Meet Our Chefs
1. Chef Oliver Ridgeway, The Grange
The English-born Executive Chef has been around the restaurant business most of his life. “My father had a restaurant, so I grew up around the kitchen, and the hustle and bustle of the industry”. Oliver then took his passion for cooking to the iconic Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship, traveling around the world honing his technical skills. He continued to travel around the world in his 20s, tasting and enjoying what each culture has to offer. After seventeen years of travel, Oliver and his family finally settled in Sacramento. Oliver says, “Sacramento is very ingredients driven”.
When it comes to inspiration, Oliver lets the food speak for itself. “Having a sense of place, and recognizing what the area has to offer is important”.
“There really isn’t a theme to what we do here, other than that it’s local, says Oliver.
2. Chef Clay Purcell, Tower Bridge Bistro
Chef Purcell worked as an independent caterer for more than 20 years, but now prefers the hours of his current position, which allows him to spend more quality time with his family. Clay’s 14 year-old daughter is vegetarian by choice, and the entire family tends to eat “meat free” 2-3 times each week. Clay notes that vegan/ vegetarian food is healthier, economical, and is growing in popularity. He states that he personally “feels better” when not eating meat on a daily basis.
The Chef holds a great appreciation for Julia Child and the “farm to table” philosophy, in addition to maintaining a “KISS” approach to his cooking: “Keep It Simple (Stupid!)” He is an advocate of using just 4, 5, or 6 ingredients
The outstanding Roasted Pumpkin Soup that Chef Clay offered on last year’s Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge menu was so popular that diners continued to request it even after the challenge ended. And on Earth Day this year, his Tower Bridge Toasted Coconut Cupcake won the People’s Choice award for taste at the 1000 Vegan Cupcakes for Charity Challenge.
According to Chef Clay, more and more diners are requesting vegan menu options, and he’s looking for ways to accommodate them, not only during the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge, but all year long.
3.Chefs Rey Ortega and Ron Russell, Plum Bakery and Cafe
Four months ago, Ron Russell and Rey Ortega took over our little vegan hub, known as the Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe, and renamed it Plum Cafe and Bakery. They are both excited to take on the Challenge this year. Rey has created and managed two successful baking manufacturing businesses over the last 15 years and his booming gluten-free cookie business, SunFlour Baking, is popular nationwide and Canada.
Ron, is not new to the vegan cooking scene – he has been a vegetarian for over 30 years, vegan for 12, and is also the owner and chef of SunCafe Organic, a mostly raw restaurant located in Studio City, California. He spends his time flying back and forth between Los Angeles and Sacramento to keep both places running and to teach weekly raw cooking classes in both cities.
Ron, a foodie, “got into the kitchen in college” to support himself. Visiting hundreds of restaurants all over the world, he finds inspiration in every corner of the globe. “I am a foodie, and I have probably been to ninety-five percent of the restaurants in California”. He uses his travel experience and his creative edge to take traditional dishes and make them vegan.
Ron is looking forward to making some changes to the current menu. “Sugar Plum always had great sandwiches and salads”, says Ron, “but we will add more dinner entrées”. Smoothies, espresso drinks, and gluten free mac and cheese have already been added and we can expect new items like a brown rice lentil loaf (both as a dinner and a sandwich) and a couple of raw additions.
4. Chef Christopher Wood, Kupros Bistro
The Toronto-born chef completed 3 tours of duty with the military, and traveled around the world, before finally settling in Sacramento.“I always loved to cook, but didn’t always think that I could do it in this way, and then I realized, hey I am actually really good at this”.
When it come’s to the Chef’s food – it’s eclectic and exciting. His energy and creativity clearly makes its way to the menu.
“I look at food as an experience and a memory. Eating out should be a real experience, and that’s what I go for – I try to make it something the people would remember”.
“My specialty is Asian cuisine, but our menu has a little bit of everything – we have Indian influences, Asian influences, and more. I like to try new things and love to experiment, recently with molecular gastronomy”.
