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

RachelKesleyWCfoods.jpg
Lori Midson

"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


Location Info

WaterCourse Foods

837 E. 17th Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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27 comments
kristenditsch
kristenditsch

Be sure to do a follow-up and let us know where she ends up! I LOVED her menu at WaterCourse!

squibbtp
squibbtp

Sorry to hear about her exit.  Watercourse has been my favorite spot in Denver since I moved here.  Rachel did a fantastic job with the menu.  Not sure what direction Mr. Landis is going with Watercourse or City O City.  Good food but wonder why there has been so much turnover lately.  

westdan10
westdan10

She gave "150%" to her job?  Well, she's a liar, for starters.  That would be impossible. 100% is the max.

Vic-Stevinson
Vic-Stevinson

That's an unfortunate situation, but many people will vouch that the quality of food and standard of service has gone downhill for several years. Did she forget to sleep with Dan Landes?

occupiedsole
occupiedsole

im excited to see what sean does with the menu, he's quite the gourmet.  watercourse at a time was one of the greatest vegan restaurants in the US, and i can honestly say that over time City O City has taken that title.  So as a vegan living in denver I'm excited to see what Sean does with the menu to launch food culture ahead more in this city.   although i really do like the new southern breakfast dish at watercourse.   

LeahA
LeahA

I used to love Watercourse. But now that Rachel is gone, and now that they're charging $13 for my favorite sandwich...well, I'll have to find other options.

Cornhusker
Cornhusker

That was a very classy response she shared and geez yeah, having your stuff in the paper is probably a bit tough, but it might ski be the best and fastest way to jump into a new opportunity so it's a decent trade off hopefully.

daniel.j.murphy-1
daniel.j.murphy-1

What a thing to have your tough job transition in the press. Godspeed.

Ben Campagnola
Ben Campagnola

A Rachel Kesley - Watercourse meal was one of the best meals I've ever had in my life. Cheers to you Rachel Kesley, and I can't wait for the next big thing!

Joe Richardson
Joe Richardson

I worked with Chef Rachel for years and that lady really knows her stuff. She completely turned that place around when it was going down the toilet. They'll never find a Chef to fill her shoes. What a dumb, dick-headed move! Good thing there are so many other vegetarian options in Denver these days.

Rod Wheeland
Rod Wheeland

Had a couple of great meals when last in Denver. We'll have to see where she lands.

sallismaria
sallismaria

Bummer!  I'd love to know where she goes next.


Tara Lassiter
Tara Lassiter

Bummer! Loved her food! Best of luck to her.

Vic-Stevinson
Vic-Stevinson

@westdan10 It seriously sounds like she's unaware of what went wrong. That's a problem or an attempt to conceal.

I used to go to Watercourse all the time when they were located in the City'O digs, then in the new space it became an insider's club and I was not on the inside.

Vic-Stevinson
Vic-Stevinson

@LeahA Native Foods is a good option. Just about every entree and sandwich is $10, and that's PLENTY of food. (Plus they will give you a sample of the day's soup(s), and they're always fantastic.)

LeahA
LeahA

@cantake8 I will give them a try. But I'm not vegan and I LOVE real cheese; I can't deal with non-dairy cheese. So I don't know if I'll love them...but I'm willing to try!

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