Chef Paolo Neville
4 min readNov 3, 2023

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Almost three years ago I was just gliding along. The routine of working out the weekly specials felt comfortable. Most of my kitchen staff had been with me since I had taken the Executive Chef job six years ago. I was frustrated with my inability to make a substantially larger paycheck, but it was just enough to get by. For over three decades I’d had a career, a career that has had its ups and downs but provided for me and enabled me to raise kids, giving them more than I’d ever had. This chef position had given me flexibility to spend time with my boys on weekends and be there for the special moments in their lives. Most chefs I knew didn’t have this type of arrangement. For years it seemed like people had been asking me when I was going to start my own restaurant. I’d shrug it off, thinking about how much work it would be with no guarantee of success. I’d watched so many fail and at this point just being the chef felt easy, but that was the problem. Easy wasn’t fulfilling. I had to challenge myself or the waves of discontent would continue to wash over me. How could I fix this and achieve more success? I knew from my turbulent life up to this point that it was an inside job. I knew just making a bunch more money wasn’t going to give me more peace or joy. Sure, for a short amount of time I’d feel better but the doubt would just creep back in. I needed a challenge. I needed to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, I just wasn’t willing. I needed a nudge. In my past that nudge had come from a marriage falling apart or my drug and alcohol addictions getting to a point of unmanageability. My world wasn’t falling apart around me. Little did I know in just a few short months the actual world would start falling apart. In March of 2020 Covid began its persistent march around the globe and my world turned upside down….

I began to question everything in my life. Was the restaurant industry, a job I’d been doing my entire life, where I really wanted to stay? Could I even retire doing this? Even if I could retire someday, how would I spend my days in retirement? I watched the world around me as most people I knew where either laid off or now working from home. It felt as if the world was taking a break. I began to feel rundown after a few months of non stop pivoting and trying to hold the restaurant together. It no longer felt like the industry I’d grown up in. Resentment began to creep in. The initial thrill of the apocalypse was beginning to wear off. I needed a creative outlet. I needed a break. Packing food up in togo boxes was getting old, this is not what I signed up for.

I started looking into other industries, perhaps a career change was in order. The skills I’ve developed as an executive chef. for decades seemed to translate well into other opportunities. The only catch… I had significant expenses and was trying to raise two teenage boys. Everything I looked into would either set me back financially for the next five years or didn’t provide the flexibility to spend time with my boys. I knew from my time in AA and recovery that if I kept doing the same things over and over, I’d get the same results, so I pulled out my tool box. I began adding small little changes to my routine. It had been far too long since I had made time for the meditation cushion. In early recovery my mind was so scattered I’d just walk… for hours, just trying to keep the chattering monkeys at bay. The only way I could quiet my mind was to get it out, on paper. I had found journaling in that first year of sobriety but like many other things it had faded away as I found my footing and regained some serenity in my life. So one day, as the August heat began to subside, the leaves on the trees began rustling. A chill was in the air and the impending season change stirred something in me… I began to write. At first just a short little story about my trip to California, just before the shit hit the fan. I shared it with my brother and he sent it on to an editor friend of his. I had felt like it was a pretty good little piece but when it came back to me a little polished up, along with some words of encouragement, I was hooked. I began to add a few minutes of writing to my routine everyday and next thing I knew my entire life was pouring out onto the pages in front of me. It was filling the creative void I’d be living in. I began to heal.

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Chef Paolo Neville

Executive Chef and author with 30 + years in the service industry. I have two amazing sons and a passion for food and the restaurant industry.