As Executive Chef of The Kitchen Restaurant, Kelly McCown oversees the entire food program of the long-standing institution. From menu development and ingredient quality control to the hands on preparation and narration of dinner, McCown’s domain is not only in the kitchen, but also in front of guests, for whom he strives to provide an unforgettable experience.
Upon completion of his culinary training at the California Culinary Academy, McCown honed his craft in some of San Francisco’s finest kitchens, including Michelin stared La Folie and the lauded Fleur de Lys.
Moving to the Pacific Northwest’s foremost restaurants, McCown developed his pastry skills at the Alexis Hotel in Seattle. In 1992, McCown joined trend setting Michelin rated Chef Scott Carsberg, as his sous chef, to open the award winning restaurant Lampreia. The James Beard Foundation’s celebrated Flying Fish followed, where McCown presided as Chef de Cuisine. While there Bon Appetit and Seattle Magazine accorded him “rising star” chef status and The Seattle Times characterized McCown’s cuisine as “richly flavored meals that offer both comfort and complexity”.
Returning to California in 1999, he assumed the post of Executive Sous Chef at Wine Spectator’s Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. McCown then followed acclaimed Chef Todd Humphries to work with master restaurateur Pat Kuleto, to open the renowned Napa Valley restaurant, Martini House in St. Helena. As Chef de Cuisine, McCown guided the culinary program to many accolades such as Esquire Magazine’s award for top new restaurants in America, Bon Appetit’s “Best of 2002”, the San Francisco Chronicle’s top five restaurants for new American cuisine and one star from the Michelin Guide.
After his tenure at Martini House, McCown made the move to develop the culinary program for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate at the historic Inglenook Chateau in the heart of Napa Valley. McCown’s work at the winery received exceptional reviews and he was the only American Chef invited to Tokyo’s Cirque Culinare in 2008.
In 2009, McCown joined Selland Family Restaurants to helm Ella Dining Room and Bar in downtown Sacramento where he received accolades for his work from The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Magazine, Food Arts and The New York Times. 2011 saw McCown return to the Napa Valley to open the critically acclaimed Goose&Gander, garnering a Bib Gourmand from Michelin and status of one of the “Top 10 Restaurants in Napa Valley” from Conde Nast Traveler and The New York Times.
With a desire to return to the ever expanding culinary landscape of the Sacramento region, McCown brings his culinary experience to one of the region’s most lauded and beloved restaurants, The Kitchen.
General Manager Esra Oktar joined The Kitchen family in June 2017. She is responsible for all of the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, and for managing and overseeing service and our “front of house” team of servers and sommeliers. She works closely with Executive Chef Kelly McCown and Beverage Director Amitesh Diyal to ensure the highest standards of excellence in hospitality that The Kitchen is renowned for.
Oktar first discovered her love for food, wine and hospitality while working for her family’s busy beach restaurant in Florida. Then, while in college studying photography, she worked closely with Chef-Owners David and Elizabeth Gwynn at the highly lauded Cypress Restaurant in Tallahassee, further developing her skills and knowledge of fine dining and hospitality. When the owners of the Cypress used Oktar’s food photographs for their ads, her career as a food photographer began to take off.
As Oktar’s food photography appeared in more publications and websites, she moved to San Francisco to further her career, working as a freelance photographer and at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Village Pub. While there she earned her Level 1 Sommelier certification.
Oktar moved to Sacramento to follow the celebrated Chefs of The Village Pub, Mike Fagnoni and Molly Hawks, joining their team at Hawks in Granite Bay, one of the regions’ best and most-awarded restaurants. She was also charged with opening their newer location, Hawks Provisions and Public House, as General Manager.
We are excited and proud to now have Oktar on our team at The Kitchen, where her experience, talents, and love of restaurants, hospitality, food, and wine will continue to grow and shine.
As Assistant General Manager of The Kitchen Restaurant, Eric Philbin works with General Manager Esra Oktar to lead the organization in maintaining the highest hospitality standards, guest services and front-of-house operations, and works closely with the Executive Chef and Beverage Director to ensure a high-standard of excellence in the overall guest experience.
Philbin attended Sacramento State University, studying Computer Science and Business, while working in the restaurant industry. It was then he realized his passion for food and guest services. “I was working under Chef Angelo Auriana at Masque Ristorante, the former executive chef of the esteemed restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica,” says Philbin, “Having truffles for the first time exposed me to a totally different world.” Finding himself enthusiastic in the restaurant environment, helping and interacting with guests, staff, and vendors, Philbin chose to pursue a career in the world of hospitality.
Philbin started at The Kitchen Restaurant in 2006 as a server. In 2012, he was promoted to General Manager, and has now moved into the position of Assistant General Manager in order to spend more time with his family and pursue other hobbies and interests. Over his tenure at The Kitchen, Philbin has worked closely with Chef Owner Randall Selland and CEO/Co-Owner Josh Nelson to embody the restaurant’s core values of unparalleled hospitality and a unique, unexpected dining experience.
Sommelier Tesh Diyal oversees the wine and beverage program at The Kitchen, working closely with Chef Kelly McCown to create a wine list of high end and accessible, food-friendly selections as well as a curated collection of spirits, sakes and craft beers.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from California State University, Sacramento, Diyal began a career in the IT field. But he was soon called to follow his passion for service and his love for wine in the restaurant industry. He comes to The Kitchen by way of our sister restaurant, Ella Dining Room and Bar, where he was a Manager before coming here to focus his talents exclusively on wine and spirits.
Diyal credits his love of hospitality, his work ethic, and an early interest in food and service to his mother, who was by all accounts an amazing cook and also owned a number of convenience stores in the Central Valley, where as a child he started helping out behind the counter at a young age. He brings this innate sense of hospitality to The Kitchen, where he works to help create the joyous guest experience he believes dining should be. “After all,” he says, “enjoying great food and wine with friends and family is what life is all about.”
Reservationist Bobbie Chamberlain has been a part of the team for over ten years, thoughtfully taking care guests to ensure they have an exceptional experience at The Kitchen Restaurant. She believes assisting guest with their special evening is all in the details, from booking reservations, planning seating arrangements to carefully communicating dietary restrictions to the chef. Chamberlain will always go out of her way to assist guests in securing reservations for their special night at The Kitchen, managing the delicate balance of the waiting list.
Chamberlain has a genuine love for hospitality, meeting new people and building guest relationships is one of the favorite aspects of her role. “Over the years I have come to know many of our regular guests,” Chamberlain says, “they come back for special occasions in their lives such as anniversaries, graduations, birthdays, corporate celebrations and it’s a real honor to be a part of”. She truly enjoys working for the Selland family and being a part of not only the local food community but also the great community at large.