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THE DIRECTOR'S CHAIR
Tim Bodell, Rustic
From dishwasher to line cook to culinary manager and chef, Tim Bodell believes that every station not only deserves respect, but presents a potential learning opportunity. "I tell the people that I mentor that you can learn something from everybody, every day," Bodell says. "And if you're not learning something, you're not doing something right. You're not having an open mind."
That's no mere kitchen homily coming from Bodell, who's worked them all, from the bottom up. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, his earliest memories were cooking with his mother. "I always loved food, always loved to cook," he recalls. He wasted no time getting started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher in his early teens. When just 18, he worked with his first "real chef," and after attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., Bodell led the itinerant life of a young chef on the move.
"For me, in my 20s, my thing was to always stay for exactly one year and move on. There's only so much you can learn form a mentor, and the learning curve is so dramatic. Every chef has different things to teach you. I wanted to diversify my knowledge."
In 2000, Bodell moved west to work at high-end golf communities, where his openness to learning new things led to a pastime that he didn't know he'd ever even considered: getting in touch with his inner outdoorsman. "I had never hunted until I moved to Oregon and became great friends with a 'good old boy,' a 'redneck,'" he says with a laugh, "who showed me the way."
When he's not spending time with his wife and 14-month-old son, he takes his yellow lab duck hunting or foraging for mushrooms. "For me, there's nothing as gourmet as traipsing around in the mud, coming home and preparing [mushrooms]. It's really something I enjoy."
Meanwhile at Rustic, the restaurant at Francis Ford Coppola Winery inspired by the director's favorite food from both his travels and his memories at the family table, Bodell fine-tunes small-plate wine and food pairings, makes fresh pasta and oversees two sous chefs and "an army" of line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers. This January, he had the privilege of cooking at the James Beard House in New York City for the second time, representing the winery.
Bodell confirms that Coppola is very involved in Rustic. "I really enjoy working with Francis himself. He's a storyteller, so I really have the pleasure of learning about him, his family and his family recipes."
Naturally, all of this makes Bodell a busy man. On a recent Saturday, the chef was taking a break from a 400-seat lunch rush, plus a wine club event serving 600 members. He had 220 reservations for dinner. "I've been here since 6:30," Bodell says, without a hint of exhaustion. "I'll be here a few more hours. I'm looking forward to that first cold beer, that's for sure!"—James Knight
Jack Mitchell, Jack and Tony's
A few years ago, the owners of a building in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square approached chef Jack Mitchell to open a restaurant. He declined. Though interested in a new endeavor, he was still running the popular restaurant Sassafras and had other plans in the works.
"Then I had a dream," Mitchell tells me recently, "and the entire concept came to me. Even the name." And thus was born Jack and Tony's Restaurant and Whisky Bar, named after the chef-owner himself—and his alter-ego.
While Tony's function is mainly auxiliary—the staff enjoys making up stories about him—he does have his own email address and business cards. (Neither of which, apparently, came in handy during his latest kerfuffle, in which he was kidnapped and whisked off to Cancun).
"Tony" may be getting into trouble south of the border, but Jack grew up way north of it, in St. Paul, Minn., where his interest in food started young. "My mom wasn't a great cook," he tells me, "so I'd sneak over to Grandma's house to eat lunch with her." He paid his way through college by working in restaurants, and by the time graduation rolled around, he was cooking in a four-star hotel. So instead of pursuing further education ("Culinary school," he says, "is for people who don't know how to cook"), he continued to move through kitchens around the country.
For eight years, Mitchell cooked fancy French cuisine in Arizona, but, as he puts it, "I was cooking for tourists; I could get away with anything." San Francisco, with its promise of a more "informed clientele," beckoned. In addition to working for the Real Restaurant Group and the Lark Creek Inn, he ran the kitchen at San Francisco's Beach Chalet, which served a thousand tables a day. "It was a great experience," he says, "but ultimately not fulfilling."
Drawn by abundant local produce, Mitchell moved to Santa Rosa. "The last thing this town needed," he recognizes, "was another wine bar." Whiskey might not drive the entire menu at Jack and Tony's, but it certainly has a grip on the wheel. The apple tart, lox, oysters—all of them pair nicely with various gradations of the amber liquor.
With a seasonally shifting menu, the industrious chef—he's cooking a BLT and a cheeseburger, medium well, as we talk on the phone—is unabashed about the quality of his food. "We didn't invent the caesar salad," he says, "but we perfected it."
As for Tony? "We tried to raise the $50,000 ransom," Mitchell deadpans, "but only managed to get about 15 bucks."—Jessica Dur Taylor