Meet Our Chefs

1.  Meet Chef Raphael Kendall of Capitol Garage.

Chef Raphael has worked at Capitol Garage for 5 years, and is excited about soon being promoted to Executive Chef!

Chef Raphael has always eaten fresh foods, and has been vegan for about 6 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 9-month-old 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!”

2.  Meet Chef Pablo of Aioli:

“Aioli has a menu packed with Spanish/Basque items and Executive Chef Hernandez Pablo said the restaurant will remain consistent with those flavors in its new vegan fall menu. 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.

Chef Pablo is offering more than a dozen vegan options for this fall.

“I am most excited about serving the veggie paella,” said Chef Pablo.

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.”

–Krissy Holst, Sacramento Press

3.  Meet Marina Winchester, owner of Café Capricho.

Prior to her restaurant’s grand opening in May of 2010, Marina was a caterer. She has enjoyed cooking throughout her life, and has been most inspired by her grandmother.

Marina especially enjoys the challenge of creating food that is fun and delicious for people with different dietary needs. She loves being able to accommodate her grandchildren, who are gluten-free, and also friends with food sensitivities. She strives to meet people’s various dietary preferences, whether it be for health reasons, religious beliefs, or just what they like to eat.

For these reasons, Marina is excited to participate in the Challenge. She is eager to help promote awareness, so that Sacramento vegans will have more options at more local restaurants. She would love to see Sacramento become as savvy as San Francisco with its food options.

Her favorite cusine to prepare is middle eastern, especially because of the cultural philosophy of really taking time to enjoy each other and their food. She has a menu in mind that will be a fusion of different cultures.

Marina’s dream is to have people “smile without words” when they hear ‘Café Capricho.’

See an excellent review for Cafe Capricho published 10/9/11 in the Sacramento Bee:

4.  Meet Chef Fabrizio Cercatore, Maestro Pizzaiolo of 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.

Chef Fabrizio Cercatore, Maestro Pizzaiolo: 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, 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.

He admits that he didn’t know of many vegans in Italy; there are definitely more in California. He wants to give people different ideas, and let them know they can enjoy vegan food that is delicious. For the Challenge, they will be offering mixed olives from Italy and California as an appetizer, a house specialty vegan pizza with the option of Daiya cheese, and sorbet for dessert.

Andrea Lepore, Creative Director: A competitive athlete with a business background in sports marketing, Andrea handles the branding and development strategy for HOT ITALIAN. After a decade with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings organization, Andrea helped the then-new burrito chain, Chipotle, expand from three Northern California locations to over nine in less than three years. Andrea received the “Innovator of the Year” Award by the National Association of Women Business Owners as founder of the nation’s first cause- related sports marketing agency.

HOT ITALIAN blends Italy’s new generation of art, music, sport, food and wine with the urban California lifestyle.

5.  When asked about his dream job, Executive Chef Clay Purcell of Tower Bridge Bistro says, “I’m in it!”

He 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.

He is most inspired by his wife, especially by her organizational skills, and is impressed by her motivation to start her own business as a professional organizer. 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.

Chef Purcell likes preparing a wide range of cuisine. He 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

in any given dish…and focusing on letting those flavors come through.

He is looking forward to the Vegan Chef Challenge competition, and is highly interested to see how the event succeeds in Sacramento, which he describes as being a primarily “meat and potatoes” town. He is eager to take advantage of the variety and seasonality of produce that is available locally, including winter squashes, and can’t wait to prepare a stands-alone, “beautiful plate of food” for people to enjoy.

6.  Meet Jaqueline & Lauren Barton of 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!” Lauren’s strengths are in the process and technique/ technical side, while Jackie is especially creative in serving & presentation–including wine pairings. They both come up with interesting ideas and flavor combinations, and work together in designing their seasonal menus. 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 this 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.

7.  Meet Chef Sanjeev Singh, of Bombay Bar & Grill!

Sanjeev has been the culinary master behind the menu at Bombay since they opened a year and a half ago. 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, including his 10-month old son, and he loves his job as chef of a midtown restaurant that has quickly established a loyal following.

Creating a vegan dessert may be the greatest Challenge for Chef Singh, as many traditional Indian desserts use butter, yogurt or milk powder. But he’s 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.

8.  Chef F.J. of 58 Degrees & Holding Co. has bigger things on his plate this weekend than Chef Challenge: He’s getting married October 1st to his sweetheart, Janine, sous chef at Fat’s Asia Bistro. Congratulations to the happy couple!

