didn’t work really, really hard.

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Viola marks the spot where Dirt Candy

will be built.

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A friend said to me, “You’ve opened so many restaurants for other people, opening your own will be a piece of cake.” And it was a piece of cake, if by “cake” you mean a cake with a spring-loaded sledgehammer in the middle of it that hits you in the face over and over again. And then, just when you’ve gotten used to the sledgehammer, it starts shooting razor sharp knives at you. That kind of cake.
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Memories…

Approximately one year ago today was when I was convinced that Dirt Candy would never open. This was after Anthony, my first contractor, had called his mother during a meeting (“Mom! Mom! She says I’m a liar! I’m not a liar!” he whined), this was after he had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for three days and his foreman, Colin, tried to steal the job from him, and this was after he suddenly presented me with an extra bill for close to $100,000 in excess of what we’d contracted for including such interesting charges like $6,000 to level a wall (that still wasn’t level – after he left I measured with a laser thingie and saw that the top was three inches off from the bottom). But a year ago today (roughly) was when he walked off the job. As bad as a contractor is, you never want to have to get rid of one in the middle of a job, and so this was around the time last year when I started looking into selling the space and walking away.

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From what I understand, Anthony went into bankruptcy for his business to get rid of debts, and he and Colin are still out there working and doing jobs. If you happen to be thinking about working with a contractor named Colin or Anthony drop me a line and I’ll be happy to walk down memory lane with you.



menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Tomato $13
tomato cake with smoked feta,
yellow tomato leather, herb puree

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll$10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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