5. Chef Mark Helms, JUNO’S Kitchen and Delicatessen
Chef Mark Helms is a bread maker at heart. Mark does not use brewer’s yeast as a starter, making the bread making process so much more complicated than the conventional method. The result however, is soft, extremely flavorful bread that stays fresh longer. Although the chef did not disclose details about the Challenge, I would venture to guess that some bread will be involved.
“We are in a valley, so we have a different bacteria that sours the bread. I was a bread maker in San Francisco and ever since then, this has always been something I wanted to do full scale – it’s really all about the bread”.
The bread making that goes on at Juno’s is no small feat – “it takes about 27 hours to make our bread”.
The chef says, “our place is just a hole in the wall and the food really speaks for itself”.
Mark also really cares about his ingredients – he buys all his produce locally. “We don’t order anything here in commodity. I buy produce from farmers I know personally”. He gets much of his produce from Produce Express and often rides his Vespa to Del Rio Botanicals to pick out whatever looks good.
6. Jaqueline & Lauren Barton, Michelangelo’s
(with daughter/ granddaughter Rhanoa)
Being owner, manager, and chef of her own restaurant was not something Lauren Barton had ever dreamed of -she says ” it happened accidentally!”
She married into an Italian-American family, and quickly became aware of an inherent prime directive in Italian culture: “you either learn to cook…or get out!”. So, she subscribed to Bon Appetit, and began learning the art of Italian cuisine from her husband’s mother and grandmother. Since that time, she has come a long way, and has even attended cooking schools in Italy.
Her husband was actually the primary chef of the family, and also was an artist. He found the property that is now home to Michelangelo’s Restaurant and Barton Gallery, and their family business venture began. That was 13 years ago. She now runs the restaurant in partnership with her daughter, Jaqueline. They take pride in being an independent, local, neighborhood restaurant.
Their mother-daughter partnership is a winning combination. Jackie is greatly inspired by Lauren’s culinary talents, and says her mom is “a genius with food!” They make their own sauces from vegetable stock, and all dishes are cooked to order in-house, allowing for them to easily accommodate gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets.
Lauren has come to appreciate Italian cooking as an art form with limitless possibilities. While noting that there is “comfort in tradition,” for the Challenge, she is excited about taking something that is a “classic” Italian dish—many of which traditionally use dairy-based ingredients– and adapting it to be vegan, using whole ingredients that are “exciting and different,” so as to provide greater variety for vegan diners.
8. Chef F.J.,58 Degrees & Holding Co.
Chef F.J. loves his job at 58 Degrees, his restaurant home for the past 4 years. He “works with good people who are passionate about food & wine.” He’s been the Executive Chef since January 2010, and enjoys the “total creative freedom” of his position. “We combine flavors here, and like to combine French technique with Asian influence & flavors,” says F.J. Cooking has always been fun for him.
The chef is inspired by his grandmother, who raised him. He says she is a strong, intelligent family-oriented woman who provided the roots and foundation. “Family is why you are the way you are,” says F.J. He notes that when his mom was pregnant, she took cooking classes from Biba. His stepmom has a Filipino Pastry & Cupcake shop in the Bay area.
Chef F.J. is highly conscious of what he’s putting into other people’s bodies. He’s excited about the Challenge because it affords him the opportunity to create menu items that are healthy and “a little different from what we’re accustomed to.” Chef F.J. says, “The great thing about vegans is that they’re so appreciative. They provided honest feedback (re: the menu) and really enjoyed it!”.
9. Chef Fabrizio Cercatore, Maestro Pizzaiolo, Hot Italian
“Tutto e possibile,” the belief that “anything is possible,” connected the two passionate, thirty-something founders of HOT ITALIAN–one from an Italian-American family of artists and the other, an artistic pizzaiolo from the Italian Riviera. HOT ITALIAN blends Italy’s new generation of art, music, sport, food and wine with the urban California lifestyle.
