“Kitchen Cabinets”: Friends & family who advise each other in a real kitchen

“Kitchen cabinet” politics is a group of unofficial advisers to a political leader—often more influential than the official cabinet. President Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet” included trusted old friends, as did the group assembled by Andrew Jackson in 1829. Next year, our new President will form his or her own “kitchen cabinet.”

The same is true when it comes to the real kitchen: cooking, baking, craft brewing, and cheesemaking. In this case, trusted friends, neighbors, sons and moms, advise one another and create something wonderful. In some cases, they wind up going into business together—or getting married. Here are some examples:

“My really good friend Chef Peter Selaya is one of my first kitchen mentors,” says Ike Frazee of Ike’s Quarter Cafe in Nevada City. “We worked together for years, and I helped him open the adjacent New Moon Cafe. We’re restaurant neighbors now, which brings things full circle for me.”

The decades-long friendship dates back to 1987, when Ike went to work for Peter at his Peter Selaya’s restaurant in Nevada City. We consider Peter the dean of real-food cooking in the foothills. He was cooking with fresh organic food long before it became fashionable. Peter also enjoys mentoring, and he admired Ike’s talents: “He was this kid who was interested in cooking, and he did well in the kitchen.”

With Peter’s encouragement, Ike attended the prestigious California Culinary Academy. “It reinforced what I’d learned from Peter,” Ike says. After honing his cooking skills in other places — from Santa Cruz to Burlington, Vermont — Ike returned to Nevada City and helped Peter open the New Moon Cafe in 1997. “He was my first sous chef,” Peter recalls.

As serendipity would have it, the restaurant across the street became available and Ike opened Ike’s Quarter Cafe in 2001. The two regularly consult one another about their menus or borrow spices, staples or kitchen equipment from one another for a special dish. “He’s like a son to me,” says Peter, who was the groomsman at Ike’s wedding and is close to Ike’s wife Adrienne and their three children.

Alan is an in-house chef for Tess’ Kitchen Store, who worked at venerable Chez Panisse in Berkeley for 22 years. Jacques is the owner-winemaker at Solune Winegrowers and a regular judge at prestigious French wine competitions.

You’ll often find the good friends tasting new blends at Solune in Chicago Park. “We’re both very interested in food-and-wine pairings,” says Jacques. “Alan suggests a dish, and we discuss what wine should go with it.”

The most enjoyable result of their food-and-wine pairing talents is experienced at Chef’s Table, a popular monthly cooking series in the restaurant-quality kitchen at Tess’ Kitchen Store in Grass Valley.

Tess’ now offers a wine program. We enjoyed Solune’s Pandora No. 3 (a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and sémillon) that wine expert Dawn Empson chose as a wine club selection this spring.

Eric is the chef and Courtney is the pastry chef at Carpe Vino in Auburn. Eric, raised in upstate New York, and Courtney, an Auburn native, met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.

After graduating they worked in fine dining restaurants on the East Coast and ended up back in the foothills. Since it opened in 2006, Carpe Vino has been honored with some of the nation’s most prestigious restaurants, including the French Laundry and Per Se, by being named to OpenTable‘s Diner’s Choice “Top 100 Best Restaurants in America.”

Eric and Courtney own a small farm near Auburn where they are married and live with daughter Josephine. Eric made lifelong friends at CIA, such as Abe Conlon, owner of acclaimed Fat Rice in Chicago, whom he visited this winter.

Shana is the baker and Dave is the brewer at Three Forks Baking & Brewery. In 2010, Shana approached Dave about opening a bakery and brewery in downtown Nevada City. He had always imagined opening a brewery and when she mentioned the inclusion of wood-fired pizza, he was hooked.

Dave’s brewing career started in 1991 with his first home-brewed batch. Shana has run a small catering company and had her own CSB (community supported bakery). The two have created a popular gathering place for fresh local food and craft beer.

Two years ago, Shana, Dave and the Three Forks crew cooked dinner at the South Yuba River for singer Joan Baez when she came to Grass Valley to perform, thanks to The Center for the Arts.

Barbara is the owner of Wheyward Girl Creamery in Nevada City and an award-winning cheesemaker, and her son Jason is an acclaimed Bay Area chef who co-founded Los Mineros taqueria in the same town.

Jason’s culinary resume includes opening-day chef at well-respected restaurants such as Flora in Oakland, Tres Agaves and Locavore in San Francisco, and Barbacoa and Table 24 in Orinda. The San Jose Mercury News named Barbacoa one of the 10 top taquerias in the Bay Area. Jason helped launch Los Mineros taqueria (Spanish for “miners”) in the historic Gold Rush town with former Nevada City mayor and community leader Reinette Senum.

Barbara’s small goat cheese farm in Michigan was featured in The Wall Street Journal in 2009. She flew to Paris in late February to help judge the prestigious Salon du Fromage et des Produits Laitiers.

As executive chef at Flora, Jason featured his mom’s goat cheese on the menu. This relationship epitomizes mother-son collaboration in the food world.

Jim and Simon co-own ol’ Republic Brewery in Nevada City’s Seven Hills District, and Matt owns Matteo’s Public in downtown Nevada City.

Matt regularly rotates the craft brew taps, and he was the first to feature ol’ Republic in a pub. We have enjoyed beermaker dinners
with Matt, along with Tom Dalldorf, the publisher of Celebrator Beer News magazine, and other locals.

Ol’ Republic Brewery’s beers have won “Best of Show” honors at the California State Fair. The brewery is expanding, and is also bottling and canning its award-winning beers.

(Photo: Simon Weller)

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