Take it as a complement
Sept./Oct. 2016 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Barbara Arciero
Photos by Matt Salvo
Chef's two restaurants explore opposite ends of culinary spectrum
More online: Watch this story on California Bountiful TV.
Chef Mike Thiemann
Sacramento chef Mike Thiemann co-owns two downtown restaurant restaurants practically stacked one atop the other—but in a way, they're worlds apart. Mother, a sunny, street-level eatery, serves exclusively vegetarian fare, whereas Empress Tavern, its subterranean sister, goes old-school with a meat-centric menu of French dips, roast pork and prime rib.
Thiemann revels in the juxtaposition.
"It's great. I've got terminal itchy feet," he said, laughing. "I'm constantly looking to my right and to my left, going, 'Oh, I want to do that,' or 'I want to do this.' It allows me to bounce back and forth from all my interests."
As a chef, one of Thiemann's overarching interests is the opportunity to nourish—not only in a literal sense, but also by mentoring his staff.
"The way some of the best chefs ended up where they are, is they worked for really good chefs," he explained. "I started when I was 17 as a dishwasher and worked my way up. Just the values that you gain from moving up through a system and learning a trade is pretty incredible."
The Sacramento native honed his craft locally, then spent more than a decade opening restaurants in locations from Hawaii to New Zealand. He said he's happy to be back cooking in his hometown.
"Sacramento is a farm town; it's farm-driven, ag-driven," he said. "Really quickly, even without trying, you'll have farmers knocking on your door, bringing you food."
Building relationships with local farmers and ranchers, he said, is essential to success—no matter where his itchy feet take him: "Good chefs cook with a sense of place. They have their environment inside their food and inside their restaurant. It's kind of a representation of the upbringing and town that you live in."
Vegan carrot nut burger patty
Mustard squash and pickled peaches
Honey roasted pork belly with black pepper vinegar
Triple chocolate chip cookies
Dutch baby with cherries and plums