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. Lately, he’s been experimenting with Latin/ Central American flavors~which he says are similar to Mediterranean.

He recently created an heirloom tomato salad, and brightened it up with innovative twists: he added farro, and a balsamic whip cream. He says the eye-appealing dish had “layers of flavor and texture,” and “represents what we do here with innovative subtleties & techniques. ”

This is F.J.’s first cooking competition. He’s looking forward to competing with Billy from Kru: “He’s awesome! Billy is one of the guys that has really inspired me out here in Sacramento.” He is also 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.” He’s especially proud of once hosting an entirely vegan party at 58 Degrees. 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!” He plans to continue the dishes he is creating for the Challenge on his menu afterward.

On his drawing board for the Challenge: Smoked Tofu in the style of Korean BBQ, served with Seaweed Rice; “Toron,” Banana Fritters; Vegan Chocolate Mousse and/or Peanut Butter Gelato made with almond milk.

For their honeymoon, F.J. and Janine are embarking on a restaurant tour of Napa Valley down the Pacific Coast. They intend to “Enjoy each other’s company and OTHER people’s food!”

9.  Chef Buu “Billy” Ngo of Kru has been hailed as a local sushi phenom.

He got started in the restaurant business after realizing it would be a better fit for him than traditional college. This turned out to be a very positive direction for him, and he opened his own restaurant, Kru, six years ago when he was just 24!

Born in Hong Kong, his parents are of Chinese heritage from Vietnam. He was raised in Sacramento, and appreciates that the Sacramento dining scene is expanding with more great restaurants. When out with friends, he enjoys visiting local venues such as Formoli’s, One Speed, Hot Italian, Ella’s, and Lounge on 20.

It was working at Mikuni’s in ‘99 where he was inspired to pursue the art of Japanese cooking and creating sushi rolls. (At times he has wondered,…”if his initial exposure had been at an Italian restaurant, would he have ended up in a completely different cuisine venue?”) He has also been inspired by Morimoto and David Cheng, as well as the Kitchen’s Chef Randall, who, Billy says, “takes it to the next level~ with awesome ingredients & techniques.”

Still, he loves Japanese cooking, and blending Japanese flavors with flavors and techniques of other cuisines. He pays a great deal of attention to presentation, which he says is very important to the Japanese community.

Chef Billy has created vegan versions of his menu items upon request, but this competition will present a unique challenge for him as he himself is not vegan, (“…but I do have friends that are vegan!”) He is working on ways to replicate the texture of his customary seafood-based sushi ingredients, while keeping the flavors tasty & simple.

He dreams of someday expanding his business to include more locations, but his personal ideal preference would be to have a small venue with no menus in keeping with the Japanese “omakasi” tradition: “Chef’s Choice” using local, fresh ingredients of the day.

10.  Meet Chefs Marshall Massa & Melissa Sugar of Sugar Plum Vegan Café.

Turns out, Marshall is a familiar face hanging out with his fellow chef buddies and kicking back after restaurant closing hours. “Everyone likes Marshall,” they say, “he’s a great guy!”

For Chef Marshall, “Every Plate Counts, even if it takes an extra minute” to prepare. He has learned a lot about food and the “eating experience” through working at Sugar Plum, and aspires one day to open his own restaurant with a broad menu, but definitely to include vegan options. Having grown up in the restaurant business, he was inspired by his Italian grandfather and father. His mom runs the commercial kitchen they use for baking, and that’s how he became connected to Sugar Plum.

Due to working at Sugar Plum, Marshall may be a little more familiar with vegan recipes and cooking than his co-competitors, but for this Challenge he still has something special up his sleeve: his main entrée will be Southwestern Enchiladas, with fillings such as black beans and sweet potato, (since he’s noticed his patrons are especially fond of anything southwestern on the menu!) Other tempting dishes include a quinoa tabouli appetizer & a refreshing cucumber-watermelon-mint drink.

Chef Melissa Sugar will take the lead for the dessert portion of the competition, as her namesake belies her specialty of preference: baked goodies & sweets. In fact, she started out baking vegan treats for wholesale. As popularity increased, she was inspired to open Sacramento’s first vegan cafe. Look for Mexican Wedding Cookies to be featured for the Challenge; alongside one of her specially-created, flavorful cakes or seasonal pies.


April 2012
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