Restaurant News & Reviews

Noah Zonca, Sacramento chef known for his work at The Kitchen, dies at 41

Chef Noah Zonca filets and cuts portions of salmon at Capital Dime in midtown Sacramento in 2013. Zonca died May 4, 2018, according to a memorial page set up on Facebook.
Chef Noah Zonca filets and cuts portions of salmon at Capital Dime in midtown Sacramento in 2013. Zonca died May 4, 2018, according to a memorial page set up on Facebook. Bee file

Prominent Sacramento-area chef Noah Zonca died earlier this month, according to recent social media posts that include a memorial page on Facebook apparently created by family members.

Zonca was born in Santa Rosa and began his culinary career as a teen dishwasher at The Kitchen, where his mother, Jeanne Zonca Tentis, also worked. He stayed at The Kitchen for nearly 20 years, later replacing founder Randall Selland as the bombastic emcee and main chef. Former Bee food critic Blair Anthony Robertson once referred to Selland and Zonca as "loud and louder."

Patrick Mulvaney spent 1998-99 working along Zonca in The Kitchen, and saw him frequently at pig roasts and fine dining events in later years. Now the owner of Mulvaney's B&L, Mulvaney said Zonca was beloved by customers and other chefs as well as his family.

"He really was a great support for me, not only in our time in The Kitchen when he was an invaluable partner but also throughout the years as someone you could confide in," Mulvaney said. "Sometimes we talk about the kitchen as a dance ... and when you have someone you know you can dance with, that's a great thing."

Zonca left The Kitchen in 2013 to open Capital Dime, where upscale farm-to-fork dishes initially sold for just $10. Prices soon swelled to $30 per plate in some cases, though, and Zonca abruptly closed the restaurant at 18th and L streets in 2015 before opening his own catering business.

But Zonca battled demons and dropped off most peoples' radars around that time, Mulvaney said. Mulvaney last saw his friend two or three years ago, he said, and found out about his death Thursday night from Jeanne, who now lives in Wisconsin.

"A lot of us talked about (his situation) and just felt helpless. He was such a good guy, our friend or our comrade, and we just couldn't help him," Mulvaney said. "He was always there for me with a big hug and encouragement when I had down times. I guess his down times just didn't come back up."

Rossi Catering & Deli owner Robb Venditti grew up with Zonca in Arden Arcade back in the late 1980s, when Venditti was going through a ska phase and Zonca was "this hippie kid that always had a tie-dye shirt on."

The two reconnected in the mid-2000s when Zonca was at The Kitchen and Venditti was Cafe Bernardo's head chef. They became friends even though their blunt manners and large personalities clashed with each other at times, and Zonca introduced Venditti to Mulvaney, who would later hire him as his restaurant's head chef.

Venditti last saw Zonca about two years ago while running the kitchen at Pangaea Bier Cafe. The two chatted over hamburgers and a couple of beers, Venditti said, before Zonca rode off on his bicycle.

"He was an old-school chef, and everything that goes along with it," Venditti said.

Zonca died May 4 at age 41, according to the Sacramento County Coroner's Office. A cause of death was not listed.

A GoFundMe page established to benefit Zonca's son Evani had raised more than $2,400 as of Friday evening.