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Debbie Cunningham, special to The Bee

Kevin O’Connor

Culinary wunderkind Kevin O’Connor poised to open his own restaurant

Published: Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 - 12:04 pm

Kevin O’Connor made a name for himself as the precociously talented teen phenom who hosted private pop-up style “Treehouse” dinners to much fanfare through the years. O’Connor went on to helm the kitchen at Blackbird Kitchen & Bar but left several months before it closed (it is about to reopen Wednesday).

He continued to hone his craft and find his voice with private dinners, with ingredients often based on his interest in foraging. Now, O’Connor and his business partners have purchased a building on a bustling midtown block on J Street and will begin work readying the transformation from Art Ellis art supplies to a new restaurant.

The proposed restaurant, which does not yet have a name, will be on the same block as Kru, Billy Ngo’s widely admired restaurant featuring sushi and modern Japanese cuisine.

O’Connor says his style continues to evolve. He is currently honing his craft in San Francisco in an unpaid stage at Coi, Daniel Patterson’s Michelin two-star restaurant.

“I will be a sponge, take notes and learn as much as I can,” he said.

O’Connor, 24, does not have an projected opening date but said he hopes for late summer or early fall. The building will include a loft space O’Connor plans to call home.

O’Connor is bullish on Sacramento’s restaurant scene.

“Sacramento is where I have my roots. It’s where I draw my inspiration. Sacramento is on the edge of going from a good city to a great city,” the chef said.

Referring to his year in the kitchen at Blackbird, O’Connor said, “It was definitely a springboard. I was able to cook just about anything I wanted with little to no risk. It was easy to be able to play around with different ideas. At the same time, there was limit to what I could do there.”

O’Connor is one of many chefs who is inspired by the work of Rene Redzepi, the visionary behind Denmark’s Noma restaurant, considered by many to be one of the finest restaurants in the world. Redzepi is known for both his foraging and how his menus reflect the natural resources and bounty of the area.

“I’d like to do as much of that as I can personally, but I know some of that is unrealistic,” O’Connor said of foraging. “I feel like Sacramento is ready for so much more, but we’re still at the point where the food has to be accessible. If we were to open my dream restaurant, it would be one menu with 12 course and it would be $200 – but nobody would come.

This is another exciting development for local restaurant goers. O’Connor is a big talent with big ideas. We’ll be keeping an eye on this venture as he gets closer to opening in the months ahead.

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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