Perspective: Off The Menu

Evan Kleiman, the former chef-owner of Angeli Caffe, on life without a restaurant

Illustration by Ed Fotheringham

It’s a quiet morning, but it’s even quieter inside my head. For the first time in 27 years I can wake up and let the early hour wash over me. I don’t have to spring out of bed and check the restaurant’s bank balance. There isn’t anything left in the account anyway. It’s all been paid out to staff, vendors, and taxing agencies. It feels very strange.

Owning a restaurant is like managing a list that never ends. Most of the tasks are banal: Get bread for bread pudding, call plumber again. Some are more fun: Write seasonal specials, finish catering menus. Some are horrible: Berate the prep guy, fire someone. Now it’s as if someone has waved a magic wand to make these worries disappear. As a result, I am thinking more than I have in years. What a luxury to allow thoughts to meander in and out of my head without purpose.

As my mind wanders, I, too, wander the city. Every errand is now an opportunity to take the long way. I cruise down streets I haven’t driven in years. Being a native Angeleno means that I don’t need to move away to experience a different city. Live here long enough and the city changes around you.

I’m thankful for the time to enjoy the good in the world, but I’m ready to face the bad, too. During the past 15 years, I’ve interviewed countless experts for my radio show, Good Food, and yet the demands of the restaurant kept me from doing anything with the knowledge I absorbed. Now my conscience fidgets with some of the more uncomfortable realities in our food system. We all strive to be more informed, but we also have the tendency to skim over many of the troubling details. Finally I’m free to confront them.