Best of Food & Drink
Best chef for Sacto’s new culinary wave: Michael Thiemann of Ella Dining Room & Bar
Say it five times and fast: “The chef chatted while chowing on cioppino.”
Apparently, this is easier done than said, at least for Michael Thiemann, who called SN&R this past Thursday while also experimenting with a new fish stew. The Sacramento native said he’s busier than ever—but it’s not a handful, or mouthful, at least yet.
The buzz started this past February, when Thiemann took over the kitchen at downtown’s Ella Dining Room & Bar. Then, recently, he was promoted to oversee all four of Randall Selland’s local restaurants, including The Kitchen Restaurant. The chef now has to multitask—cooking, working on menus or, in this case, doing media interviews—and, you know, probably has little time for tongue twisters.
“I don’t stop working,” he confessed while sampling a prawn. “It’s weird, I never thought I’d get to that point.”
Yet he seems to dig the ebb and flow of being a major player in Sacto’s new culinary wave. Thiemann shows up at Ella’s kitchen, nibbles on some cucumbers or figs, maybe snags a brioche or an heirloom tomato, then gets working on menus, which he writes himself.
Later, with Ella chef de cuisine Ravin Patel and sous chef Marck Banagan, he’ll hash out philosophies on such minutiae as plating— “I think everything needs to be placed one at a time. You’ve got to see what you’re eating. I hate burying stuff”—or hold court on the restaurant industry’s social hierarchy.
“‘We’re in the serving class,’” Thiemann said he tells his colleagues, “‘and don’t forget that.’”
Thiemann doesn’t talk for days about Sacramento’s eating habits, but he is tapped in. “You’ve got to listen to your customers, to your peers. You’re insane if you don’t listen.” And what is it they want? What’s the new bone marrow?
“I think I just said beef cheeks 30 times in the last five minutes,” the chef deadpanned, then laughed.
But it’s about greens, too. Thiemann admitted that his No. 1 goal upon taking over was to get Ella “more vegetable-driven.” Which he’s done. Lately, you’ll find summer bean succotash with white corn, cherry tomato and basil. Or caponata with baby squash, eggplant and Castelvetrano olives. Thiemann, Patel or his secret weapon Randall Selland himself source all the restaurant’s produce from local farms. It’s farm to table, yes, but that’s because farm to table is what a chef’s supposed to friggin’ do, he reminds.
Pick a peck of pickled peppers, indeed. Ella Dining Room & Bar, 1131 K Street; (916) 443-3772; www.elladiningroomandbar.com; The Kitchen Restaurant, 2225 Hurley Way; (916) 568-7171; www.thekitchenrestaurant.com; www.thesellandgroup.com.