The Chef Apprentice

Join a self-taught cook as he trains at a top restaurant

September 30, 2009
What I won't miss - the commute
stucommute.jpgI owe my cooking apprenticeship, in part, to the Capitol Corridor trains.

If California didn't have a rail connection between Sacramento and the Bay Area, there is no way I could have commuted to Oliveto five days a week.

Driving Interstate 80 daily? Not a chance.

Commuting 160 miles daily between Sacramento and Berkeley was both an adventure and a challenge. After several months, it became more of the latter.

Every day, I'd ride my bike down to the Amtrak station in Sacramento, which is about 1.5 miles from my house. If you were standing on G Street at about 7:30 a.m. on a weekday, you might have seen me speeding by, trying to make it to the station for the 7:40 train.

Once aboard, any hint of stress washed away. Each Capitol Corridor train has closets where you can hang your bicycle and lock it up. Each day I'd bring my laptop, USB modem and coffee thermos. As the train passed over the Sacramento River by the Yolo Bypass in the early morning light, I'd get some writing done and check email, sipping coffee and watching the scenery.

Assuming the train wasn't delayed, I'd arrive at Berkeley at 9 a.m. and resume my morning workout on the bicycle. Ahead of me was a moderate climb of eight miles along the bicycle boulevards of Berkeley until I reached Oliveto in Rockridge.

Sometimes I'd stop for a coffee or pastry, or to post a blog entry I hadn't completed on the train. Generally, I'd arrive at the restaurant at around 10 a.m., then work straight for seven or eight hours.

If I dashed out of the restaurant at 5 p.m, I could ride down the hill and catch the 5:40 train. If the kitchen was busy, I'd catch a later train. Generally, I'd get back to Sacramento by 9 p.m., whereupon my wife and I would fix dinner.

Initially, this bike-train commute was fun. I met interesting people on the train and enjoyed exploring various neighborhoods of Berkeley and Oakland on my bike ride to and from restaurant. It also helped that Oliveto agreed to cover my monthly train pass ($390) in exchange for my labors.

But as the internship progressed, the commute started to weigh on me. I felt constantly in motion, always dashing to catch (and sometimes miss) the train I wanted.

And, of course, the train was sometimes delayed. At one point, the train being held up in Martinez because of a fatality on the tracks ahead. Hours later we were bussed back to Sacramento.

So I am glad it is over. I'll miss some of my fellow commuters and the friendly and helpful conductors. But I won't miss the commuting frenzy.

My new job is not without stress, but the commute is a breeze. Instead of spending four hours traveling each day, my commute is back to ten minutes each way.
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About The Chef Apprentice

Stuart Leavenworth, an editorial writer for The Bee, will spend the next several months in the kitchen at Oliveto, a highly rated Italian restaurant in the Bay Area. As an apprentice, Stuart will start as a prep chef, preparing vegetables, soups, sauces and pasta fillings. Then he'll move on to more challenging assignments. He welcomes your questions. Read his first installment here. Email him at

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