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Firehouse Restaurant alters chef team, celebrates 45 years with its sommelier

Jay Veregge is director of culinary operations for the Harvego Restaurant Group, parent company of The Firehouse, Ten22 and District at Ten22
Jay Veregge is director of culinary operations for the Harvego Restaurant Group, parent company of The Firehouse, Ten22 and District at Ten22 Harvego Restaurant Group

The Harvego Restaurant Group, owner of Old Sacramento’s The Firehouse and Ten22, has named longtime Ten22 executive chef Jay Veregge as group director of culinary operations.

Veregge has worked at Ten22, the fine-dining Firehouse’s more rustic, New American offshoot, since 2010. He now oversees that kitchen, at 1022 Second St., as well as that of the Firehouse, a 56-year-old restaurant that sits in a 19th-century firehouse at 1112 Second St.

Veregge also oversees District by Ten22, the Harvego group’s new coffee and takeout spot in the Ten22 building.

“Jay has just incredible experience, and this was an opportunity to bring him into the Firehouse scene,” Harvego group co-owner Lloyd Harvego said of Veregge, who has worked at San Francisco’s famous Tadich Grill, Incline Village’s Big Water Grille and other Northern California restaurants.

The Harvego group brought in Matty Love, former chef for the Amangani resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to be the Firehouse’s chef de cuisine. Brandon Umipeg is chef de cuisine at Ten22.

Former Firehouse executive chef Deneb Williams “has moved on,” Harvego said, though he did not specify to where or what. “We have owned the Firehouse now for 16 years, and we have had three chefs. … We have had a good history with keeping chefs, but they all want to move on and try different things at times.”

The Firehouse has introduced a refined menu that “maintains the authenticity of the Firehouse, but gives it more direction of presentation,” Veregge said. This menu focuses more on local ingredients, Veregge said, pointing out the Sonoma County poultry and Yolo County turnips in the restaurant’s duck-breast entree.

District by Ten22 opens at 7:30 a.m., and serves Old Soul coffee and pastries as well as wine, beer and cheese.

The new spot “was conceived with the arena opening in mind,” Veregge said. The October unveiling of downtown’s Golden 1 Arena “will bring us more morning-nature business” to Old Sacramento, he said.

Amid all the changes, the Harvego group also is celebrating a mainstay: Mario Ortiz, the Firehouse’s wine director, general manager and sommelier. Ortiz, protector of the restaurant’s 16,000-bottle wine collection, this month celebrates 45 years at the restaurant.

He started as a busboy at age 16, in 1971, and worked as banquet manager before assuming his current position. He said his relationships with repeat customers have helped keep him around.

“When I was working some weddings, I would work with families very closely, and I would meet the young children,” Ortiz said. “Now those children are grown, and coming in (the restaurant).”

The Firehouse is offering a special six-course tasting menu ($99, $139 with wine pairings), through September, to mark Ortiz’s milestone. Veregge planned the menu from proteins Ortiz chose, and Ortiz picked the wines.

Courses include lobster with caviar butter paired with a N.V. Gosset Brut Excellence, foie gras with peach melba and almonds paired with a 2009 Dolce Late Harvest, and a filet with wild mushrooms and brandy coupled with a 2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

“If it were up to me, the whole menu would be foie gras,” Ortiz said with a laugh.

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