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The next few months were a grueling blur of back-to-back 12- to 16-hour days. “We finally got to the point where I asked to be the chef,” said Paulsen. “Tracy said yes, and here we are.”
A loving relationship
The stereotypical chef disposition — foul-mouthed, quick-tempered — was Paulsen’s only role model. “That’s all I knew,” he said.
That behavior hit a brick wall at the Birchwood, a holistic enterprise that greets its customers with a Zen meal prayer over the counter. The place exudes happiness and a firm sense of well-being, a lesson not lost on the observant Paulsen.
Learning by example, he altered his eating habits, took up yoga and discovered a more meaningful way to interact with his colleagues and gain their respect. He’s grateful.
“This is a place that not only encourages being a good cook and making good food, but also being a good person, a healthy person, a fully present person,” he said. “Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve learned how to be in relationships at the Birchwood Cafe.”
Including, naturally, his fiancée, former B’wood server Amanda Layer; where else was Paulsen going to find love but at the Birchwood? Their daughter, Liesl Clementine (remember, he’s nuts about oranges), arrived six months ago.
“She’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever held in my hands,” said Paulsen. “I can’t wait to take her to kill her first chicken, to teach her how to grow a carrot. It’s exciting to have all that stuff on the horizon.”
Paulsen is a tireless traveler — the number of stamps in his passport could rival Hillary Clinton’s — and he subtly channels those experiences into his menu. He and Layer are tentatively planning to marry next February in Vietnam.
Until then, Paulsen and his fellow Birchwood-ers have a busy 2013, with two major projects on the horizon. Singleton is working her way through the intricate process of rehabilitating the restaurant’s cramped quarters — a former neighborhood dairy and grocery — into a facility “that will actually be set up to do the kind of food that we want to do,” she said. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in the fall.
A cookbook of favorite Birchwood recipes is also in the works, a collaboration with writer Beth Dooley and photographer Mette Nielsen, and a new challenge for this hardworking chef.
“Just like any job, there are ups and downs,” Paulsen said. “But I’m excited to come to work. This is my dream job.”
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib
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