This June, a staple of Sacramento’s restaurant scene was the first in the city to be recognized with a Michelin star. The Kitchen has served upscale American food since 1991, with farm-to-fork practices from the very beginning. The couple behind the restaurant, chefs Randall Selland and Nancy Zimmer, have since launched three additional restaurant concepts, with six locations in total, in Sacramento under Selland Family Restaurants. And their work truly is a family affair.
In addition to The Kitchen, the Sellands run three Selland’s Market Cafes (East Sacramento, Broadway, and El Dorado Hills), Ella Dining Room and Bar, OBO’ Italian Table and Bar, and later this summer they plan to open Bawk, a fried chicken restaurant.
The couples’ children, Josh Nelson and Tamera Baker, have long been part of the family business. As a child, Josh joined his father on trips to farmers markets, and has long been inspired by the city’s access to farm-fresh ingredients. Known as the business “bean counter” Josh is now the chief financial officer and chief executive officer of the restaurant group, where he has a hand in marketing, guest services and philanthropy. He also played a key role in launching Sacramento’s new identity as the “Farm-To-Fork” capital, with help from Mike Testa at Visit Sacramento and former Councilmember Darrell Fong. Tamera Baker is the co-founder and chief brand officer of the Selland Family Restaurant group, guiding the vision and concept of each location.
Chef Randall Selland and CEO Josh Nelson spoke with Insight guest host Randol White about the history and philosophy of their restaurant group, changes in the Sacramento food scene, the impact of earning a star in the Michelin guide, and their future plans to open Bawk on R Street this year. Read some highlights from the conversation below:
On The Kitchen’s unique concept
Selland: I worked in restaurants where I dealt with lethargic staff going back many years... If a whole plate of food comes back and the people don't want to take it home, and they say they're full, then I think there's something wrong. But as a cook, or sous chef... I can't walk out in the dining room and go, "What the hell is the problem?" You just go with the flow. And so to me, it's like, those people aren't coming back. The Kitchen was all based on direct contact with people and eliminating the waitstaff and trying to take care of people and give them food and have fun.
On getting the Michelin star
Nelson: We've never had the possibility of getting the Michelin star [until 2019]. I think people have just worked from their heart, and put things out that they wanted to put out. It's actually kind of neat that Michelin snuck into the market. All that work that everyone did, which was very — you know, no pun intended — organic and true.
On chefs coming back home to Sacramento
Selland: It's funny, good cooks, good chefs, they left Sacramento to go somewhere else. I was always here. I had two small children, so we're not going anywhere. And so we put them to work. But that being said, as time has gone on... we've gotten chefs and people to work with us that have gone to New York and LA and San Francisco. They leave single and they come back married with a kid or two and they come back because it's like, “I need babysitters, I need a place I can actually afford to live in.” And so they come back here. So we're just getting so many people coming back to Sacramento to be part of what we've got going here.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Listen to our full conversation with Selland and Nelson below:
Courtesy of Selland Family Restaurants