Back Door to Big Stage to Back Home

With over 45 years of professional experience, Chef Cal has cooked for dignitaries, competed in the International Culinary Olympics (IKA) and has been recognized as Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation. He has designed and executed professional kitchens from the ground up while also setting up a hotel room in Germany (while competing) as a prep kitchen. Blending his traditional French Escoffier training with his Italian heritage, his eclectic repertoire also spans cuisines from around the world including Asian, European, American, and many other countries and destinations.

Chef Cal began his passionate pursuit of food at the age of 16 when he entered the back door of a local small town restaurant and offered to wash dishes for free just so he could watch the chef create.Β At that early age, he also started competing as an amateur cook.Β Cal’s career fast tracked when he entered the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program with the Red Lion Hotels, and took another giant leap when he earned a spot on the regional Northern California Olympic Culinary team and won gold at the 24th Olympiad in Berlin, Germany in 1996. He returned with the team twice more in 2000 and 2004, adding silver to his collection.

Nevertheless, Chef Cal has stayed close to his roots in the small city of Redding, CA. The big city never claimed his heart, and though he has traveled to big cities and worked with world with some of the best chefs to ever master the culinary arts, such as the joy-filled Michel Richard. He cooks for those he knows and loves in his small community, and would rather mentor and teach those that want to know more about the mystery, and mastery, of cooking.

Throughout his career, he has mentored professional ACF apprentices, instructed advanced culinary arts high school students and collegians. But his love for sharing his craft is infectious to those who want to learn more and grow as aspiring foodies and culinarians. Some of his most welcomed teaching moments, are on Saturday mornings, at the local Farmer’s Market in the heart of his hometown.

Chef Cal’s Memoirs

“I grew up in Redding, California, pretty much a small rural town back in the day, cooking anything and everything my family could muster up through hunting, including tree squirrel, rabbit and rattlesnake (elk was the best), but my true fascination for food would be ignited when I had my first-ever fine-dining experience at the age of 17.

My First Time

I traveled to one of the most heralded destinations on the West Coast, The Sardine Factory in Monterey, and it was there I would discover and be inspired for a life-long journey of all things culinary by Master Chef Chef Bert Cutino, WCMC. I would then take the next step of pursuing a professional career by following my mentor, Executive Chef George Goodrich (owner of The Cove and The Hammond Kitchen in Washington), to Bakersfield, CA to open and develop the fine dining and banquet/catering programs for the Red Lion Hotel chain, and in doing so, complete my ACF Apprenticeship Program to earn Certified Executive Chef rank.

Master Chefs

I have so many experiences and tales over the years since those humble beginnings, but there are definitely some that are much more vivid in my mind, such as working side by side and soaking in the tales and wisdom of many ACF Certfied Master Chefs such as Roland Henin, Raimund Hofmesiter, Edward Leonard, Ferdinand Metz and Michele Richard. I remember dining at Trotter’s in Chicago; the breathtakingly elegant cuisine and masterful amenities, and then the rich conversations with Chef Charlie Trotter down in his kitchen after hours with his staff. From him I garnered my understanding of “Attention to Detail” and he encouraged me that “After love, there is only cuisine.”

It’s All About Finesse

Back on the West Coast, as a year-end bonus, I would treat my ACF apprentices to sharing a meal at Chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, CA. It was there that I began experiencing a true respect for all ingredients, as Keller would press on that, “It’s all about Finesse”. I won’t forget what it says above the clock in the kitchen… “Sense of Urgency”.

Those Were the Days

I have been mentored by many of the greats in the industry, and I have been so honored to be a part of the orchestration and cooking and plating for some of the most highly elevated dinners, including events and fundraisers held at the Robert Mondavi Food & Wine Center in Costa Mesa, Spago in Beverly Hills and Hollywood Park Racetrack and Casino. One of the most detailed dinners was a  tribute to White House Chef Henry Haller in Las Vegas at the annual fundraiser for The Meadows School. 

Old School Chefs

I would also spend many hours studying the intricacies and nuances of wines around the world and the art of wine pairing with Sommelier and Chef Sal Campagna, former franchise chef for the San Francisco 49ers. I also remember the opportunity of writing the summer menu for the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite and cooking a VIP dinner with Chef Greg Cole for Dr. Robert Sinskey.

Yes, There are Cooking Olympics

Possibly the most memorable experience for earning a position on Team California to compete in the International Culinary Olympics (IKA). For twelve years, training alongside Team California founder, Executive Chef Brad Toles, traveling to Germany three times and receiving three Team Medals, as a part of Team California.

Mastering the Art of Enjoyment

After investing decades into this industry of food, wine and hospitality, I can single-handedly say, to make it professionally, it is hard work, it is persistence, it is detailed, it is fast-paced and relentless, always reaching for yet another level higher. But to enjoy the flavors, it is simply allowing yourself to receive the gift of what has been gathered and prepared, savoring the moment and opportunity to appreciate the finer things in life, no matter how simple they may be. Between those two places of hard-work and enjoyment is where the art of cooking and experimenting with ingredients, and building a dish with layers of flavor, is found.