Chef Fabrizio was born in Northern Italy. Fabrizio owned and operated tourist and local favorite “La Tavernetta” for 14 years on the Italian Riviera, and often made over 200 pizzas in 90 minutes at his busy, 220-seat restaurant. He trained at the prominent Italian professional culinary school, IPAS, where Fabrizio was one of only five chefs to earn the highest mark of 1,000 points in a regional Italian pizza competition. He is living his dream job which is to have a restaurant in California and introduce quality pizza.
Co-founder Andrea Lepore says that Hot Italian’s vegan pizza, “the Muti”, which was featured during last year’s challenge, remains very popular with the restaurant’s clientele. It’s topped with “seasonal vegetables, tomato sauce, and arugula, and can also include vegan Daiya cheese for an additional charge”. Since the Hot Italian pizza dough is vegan, many of their other pizzas can be made vegan by simply omitting the non-vegan ingredients. For this year’s challenge, Hot Italian will feature their delicious fruit sorbettos for dessert.
Hot Italian is more than just a restaurant — it’s an active participant in the community, sponsoring the Hot Lunch Concert Series on Thursday afternoons during the summer at Fremont Park, across the street from the restaurant, and helping to support local art and music organizations.
10. Chef Jon Clemons, The Porch Restaurant and Bar
Chef Jon Clemons readily admits that when he first opened the Porch Restaurant and Bar last year featuring southern cuisine, there were very few options on the menu for vegetarians, let alone vegans. Now, almost a year later, he has branched out to include several vegetarian offerings, and he’s going to try his hand at creating vegan dishes with a southern twist when the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge.
Chef Jon began his restaurant career as a dishwasher, worked his way up into food preparation before finally making the decision to attend culinary school. Prior to opening the Porch, he was the chef at Capitol Garage for six years, where he is still a co-owner of the restaurant.
When he made the decision to feature southern cuisine at the Porch, the style of southern cooking that appealed to him was from the lowcountry, a region encompassing the southern counties of South Carolina. Lowcountry cuisine melds a variety of culinary traditions and influences, including Caribbean, African, and traditional southern. To the extent possible, Chef Jon’s menu relies on ingredients that are local, sustainable, and organic, and he lists his providers on the restaurant’s website.
Although he hasn’t yet finalized his menu for the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge, some of the dishes that Chef Jon is considering are “rice fritters with avocado and a sweet tea pineapple glaze as an appetizer, an entree of blackened potato cake with pickled grilled corn on the cob, and a banana waffle dessert with soy ice cream and bourbon cinnamon sauce”.
Chef Jon says that many vegan diners come into the Porch, and he makes vegan dishes on request, even if there is nothing vegan listed on the menu. Let’s just hope that the items he offers during the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge are so popular that he’ll keep them on the menu long after the challenge is over.
11. Chef Sanjeev Singh, Bombay Bar & Grill
Chef Sanjeev has been the culinary master behind the menu at Bombay since they opened . He specializes in North Indian cuisine, including lamb & chicken dishes cooked in a variety of spices. He is familiar with creating vegan & vegetarian meals featuring garbanzo beans (chana masala) and mixed vegetables, cauliflower and potato, and vegan momos & samosas~all included on a colorful & tasty Vegan Thali platter. The menu at Bombay includes a large selection of vegetarian options.
The wait staff at Bombay can always “tell” when Chef Sanjeev is in the kitchen, and say he is a “genius with combining the spices and flavors of the restaurant’s specialty dishes”. He makes his own in-house curry and sauces every day.
Sanjeev was born and raised in India. He’s enjoyed cooking throughout his life, having been inspired by his mother. “Every woman in India knows some cooking,” he says, and he still gets recipe ideas from her and the dishes she creates for family gatherings.
He’s lived in the U.S. for nearly 14 years, and likes Sacramento better than the Bay area: “because of less traffic congestion, more open spaces, better standard of living, and less fog.” He enjoys living here with his family, and he loves his job as chef of a midtown restaurant that has quickly established a loyal following.
Chef Singh is up for this Challenge and looks forward to having the opportunity to spread the word about Bombay Bar & Grill, and to help people better understand the flavors and traditions of Indian food.
