Standing Stone Brewing Company’s new Chef, Raider Babcock, was born on Super bowl Sunday 1981; the day the Raiders beat the Eagles. His father named him Raider after the victorious football team. And like his namesake team, Raider comes on the scene with his “guns blazing.” He arrives at work on his bike; medium height, muscular build, fair-haired. His 12” chef’s knife is tucked into the back of his apron, Like a Samurai he is ready for action.
Raider is busy from the moment he enters the kitchen. He is checking inventory, creating new specials, organizing ingredients. He switches easily between English and Spanish when communicating with kitchen staff. Why he speaks Spanish so well? “Four years of high school Spanish class, plus twenty years in kitchens.”
I sat with Raider at the bar at Standing Stone on a Saturday evening, in the slim space of time between a busy lunch and a busy dinner. I asked Raider to tell me about his “Chef’s journey”; about where he started and how he came through, and how he got where he is now.
“Growing up in Lake Tahoe, eating out was very expensive, so my dad cooked for us. It was just the two of us my whole life. So, he cooked for us every single night. And he cooked good food. Not gourmet, but good food. And it was all scratch cooking. That gave me the basis of it when I was a very small kid… And then my first legal job when I was 12 years old was a dishwasher and a prep cook in Tahoe at Squaw Valley.”
“All the way through high school I thought I wanted to be the next Bill Gates, so I was into computer engineering… hardware, software, writing programs and all that… My first job in college was an internship with Hewlett Packard. I thought that was going to be my calling. But, it turns out that pushing a cubicle for eight hours a day wasn’t exactly my speed. So, after six months of that I got out of it and didn’t know what the hell I was doing…”
“What I was doing was cooking to pay my rent and my bills….. But in Sacramento it wasn’t exactly gourmet. … And then I kind of fell into the wrong crowd. Then, I finally had a moment of clarity, a moment of realization that I was killing myself. I called my Dad…… I hadn’t talked to him in years, but without a second thought he came and got me… I was able to load up my whole life into one pickup truck. I left everything else behind and then came back to Tahoe.”
“So I found a job at a place called Plump Jack’s…… which is really, really fine dining. For the first time I was able to cook really good food…. I got exposed to some really good culinary and got to work with some really good cooks. [It was] that speed and that energy for the first time and that was my niche and I fell right into in and loved it ever since.”
“That was in 2000 and ever since then I have been working my way up through kitchens; banquet chef, sous chef, line cook, pastry chef and so on.”
Ten years ago Raider got his first Executive Chef position, at Squaw Valley. Three years after that he moved to Salem, Oregon. During that time Raider and his wife took full advantage of their .5 acres. They raised chickens and grew vegetables. They had enough produce to feed themselves and to sell some back to the restaurant.”
“But, wanting to move closer to family they made the move to Ashland. “We love the vibe. We love the energy. We love the people. We love the food. We visited Ashland numerous times before we moved here. … Every time we visited we fell more in love with the place. They brought with them over 200 potted plants to restart their homestead.”
And now Raider finds himself at Standing Stone Brewing Company. He says it’s a “dream come true… Honestly, this is the best crew, the nicest kitchen, I have worked in. The food is my kind of pallet. Everything is made from scratch. Which you can do in volume, if you do it right. In fact it’s actually cheaper that way, and with a better product. And that just makes sense to me.”
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Bacon or sausage? Bacon
Vanilla or chocolate? Vanilla
Wine or Beer? Beer
About coming in to the position of Chef in a restaurant with a twenty year legacy:
“They just look at me and think: are you the same kind of chef or are you a different kind of chef? And, you know, of course, I come in with my guns blazing….I come in the middle of the summer, the busiest time…. But these people need to be able to see that. Are you still going to be able to sustain that? Are you going to be able to be the same guy? …That’s just who I am, so it will be pretty easy for me to sustain it. But the energy level, the amount that you actually have to put out to make this thing work, it’s tough. And I just need to get everybody to match that, and we will be just fine.
About teaching and training:
“I like people that I can mold and teach the way I do things. I have a specific style and I know it. All chefs do……There are so many different ways to skin a cat….but you got to learn how I skin it. Because my way is, over the years of me doing it, the most efficient way, or the most productive way …. or simply the way not to hurt that cat. “
“Cooking is easy and I can teach anybody how to cook food. I can’t teach everybody how to work together properly… to move at the same speed, to communicate really well with each other.”
“Consistency is the most important thing that we can do in this industry …. If a customer comes in and has something one way. They loved it. They go back and tell all their friends how good it was. Everyone then comes in and tries it and it’s different that time? Nobody’s coming back….So we need to make sure that that person who had it amazing, that is the way it’s done every time. “