As executive chef of The Kitchen, Kelly McCown oversees the entire food program of this celebrated 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-starred La Folie and the lauded Fleur de Lys.
McCown developed his pastry skills at the Alexis Hotel in Seattle. In 1992, McCown joined trendsetting, Michelin-rated chef Scott Carsberg as his sous chef to open the award-winning Lampreia. The James Beard Foundation’scelebrated Flying Fish followed, where McCown presided as chef de cuisine. While there, Bon Appetit and Seattle magazines 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, including 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 developed 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. Additionally, 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. In 2011, McCown returned to the Napa Valley to open the critically acclaimed Goose & Gander, which earned a Bib Gourmand from Michelin and was named one of the top 10 Restaurants in Napa Valley by Conde Nast Traveler and The New York Times.
Under McCown’s leadership, The Kitchen has garnered several high-profile awards, including the Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence, OpenTable Top 100 Restaurants in America, Yelp Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S., USA Today’s Top 30 Restaurants in America, the highly prized AAA Five Diamond Award of Excellence, and the first Michelin Star awarded in the Sacramento region.
General Manger Esra Oktar joined The Kitchen in 2017, quickly taking control of the day-to-day operations. Oktar works tirelessly alongside executive chef Kelly McCown to ensure the highest standard of excellence in service and hospitality—a trademark of the Selland family’s flagship restaurant.
Growing up in her family-owned restaurant in Cocoa Beach, Fla., placed Oktar on track for a career in hospitality. While in college, Oktar worked closely with renowned restaurateurs David and Elizabeth Gwynn at the highly lauded Cypress Restaurant in Tallahassee, furthering her love and aptitude for the service industry.
In 2009, Oktar found herself at the chef Mark Sullivan-helmed Michelin-starred Village Pub, just outside of San Francisco. Oktar served as assistant sommelier under Michael Acheson and beverage director Andrew Green. While assisting in the beverage program, the restaurant received accolades from the San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, 7×7 Magazine, and the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award.
In 2013, Oktar followed chefs Molly Hawks and Mike Fagnoni from The Village Pub to the highly regarded Hawks in Granite Bay, Ca., becoming general manager. While at Hawks, Oktar guided the service to a three-and-a-half-star review from the Sacramento Bee and a top spot on Sacramento Magazine’s Best of Sacramento list. In 2015, Oktar helped launch Hawks Provisions and Public House, garnering a glowing recommendation from respected restaurant critic Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle.
As assistant general manager of The Kitchen, Eric Philbin works closely with the general manager, guest services front-of-house operations and the executive chef and beverage director to ensure a high standard of excellence in the overall guest experience.
Philbin attended Sacramento State University, where he studied 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 at Masque Ristorante under chef Angelo Auriana, 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 in 2006 as a server. In 2012, he was promoted to general manager, later moving into the position of assistant general manager in order to spend more time with his family and pursue other hobbies and interests. During 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.
Reservationist Bobbie Chamberlain has been a part of the team for over ten years, thoughtfully taking care of guests to ensure they have an exceptional experience at The Kitchen. She believes assisting guests with their special evening is all in the details, from booking reservations and planning seating arrangements to carefully communicating dietary restrictions to the chef. Chamberlain goes out of her way to assist guests in securing reservations for their special night at The Kitchen.
Chamberlain has a genuine love for hospitality and meeting new people. Building guest relationships is one of her 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 such as anniversaries, graduations, birthdays, corporate celebrations and it’s a real honor to be a part of their lives.” She truly enjoys working for the Selland family and being a part of the local food community and the community at large.