Chef Vetsch (in front) and owner Carlson. Photo by Allison Dinner.

The chef of the beloved C.F. Folks downtown is leaving May 10 – just days after the scrappy, lunch-only American café will be honored as one of America’s Classics at the James Beard Foundation’s annual awards gala in New York.

“I really have to re-evaluate my life,” says George Vetsch, the departing chef. “I’m 54. Financially, I have nothing.”  Among the first items on his agenda include visiting family in his native Switzerland. “I haven’t seen them in, like, 15 years, and I’m the youngest.”

Vetsch, who began at C.F. Folks in 2008, plans to return to Washington this summer and mull his next professional move. In one scenario, he’s the executive chef at a corporation that needs one; in another, he’s the chef-owner of his own bistro.

“We’re going to miss George,” says Art Carlson, the wise-cracking owner and a familiar presence behind the Formica counter at the restaurant, which opened in 1980.

Stepping into the slip of a kitchen is Brian Nance, most recently of the Amphora Catering in Herndon but previously in the employ of Michael Landrum of Ray’s the Steaks and Hell Burger acclaim. Nance is already familiar with the drill at C.F. Folks, however: He worked there for about six years beginning in 2002.  Even so, he and Vetsch are working side by side for the next two weeks. Carlson figures the time together will give his future chef an idea of what to “temper, change or keep” at his anti-Potbelly.

Carlson shared his acceptance speech ahead of the prestigious chef and restaurant awards at Lincoln Center May 6. Let’s just say it’s short and sweet and manages to weave in some humor from Emily Dickinson.