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Ken Norris: Clean, Sober, and Making Sausages

Former RiffleNW chef opens up about his sobriety and his new venture.

Ken Norris/Instagram

When chef Ken Norris left Riffle NW, the seafood-focused Pearl hotspot he co-founded, after just one year, shouts and murmurs across the local food scene were full of speculation and assumptions. Now, a year after the restaurant shuttered last August, a clearer picture has emerged.

Last week, the Portland Tribune reported on Norris' new sausage venture, Clutch Prime Sausagery, which is slated to open a kiosk at the Portland International Airport this fall, as well as a restaurant later this winter at Beaverton's still-under-construction Timberland Town Center.

But in the article, the chef opened up for the first time in print about his struggle with drugs and alcohol, which was a factor in why he left the restaurant.

"A life that was centered on drugs and alcohol brought me to a point of exhaustion, and I just sought a new way of living," he says. "A shift beer turns into four; there's a lot of adrenaline," Norris says. "It's hard to wind down. It seems natural to go out and drink more. It's an endless cycle for years."

Norris says he's been sober for 18 months, and hopes sharing his story will inspire others in the restaurant industry. His life is back on track, and he's been working hard on getting Clutch off the ground, developing his chef-y takes on the humble sausage, including smoked-lamb sausages topped with crispy chickpeas, hummus, and feta. He was even invited to cook a special Oyster Week dinner at the James Beard House in New York last month.

"The high I get now is by helping other people, and the friendships I've been able to build," he says.

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