12. Chef/Owner Rosalinda Aceves, El Papagayo
Rosalinda Aceves “grew up in the kitchen” – “my father Harcio Aceves had a restaurant in San Jose California”. El Papagayo Restuarant offers great Mexican food from different regions of Mexico and serves fresh, hand-picked ingredients.
El Papagayo’s menu and environment is full of color and art. The inspiration behind the design? Rosalinda says it’s the name of the restaurant itself - El Papagayo, which means parrot.“This is the perfect bird that represents our restaurant because we like the art and bright colors”, says Rosalinda.
The restaurant has had a vegan menu for a year.Rosalinda started cooking vegetarian and vegan dishes at the request of her friend, and then added them to the menu. Brandon Aceves was closely invovled in making this vision come to life by develoing the menu. Roslinda’s personal favorite is the mushroom and cactus tacos. Since adding a vegan menu, Rosalinda says that sales increaed by about 30% and they anticipate further growth!
In Rosalinda’s world, the key to living a tasty and happy life is “choosing a healthy diet that benefits you and can prevent disease”.
El Papagayo is located in Carmichael and absolutely worth the trip!
13.Chef Raphael Kendall, Capitol Garage
Chef Raphael has worked at Capitol Garage for 6 years, and is excited to participate in the Challenge for the 2nd year in a row.
Chef Raphael has always eaten fresh foods, andhas been vegan for about 7 years. He lived in Jamaica for 2 years, where he learned that “Yes, humans can survive on a plant-based diet!” Though he was not raised vegan himself, he is raising his baby boy as a vegan.
He is most inspired by his family. His parents met in culinary school, and fostered his interest in cooking ever since he was a young child. He attended Camelia Waldorf School here in Sacramento.
Raphael is also inspired by his boss, Jonathan Clemons, who will soon be opening a new restaurant in Sacramento.
His favorite dishes to create are different fusions: especially Italian and Japanese. He is particularly proud of a vegan birthday cake he recently made for his sister.
Chef Raphael is especially excited about participating in this challenge because it affords him the opportunity to use fresh ingredients from local farms, and because vegan food is what he personally likes to eat! Chef Raphael dreams of one day opening his own vegan restaurant, and wants to spread the word that, “Vegan food is Good!”
14. Chef/Owner Lien Thi Nguyen, Andy Nguyen’s
Andy Nguyen’s serves Buddhist-inspired vegetarian cuisine, with many vegan options already on the menu. Chef Lien Thi Nguyen is the original chef-owner who opened the restaurant in 1984 and after a trip to India in 2005 became wholeheartedly inspired to convert the menu to 100% vegetarian “regardless of the business risk”. Chef Ngyen was classically trained in Vietnam before immigrating to America in 1979.
“In the beginning, we created our menu with the intention of promoting our Buddhist cuisine but also as a stepping stone for those who wanted to become vegetarian but didn’t have the means to do it”, says the chef.
The restaurant is not solely about the food; it has a strong underlying message of compassion. The chef says that, “a Buddhist cuisine is a cuisine that is based on compassion, with the thought of non-harming animals of any kind. It’s a cuisine that brings balance to body and mind because it’s healthy for the body and cleansing for the soul”.
Chef Nguyen also believes that the food plays an essential part to living a happy and healthy life. “Foods are an important part of our lives because they sustain us. Becoming a vegetarian/vegan should be a conscientious choice because it’s a way of life. But it isn’t just the body, the mind requires healthy care too”.
What can we expect to find on Andy Nguyen’s menu? Chef Nguyen enjoys making dishes that taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine “with a fusion flare”, or “conceptually new and different”.
The chef adds that his son spearheaded the idea to participation in this year’s Vegan Chef Challenge , but also believes that it’s a great way to get people to experience veganism – “they will find out how wonderful veganism can be. And that it is something that is worthwhile for them to try because it can change their lives”, says the chef.
15. Chef Hernandez Pablo, Aioli Bodega Espanola
“Aioli has a menu packed with Spanish/Basque items”, says Executive Chef Hernandez Pablo. Serving vegan items is no new task for Pablo; he said he has been making vegan dishes for many years and is confident in his ability to cook with only vegan ingredients.
