One thing is certain about my husband, Chef Anthony Felan: He is extremely passionate about his work and has an incredible drive to grow and succeed. From the time he decided to make a career in the culinary world, he has worked incredibly hard to hone his skill and become a better leader. Unbeknownst to some people, the chef life is far from the glamourous perspective we see on television. They work long hours in a hot and crowded kitchen, they miss out on holidays, social activities and time with their family, and they live under constant pressure.
Several years of this lifestyle naturally will begin to wear on a person. Burnout is real in this industry and I have been watching Anthony go down fighting for a couple of years. Like most chefs, he operated each day on little sleep or food, a lot of caffeine, nicotine and his nightly cap of alcohol to unwind from his often-intense day. Let’s be honest, balance is not his best virtue. He loved his work and cared about the success of the restaurant as if it was his own. There was no “turning it off” when he came home at night or even on his days off. Unlike most people who feel overly stressed in their job, Anthony never considered exploring other career paths that might give him the schedule to allow him a life outside of his work. That’s the thing about most chefs – they are extremely dedicated to their chosen path despite all the demands, the physical ailments, the staff turnover, and the lack of any personal life or quality rest. They are a species of their own and not many people can sustain in the industry. There were many high points for Anthony in his career and I believe those, coupled with his intense passion for creative cuisine, is what kept him pushing through the challenges and chaos of the day-to-day.
However, in January 2017, Anthony experienced the greatest loss of his life; one I knew would change him forever. His dad passed away suddenly after a cancer diagnosis one month prior. The months following, Anthony struggled hard. The emotional and physical exhaustion began to break him and he started to question his own path. Reflecting on the many family events and special moments his dad missed due to his demanding job in addition to the dreams he had that he never pursued, Anthony realized he did not want to go down the same road. Every chef desires to have something of his or her own, and the realization of life’s fleeting nature began to weigh on him. He could no longer dismiss the stress he felt and the thought maybe there was more for him.
Anthony has talked about starting an underground supper club for years so we began to toss around ideas. If nothing else, this focus gave him an outlet, something positive and exciting to think about. It gave him hope. But considering his work schedule and family responsibility, he was not convinced he would actually be able to find time for it. However, a simple Facebook post to poll interest of his underground dinner idea sparked a fire in him and pushed him to action. Through the help of some of his supporters, the conversations became more serious and meetings began. They came up with a name and some potential locations.
Around this time, I got a call from a friend who said she had some ideas for Anthony and she wanted to run them by me. She asked if I could possibly make it to her event that evening since she knew Anthony would be at work. This night ended up being a huge turning point for us. Not only did this friend share some progress on a potential project that has been on Anthony’s heart for a while, I met some amazingly generous people that night who offered their building, the Calanthean Temple, for his first underground dinner. The 2nd Act Supper Club was becoming a reality and through the planning and success of the first event, I started to see the light in Anthony’s eyes again. He was proud of his work and felt the love of so many people. Something he desperately needed and I was most grateful for.
Underground dinners and supper clubs aren’t unique to this area, and we wanted ours to be different. Our goal was to host them in historic buildings and old businesses around town. Shreveport has a wealth of beautiful architecture, much of which is just beginning to be restored. Anthony has always desired to have a restaurant in one of the abandoned buildings in downtown Shreveport and so the next best thing was to host these pop-up dinners where we could get access. Being able to learn and share the history of these buildings is one of the greatest things about it. We believe if people are able to discover the beauty and stories of them, they will have a deeper appreciation and want to see them restored for use today. In addition to that, it brings us immense joy to see the guests’ excitement over his creative dishes and the friendships discovered while sharing an intimate meal with people they may not have known prior to that evening. It has been a fun social experiment, one that we feel has been quite successful. Anthony has an amazing support base who have attended every dinner and each one brings new faces who we have the pleasure of getting to know.
Doors have continued to open for our family, thanks to answered prayers and so many supportive people in our lives and community. In August, very unexpectedly, one of the farmers Anthony has worked with over the years propositioned him with a partnership to open a food truck at a local brewery. Smith Family Farms will soon open a meat processing plant in the same building as Red River Brewing, and they were looking for a chef to have consistent presence for the brewery’s guests and to use Smith Family Farms’ beef and lamb on the menu. If you know Anthony’s reputation for his use of locally sourced food, you know how much this excited him. Certainly felt too good to be true when Craig Smith first proposed his idea. The freedom, the low overhead and the simplicity of running a food truck always intrigued him, and many chefs who had taken similar leaps have seen great success. Maybe this would be the step he needed to find pleasure in his work again, to have more time with his son, and to begin the process of creating the life he so desired. Things were getting serious quickly and we had to make a decision. As exciting as this endeavor was, leaving his long-term and stable job was difficult and daunting at the same time. In September, Anthony resigned from his position as Executive Chef of Wine Country Bistro and is currently working to open his new business, Fat Calf Boucherie. Fat Calf’s menu will remain true to Anthony’s love for farm-fresh ingredients and in addition to Smith Family Farms meats, he will continue incorporating vegetables and other local staples from area farms including Doodley Dee’s Farms, Mahaffey Farms, Haute Goat and Flowing Hills Creamery, and eventually Cotton St. Farms when they are fully operating. The menu will be more extensive than your average food truck – there will be small bites for sharing as well as a variety of burgers, sandwiches, and salads. It will vary through the seasons and he will run weekend specials like hand-made pasta and seafood dishes.
Some people may think he is crazy for taking such a big leap, but I could not be prouder of him. I have complete faith in his ability and I know his talent, ambition, work ethic, and character will allow him to succeed at anything he puts his mind to. And Fat Calf isn’t the end goal for him, he is also working with the Norla Preservation Project on another restaurant concept for the future.
There were many nights that I laid awake praying for something big to happen for him, that he would get through those dark stages of grief, and that he would realize he has the potential to achieve whatever his heart desires. As the saying goes, “The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens.” For once in our six years together, I was witnessing my husband ready to give up. Then the miracles came, and they continue to happen every day in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, there have been hard days and extremely tense moments through this entire process. I know the road ahead won’t always be smooth, but to see my husband living out his passion and finding happiness again makes every single stressful moment worth it.