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Rich Vliet and Norma Sowell

I have been very sad this week. Two of my first and best mentors have died. Rich Vliet and Norma Sowell have been friends, teachers and touchstones for me from the very beginning of my professional culinary career. Both were incredibly supportive, delightful, determined people with vision. Both impressed me deeply and I’m going to miss them so much.

Rich Vliet was a restaurateur deluxe, the proprietor of Dr. Redbird’s, The Looking Glass, Sister Jennie’s, King Lizard BBQ and Larkspur. He loved old buildings and architectural salvage and good food and fun people. He adored his family and always put them first—a real challenge in the restaurant business. He was funny and kind and stubborn and brilliant, with a warm and magical laugh that could break almost any tension. He gave this bold, idiotic girl a job helping open Larkspur and the rest just happened naturally. He always saw the best in people. He taught me how to roll up my sleeves and make work a PARTY.

Norma Sowell grew herbs for me and most of the other chefs in town. She was a good witch of the highest order, in the sense that she knew just exactly what tasted right with what and when to use it. She taught me about flavor, and food in season, and how to cut basil and chives. She also taught me how to be graceful under criticism (mainly), how to love and nurture my friends, and how to be fiercely uncompromising when it came to my passions. I cried when she told me she was going to die, but she laughed in her hoarse, throaty way and said, “Everyone does! Now I would like some potato rosemary soup.”

Goodbye, old friends. Thank you for showing me the ropes.