Everything is coming together for Localis chef Christopher Barnum-Dann – the relationships he’s always wanted with his two dads, the name he plans to use for the rest of his life, the restaurant he’s always wanted to own.
Barnum-Dann officially acquired Localis from Broderick Roadhouse founder Chris Jarosz on Sept. 9, he said, and he’s begun the process of transforming the physical space to match the epicurean vision he has unveiled over the past year at the midtown Sacramento restaurant. That vision was honed at the Art Institute of California-Sacramento, but it originated at his childhood home in Foresthill, where his mom, Jennifer Dann, regularly cooked with fresh fruits and vegetables from her garden.
“My mom never bought a watermelon in December,” Barnum-Dann said. “We would never buy tomatoes in December … She would have me taste a tomato from the garden, and she would say, ‘That is what a tomato tastes like. You can’t get that in a store.’ ”
Barnum-Dann’s father, Kevin Dann, took the family on camping and hunting and fishing trips, Barnum-Dann said, trips that as a child he wanted to skip. But he now realizes those trips engendered in him a respect for nature. It was one of many traits that Kevin Dann passed along to Barnum-Dann, despite the feelings of alienation that the restaurateur said he felt as a child.
Kevin was not his biological father. His mother married the man Barnum-Dann calls “Dad” when he was a toddler. And although Kevin never adopted Barnum-Dann, the boy was registered at school as Chris Dann. He used that name, not his birth name of Chris Barnum, through his primary and secondary school years.
Yet Barnum-Dann didn’t make a strong connection with Kevin until he was 19. The breakthrough came when they were fishing on a reservoir near Foresthill.
“I was not a problem child, but I just didn’t feel like a part of that family,” Barnum-Dann said. “It was my own fault, not theirs. We were out on a boat fishing at French Meadows Lake. It was beautiful … and my Dad just starts crying. He tells me, ‘I’m so sorry that I didn’t understand you.’ I’d always been a good kid. I never got in trouble. I got good grades. I was very respectful. … They just didn’t get me. But at that point, we really solidified our relationship. Now it’s been 16 years. I feel so incredibly close to him.”
When Barnum-Dann came down the hill to go to college in Sacramento, he said, officials insisted he use his legal name on all records, so he became Chris Barnum to everyone he met in town. Then, a few years ago, he answered a call from his birth father, Curtis Barnum, and they reconnected. He began to think more deeply about his last name and how to incorporate both the father who nurtured him and the one whose nature had imprinted upon him at conception.
Recently, he said, he decided to start using Barnum-Dann as his last name. And instead of thinking about the past, he’s spending his energy building up Localis. He came up with the name for the restaurant when he was in his mid-20s, he said, back when he was in culinary school and was assigned a capstone project that required students to create a restaurant from scratch with blueprints, financing, budgets and concept.
When Jarosz approached him to lead the kitchen of a new restaurant at the corner of 21st and S streets, Barnum-Dann pitched Localis. The two men joked that the name aptly identified the concept: “Local is.” Over the years, Barnum-Dann had worked as an executive chef at the Winchester Country Club in Meadow Vista, Wise Villa Winery in Lincoln, and Roseville’s Cibo 7, he said, and had started building a network of boutique farmers who could supply fresh, local produce.
They were typically producers whose land didn’t yield enough crops to supply more than two or three restaurants at a time, and Barnun-Dann’s goal was to take whatever they provided and build a menu from it. As we were speaking at his restaurant, Paul and Susan Hanks of Rio Linda’s Hanks Hens delivered a supply of fresh eggs from their 2-acre farm, and they stopped to congratulate him on acquiring the place.
The Hankses, Barnum-Dann recalled, once brought in some long, spirally carbocci peppers. He hadn’t ordered them, but they suspected the peppers would inspire Barnum-Dann to produce something special. Barnum-Dann said the peppers had a mild heat but robust flavor, and they reminded him of dishes he had sampled in New Orleans back when he was the drummer for the death metal band Dismal Lapse. He produced a Cajun-Creole seafood dish with them.
After working with Barnum-Dann for about nine months, Jarosz said, he realized that the chef wanted the chance to fly solo and had the chops to do it.
“He’s a very talented young chef,” said Jarosz, who parlayed his Wicked Wich food truck into a restaurant empire that includes Broderick Roadhouse and the new Saddle Rock. “Localis is a pretty small restaurant, and there really isn’t enough room in that kitchen for two sets of ideas. I think that one of the things that I had difficulty with was trying to break into the restaurant business. Nobody really wanted to support me and believe in my vision, right? I started out with a food truck and had to figure it out on my own. I figure this is an opportunity for Chris.”