Aioli is serving everything from Gazpacho – a classic Spanish cold tomato soup with cucumber, celery, red onion, cilantro and mint – to Pan Catala con garbanzo y higos, a Spanish-style bruschetta with garbanzo bean purée and caramelized black figs.
16. Chef Evan Elsberry, Evan’s Kitchen
Evan’s kitchen is lucky enough to snag an award-winning Chef Evan Elsberry, who has 30+ years of experience in all phases of the restaurant industry. Evan’s cooking career began in 1981 under the tutelage of popular Sacramento Italian chef Frank Parisi who “taught Evan the importance of always using the best ingredients and providing a first-rate product”. Chef Evan has always followed his advice. Chef Evan is known in East Sacramento for his fabulous Wine Dinners, and his volunteer efforts in local fund-raisers.
Evan’s Kitchen is a “family operated” restaurant that serves “gourmet comfort food”.
17. Owner/Chef Teresa Flint, Ancient Future 24K Cafe
Teresa, a native Coloradan, was born in four corners of an area rich in the history of the Native American and Mexican culture, much like California. From her earliest childhood memories “she’s had a love for the people, the food, and the lands”. She hopes to bring the flavor of the old southwest to the Sacramento, in the heart of Midtown.
24K is currently open Saturday and Sunday 10: 00 am to 2:00 pm for a brunch. The menu at 24K Cafe has something very special to offer – chocolate, so the menu includes items like the, “Mayan Spice Chocolate French Toast with Seasonal Fruit Sauce”. But it’s not just about the sweet tooth; the chocolate at 24K is not processed like the typical chocolate you will most often find. “It’s full of healing properties and spices that have the ability to “neutralize free radicals that can cause disease and aging”, says Teresa.
18. Chef Brooke Preston, Green Boheme
The Green Boheme is Sacramento’s organic, vegan, raw foods restaurant and holistic health center – voted “Best Raw Resource” by Sacramento magazine. The entire menu at Green Boheme is gluten-free and soy-free. Chef Brooke started a raw vegan diet after struggling with a thyroid imbalance due to a high protein diet, which completely healed her thyroid imbalance.
For many years, Brooke had “worked as a health-conscious personal chef, on a mission to bring families together for home-cooked, nourishing meals”. She began working as a chef at an organic, vegan, raw foods restaurant in Sacramento, and years later, she bought the restaurant, changed its name to The Green Boheme. She then enrolled in the Living Light Culinary Institute – the world’s premier organic, raw, vegan chef training school.
Throughout her journey, however, Brooke’s “most formative teachers have been her intuition and ingenuity”. Simply put, Brooke loves to “play with her food!”.
More information coming soon -
19. Chefs Angelique Miller & Raj Randhawa, Baagan
Baagan was founded in Roseville in 2010 and is “proud to provide the community with a small healthy restaurant, shop, and learning center”. The menu is a combination of mostly fixed raw vegan and allergy-friendly (most are gluten-free and nut free), along with rotating seasonal ingredients.
20. Kathmandu Kitchen
Kathmandu Kitchen serves authentic Nepali and Indian cuisine. Kathmandu has many awards of Best Indian restaurant in Sacramento under its belt from the SN+R, KCRA, Diner’s Choice, and Sacramento Magazine. With a menu already rich in delicious bold vegetarian Indian classics like Chana Masala, Pakoras, and veggie Korma, they are sure to do the Vegan Chef Challenge right.
21. Dad’s Kitchen: Freeport
22. Dad’s Sandwich Shops: J St. & S St.
Need some comfort food? Dad’s Kitchen is known for American comfort food at its best. Their menu stretches from classic comfort dishes like biscuits and gravy, meatloaf, and chilli cheese steaks to newer veg-friendly twists like a portabella sandwich, deep fried garbanzo beans, and spaghetti with quinoa balls. We’re about to find out what they can do for vegan comfort food!