Take a pinch of luck, a dash of good timing, a few cups of raw talent, and a heaping spoonful of passion and you get a mother-daughter start-up catering business that serendipitously became The Kitchen, one of the region’s most acclaimed and in-demand dining destinations for more than 25 years.
Back in 1989, The Kitchen’s Owners/Executive Chefs Randall Selland and Nancy Zimmer had been together for about 15 years and had raised her two children together. Tamera and Josh were now 20 and 18. They all lived in a house on E Street and Alhambra Blvd. in midtown Sacramento, where Nancy and Tamera, both great cooks, were getting a catering company up and running while Nancy concurrently managed an art gallery where Tamera also sold art. At this time, Randall had quit his career in stained glass and followed his newfound passion for cooking. He had worked at The Cookery, an acclaimed Sacramento restaurant run by Chef Jean Luc Chassereau, which was ahead of its time for mixing culinary styles and sourcing fresh, local ingredients. Josh, the youngest of the family, was still finishing up high school but had already started a company with a cousin that he eventually sold to go full time into the family business.
Local culinary icon Bernice Hagen owned Bernice’s Cookery, where Randall was currently working. She had also run a now defunct cooking school from a garage attached to a house on Marconi Avenue and asked the family if they wanted to live in the house to help oversee the property. They could rent the home to live in and the use the garage, which housed the cooking school space and a commercial kitchen, to run their catering business from. The Sellands took Bernice up on the offer.
Soon after, as fate would have it, local wine expert and Capitol Cellars proprietor Marcus Graziano approached Randall and Nancy about hosting a dinner in the cooking school space on Marconi, which featured an open kitchen with an 18-seat counter wrapping around the stoves, so that he could showcase his wines along with food and make some wine sales. They recruited Tamera and Josh to run the service aspect of the evening. At the dinner, Randall and Nancy found that the guests were more interested in watching them cook, and with interacting and chatting with them, than they were in the wine. Afterward, the family got together to chat about the success of the concept that emerged that evening and decided to try it again. With that, the idea of The Kitchen was born.
At first, the family says, they had to beg guests to come. They only did one dinner per month while keeping their catering business and other day jobs going. But then, as word got out, demand grew. The Selland clan added another Thursday per month – this was Randall’s one “night off” from his regular gig. Soon, they did their newly coined “Demonstration Dinners” weekly, then they just kept adding dinners as demand kept growing.
Eventually, The Kitchen was booked solid, sometimes up to a year in advance. Randall and Nancy cooked for guests, with Randall doing most of the bantering. The two chefs worked on weekly menus together and would fax them out to guests a month in advance. At the time, guests would choose an entrée they preferred then get a “sample” portion of the other entrée as well.
From the beginning, guests could always get more of anything they wanted at The Kitchen, be it a course or an ingredient, and they always had full access to the chefs and the kitchen. Josh and Tamera ran the service end of the operation, and since there was no beer and wine license for quite a few years, guests would bring in the their own bottles, most of which were impressive selections This situation gave Josh, in particular, a crash course in wine. He went on to develop The Kitchen’s widely acclaimed and award-winning wine program of highly allocated boutique wines. Within about a year, all the family could quit their “day jobs” and were able to focus full-time on The Kitchen, the family project, now going strong for 25 years, that almost never was.