Chef Jacob Burton has discovered that home cooks are hungry to learn the cooking techniques he picked up at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
Burton started sharing what he knows in an online podcast years ago when he was a sous chef. Now, as the executive chef at Stella, the restaurant at the Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee, he's convinced that his education outreach helps him stand apart in a noisy marketplace.
Patrons come from as far away as Chicago and Canada to either dine or take culinary classes with Burton after finding him at stellaculinary.com. In November, he offered an intense culinary boot camp to his podcast regulars.
"When I hit the send button on the email, I was worried we weren't going to sell enough to make it worth our while," he said. "Patty and Jeff, the owners of the hotel, they were taking a big risk on it by agreeing to shut down the restaurant for a week. We had 12 slots available, and they sold out in less than 72 hours. It was $1,800, and we had stay packages on top of that."
Home cooks are not the only ones taking notice of the 29-year-old Cool native. On Monday, Food & Wine magazine asked its readers at www.foodandwine.com to vote on whether Burton should be named as the People's Best New Chef in California. The distinction recognizes executive chefs who have run a restaurant for less than five years.
When Burton arrived at Cedar House four years ago, hoteliers Jeff and Patty Baird were looking to improve the quality of food offered at special events.
"I realized that we were going to need a team that was used to working together," Burton told me. "I couldn't have a part-time staff put out nice food for a wedding. So we opened for dinner service two nights a week originally and then quickly moved to three nights. After about a year, we went to five nights."
Stella's receipts have grown about 50 percent every year since Burton took over, Patty Baird said. Today, the restaurant's sales make up about a third of Cedar House's overall revenue. Baird expects that to grow to half in the next two years.
They're going places
Brooklyn native Grady O'Bryant joined the U.S. Air Force to travel, and at age 21, after basic training and technical school, he hopped on a KC-135 and flew into Osan Air Base, South Korea, for a vacation.
"I get to Osan, and it's an American base," the now-50-year-old O'Bryant recalled. "It looks like any other base, and I thought, 'I don't want to stay here.' Off the cuff, I saw a bus that went down to Seoul, so I got on that bus and went down to Yongsan Army base.
"I thought, 'I don't want to do this, either,' so I got in this taxi with a Korean taxi driver, and he spoke a little English, and he understood me. I go, 'Take me to a bed and breakfast.' Then I said, 'Now write down this address because I want you to come back.'
"I was really in the heart of Seoul, so when I woke up that next morning, I didn't see any Americans. It was just me and Korea. That's how travel should be."
It's an experience O'Bryant and his wife, Gina, decided they wanted to re-create when they launched sactrips.com five years ago. They began with tours of area wineries, and the concept was so novel that no one had grabbed sacramentowinetours. com as a domain name.
Once they had it, their business got the top spot on search engines whenever someone put in those words, and it occurred an awful lot. He has added day trips, domestic trips and international travel about 50 to 80 journeys each year.
These days, O'Bryant told me, organizations such as the Mariposa Tourism Council invite him to set up tours. He doesn't have trouble finding travelers because 3,000 people participate in his travel club. Forty of them paid $2,900 each to accompany him to Ireland in August, he said, and 32 have agreed to pay him $4,000 a person later this year for a trip to Italy.
Call The Bee's Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193.