Food & Drink

Want to cook what Sacramento’s top chefs make at home? It’s not as hard as you think

One chef’s wife does pretty much all the cooking at home. One serves up bagels with smoked salmon and other fixings for lunch. One often has nothing in his fridge but drinks, tortillas and eggs.

Sacramento chefs spend their weeks tasting new dishes and running hot, high-stress kitchens. When rare days off come around (usually Sunday or Monday), the last thing most want to do is labor-intensive cooking. For some, that means salads to purge away the week; others want the emotional swaddling of cheap, quick comfort food that appeals to their kids, too.

It wasn’t always like this, said Revival and Kimpton Sawyer chef Patrick Prager, who cooked at renowned San Francisco restaurants such as Jardiniere, Michael Mina and Cliff House before coming to Sacramento. Prager sharpened his skills and let his creative juices flow at home for years until his kids came along, he said.

“In my earlier years when I was a line cook in San Francisco, I’d have a lot of fun with (cooking) on my day off,” Prager said. “But doing that for a family, a) it’s expensive and b) it doesn’t produce good results, because my kids will say ‘f--- you, I’m not eating this.’”

Prager’s meals at home are now fairly simple, though he still adds some flair to dinner every once in a while. Here’s what he and chefs at some other Sacramento restaurants had to say about their off-duty cooking habits. Quotes are condensed for space and clarity.

Brandon Meadows, chef at Scott’s Seafood on the River:

“Most days off, I eat at Black Bear Diner because that’s where my kid likes to go for breakfast. Lots of junk food or sitting around, relaxing type of food. Then for dinner, it’s whatever the kid wants. Pizza or spaghetti, real simple stuff I can make with her because whenever I‘m cooking she likes to be at my hip.

Sometimes it’s grilled cheese, sometimes it’s quesadillas. Once in a while, I do cook something nice. If my daughter wants to make pizza, we’ll go through the whole process of making the dough in the morning. My daughter loves chicken noodle soup, so we make that from scratch once in a while. Just real homey food I know everybody in the house will enjoy.”

Oliver Ridgeway, chef/owner at Camden Spit + Larder:

“I’ll do multiple breakfasts. I’ll cook something vegetable-forward for me and my wife, then something fun like French toast or waffles for my kids. (For) lunch we either make sandwiches or a big Greek salad with pita and grilled chicken, something where everyone can build their own thing. The kids can either have salad or build themselves a gyro. Either way, it’s a good way to have fun and bring some vegetables into their days.

Then for dinner, I’m a big fan of tri tip. I’ll make my own seasoning rub and let it sit in the fridge all day, then grill that up as well as some sweet potatoes. I’ll do a homemade aioli and pick some herbs from our garden and make a loose chimichurri.

Being a chef, you’re always on your feet. You’re not always making the smartest decisions all week when it comes to eating, so I try to put in an effort to eat right on the weekends. Every now and then it can be dirty, but most of the time we’re keeping it fresh.”

Oliver Ridgeway, 42, chef/owner at Camden Spit + Larder, cuts up vegetables while his children, Camden and Ella Ridgeway, unshell peas in their home in Sacramento. Daniel Kim

Billy Ngo, chef/co-owner of Kru, Fish Face and Kodaiko Ramen & Bar (opening soon):

“I don’t (cook) at home. I eat out a lot or eat junk food. When I eat at home with family, they usually cook. Or if I do cook, it’s super simple two-pot dishes like soup, stew, chili.”

Deneb Williams, chef/co-owner of Allora, Uptown Pizza Kitchen and Woodlake Tavern:

“One of my favorite things to cook for breakfast is curried couscous with seasonal veggies like sauteed squash and tomatoes from our garden and poached eggs. To be honest, a lot of days I skip or go out for lunch. A favorite around our house is bagels with smoked salmon, pickled onions and capers with a nice veggie platter or a salad.

I try to keep it as simple as possible because I want to spend time with my family, not in the kitchen. Dinners we can get a little more elaborate sometimes, but a favorite thing for us to cook is either roast chicken with steamed artichokes or pasta with pomarosa and fresh vegetables.

All the sauces and all the heavy rich food — when I’m home, I feel like I want to counteract all that. I want to eat as many vegetables and fruits as possible. It’s not uncommon for me to get off work at night and sit down and eat five ice-cold oranges.”

Taro Arai, chef/owner of Mikuni:

“Usually, my wife cooks (at home). She doesn’t want me to cook too much at home because I make a mess like it’s a restaurant and I have people to clean up. She knows what I want. Somen noodles, that’s one of my favorites. She just makes dashi with fish stock and then I love fresh ginger, fresh wasabi. It’s the simplest food, but I never get tired of it.

I do have a lot of family gatherings and guests. At the next one, I’m going to have 50 people in my house and we’re going to do paella with chorizo, lobster and squid. That’ll be fun to make with my friends.”

Patrick Prager, chef at Revival and Kimpton Sawyer:

“I have three kids ages 9, 11 and 13 and they’re not very adventurous eaters, so they usually dictate a little of what the meal is. For breakfast on Saturday mornings, they love pancakes so I’ll do a bunch of pancakes. One of them likes chocolate chips in there so I’ll throw some in. We’ll have some eggs, might do some monkey bread, some bacon and sausage, that sort of deal.

Lunch is pretty much usually a free-for-all. If we’re going on a hike, I’ll make a few regular old sandwiches like peanut butter-and-jelly or ham-and-cheese. But if we’re just hanging around the house (and) my kids are hungry, they go and get themselves lunch. Same with me and my wife.

Dinner is a different beast. I usually get inspired by whatever protein I get at the store. Like if it’s some New York prime beef from Costco, I’ll caramelize some onions, hit it with a little red wine and slather some butter on top. Whatever vegetables are prevalent at the time, we’ll go with them. For starch, our go-to is potatoes in one form or another.”

Brock MacDonald, chef at Beast + Bounty, LowBrau and Block Butcher Bar:

“I honestly don’t (cook at home) at all. Like, I go out to eat every single meal when I’m not at work. I have one day off — it’s Sunday — and I have two kids. We usually eat at Shady Lady for brunch, we go to Corti Brothers for lunch and for dinner we have a small rotation that we go to.

If I do cook, it’s super late at night and it’s tortillas and eggs. My fridge will always have sparkling water, regular water, tortillas, eggs and that’s it. Last night I made six over-easy eggs and four tortillas and passed out. It’s unhealthy, but it’s the lifestyle that I’ve chosen to live.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.