by Julia M. Plevin '09
Bruce MacLeod '84 is the chef and owner of the French restaurant Carpenter and Main, in Norwich, Vermont. While his restaurant is just two skips from Hanover, he says he does not venture into Hanover frequently. After spending six years as a undergraduate in the 1980s (MacLeod took his time because he believes in the Beat-poet philosophy of life as a journey), he had had enough of the quaint college town. Also, his job is so time-consuming that he never makes it to Hanover during the day when the shops are open.
As is true for any small-business owner, MacLeod works long hours. The restaurant is open five days a week and MacLeod usually comes in by ten in the morning. He first starts cooking the items that take a long time, such as stocks or lamb rib. Then he answers the phone and runs errands. In the summer, MacLeod gets most of his produce from a nearby farm stand. He is a strong believer in supporting the local economy and he knows that his vegetables taste better when they are grown with care and out of the ground for less than two days before he cooks with them. Then, at five o'clock, he has dinner with his staff and discusses the daily specials. They serve dinner to guests until ten o'clock at night. He usually leaves the restaurant by eleven, only to start the same process over the next day.
MacLeod does not mind the long hours and feels lucky that he has been able to turn his avocation into his vocation. He does, however, resent missing out on other aspects of life. He has two kids that he wishes he could spend more time with. When he does spend time with his kids, he loves to cook them dinner. MacLeod says that his favorite food to cook is refried beans for burritos because his daughter loves them so much. His children are growing up with refined palettes. "They have to try things," he says, "and so now I have children who like mussels."
MacLeod himself did not grow up as a foodie with a clear vision that he wanted to be a chef. On the contrary, he was a Computer Science major and knew he was passionate about Dartmouth and computers since middle school. At his middle school in South Portland, Maine, there was a Teletype machine that was connected to Dartmouth that worked at 100 characters/minute. He thought the computer was "really cool" and decided then that he wanted to attend Dartmouth and study computers.
In his junior year of high school, MacLeod visited the College with his father. They wandered into the Computer Science department and found a professor in his office. After the professor spoke with MacLeod and his father for two hours, he realized how special it is that Dartmouth has real professors interested and engaged in undergraduate studies. Moreover, at that time, Dartmouth had the best computer program in the liberal arts world.
So MacLeod came to Dartmouth knowing that he wanted to major in Computer Science. After his sophomore year, he took a year off to work in the computer industry. However, he realized pretty quickly that he was "not a desk person." While he enjoyed studying computers and computer science theory, he found the day-to-day work to be too monotonous for him. He realized that if he was so bored at this job, perhaps he did not want to have a career in computers.
Back on campus after his stint in the computer industry, MacLeod would read Gourmet magazine and try to cook in the kitchen at his fraternity, Sigma Nu. He realized that he had a natural talent for cooking and really enjoyed it so he decided to take another term off. This time, he worked as a cook in Portland, Maine. It did not take him long to decide that he wanted to be a chef after college. His dad was wary of his son's decision until he overheard some people in New Hampshire talking about the amazing white cheesecake dessert that MacLeod had created at the small restaurant in Maine. MacLeod appreciates that his parents were supportive of his decision to pursue cooking.
MacLeod finished his major in Computer Science even though he had realized that he wanted to be a cook because he had only two terms left. He also did not know that he would be a cook for the rest of his life and thought that he would always be able to fall back on computers if necessary.
When MacLeod returned to Hanover after working at the restaurant in Portland, he started looking for jobs at a restaurant. He found an advertisement for a job as a wine steward at D'Artagnan, the best restaurant in the Upper Valley at the time. The only requirement for the job was an interest in wine. He got the job as the wine steward, but kept asking questions about cooking and soon the owners asked him if he wanted to be a cook because there was an opening. He did want to be a cook and had used the job as a wine steward to get his foot in the door.
"The restaurant business is funny," MacLeod comments, "people tend to move around a lot." After D'Artagnan, he set off to San Francisco and spent five years learning "the right way to do things and how to run a kitchen" at Masa's, a critically acclaimed restaurant. MacLeod went to San Francisco with a list of restaurants he had read about in Gourmet magazine. He says he got his job at Masa's by being in the right place at the right time. Next, he moved back to the Upper Valley and had a series of jobs at restaurants, including Simon Pearce. He spent four years in Charleston, and briefly tried to work as a corporate chef in Charlottesville, Virginia until he realized that he did not like "having meetings about having meetings." MacLeod opened a no longer existing restaurant in White River Junction called Lowbrow and now has owned Carpenter and Main for two years.
MacLeod concedes that he is not in the restaurant business for the money, but he does it because it is what he loves. He loves when he comes out of the kitchen and someone says to him, "that was really wonderful." He enjoys the immediate gratification of people telling him that he is doing a good job. He considers his loyal clientele that helps him run a successful business even during a recession to be his greatest achievement.
While he loves his career, MacLeod is aware that cooking on the line is a young person's job. It is a physically tiring job but he could never see himself owning a restaurant and not cooking. Perhaps in the future he would like to teach at a cooking school but he advises Dartmouth students who want to consider cooking as a career to get a job in a restaurant instead of going to cooking school because "at cooking school, you have all day to cook that carrot. This is not true in the real world."
According to MacLeod, cooking is a hands-on experience and life is a journey. "Live for the moment and don't be afraid to take a chance," he says, referring to the philosophy of Jack Kerouac. "I would have been in the computer industry if I had done what I thought my parents wanted me to do. I would be miserable and they would not be too happy either," laughs MacLeod. He strokes his beard as he sits back in one of the chairs at Carpenter and Main as if he owns the place. Oh wait, he does.
Last Updated: 6/21/12