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Young chef flies the coop at Blackbird, but returns to town to host private dinners

Published: Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013 - 3:12 pm

This is a little bit of catching up news. Kevin O’Connor, who first made a name for himself as a precocious young chef hosting private dinners under the name Tree House, further cemented his reputation as a rising star on the culinary scene during his year at Blackbird Kitchen & Bar.

O’Connor, 24, recently left the kitchen at Blackbird to travel, explore, recalibrate and take stock of what he wants to do next. Part of that journey, he told me, would include hanging out with hunters and immersing himself in the preparation and cooking of game birds. He also wanted to hone his skills working in some top-shelf restaurants.

“I’ve wanted to stage at some Michelin-rated places in San Francisco and Napa,” he told me when we chatted by phone not too long ago. “If I want to do more and get better, now is the time to do it.”

If you’re not familiar with “stage,” pronounced stahzj, that pretty much means interning in a kitchen, generally without pay, and hoping to watch and learn from the best in the business, sometimes while getting yelled at for not chopping carrots quickly enough. It’s hard work, but it’s one of the steps on the way to getting better.

I’ve eaten plenty of O’Connor’s food and believe he has great gifts. The biggest gift, perhaps, is his passion for cooking and his eagerness to continue to grow. His style, it seems, is a work in progress — a mix of modernist, classical and maybe touches of avant garde. He’s willing to take chances and he’s not afraid to fail. That’s a big part of getting better.

Now it looks like he’s zeroing in on his interest in the natural world and how it relates to food. O’Connor will be hosting two dinners in October that look very compelling and unusual.

This is what I found on the Tree House website:

“Tree House will be hosting two back-to-back dinners–Saturday, October 12th and Sunday, October 13th– celebrating wild ingredients, thoughtfully foraged during a tour of the northwestern US. These wild foods will be supplemented with Sacramento’s local bounty of products. Each dinner will serve only ten guests, with a suggested donation of $83 to reserve a seat. The degustation menu will be identical for both nights and will truly represent ‘Naturalist Nouvelle’ cuisine in the style of Chef Kevin O’Connor.”

The dinners, with seating for just 10 people each night, will include foraged ingredients as well as from local farms and purveyors. The cost is $83. Tickets can be purchased at

These are pretty cool and potentially inspiring dinners. Kudos to O’Connor for doing his thing, inviting avid diners to be part of it and, all the while, expanding the boundaries of what’s happening on the local scene.

“I feel like Sacramento is on the verge of this Renaissance,” O’Connor said.

I asked him about his long-term plans and about the possibility he’ll have his own restaurant rather than occasional pop-up dinners.

“I’d love to have a place in Sacramento. I’m rooted here and it’s such a perfect spot,” he said.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob

Read more articles by Blair Anthony Robertson

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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