A Family Affair
Hard work and dedication bring Michelin accolades to this all-star team
By Caitlin McCulloch
Josh Nelson, co-founder and CEO of The Kitchen, along with stepdad Randall Selland, mom Nancy Zimmer and sister Tamera Baker have recently earned themselves a Michelin star—the first one ever to be awarded in the Sacramento region. There’s something special about this family that sets them apart. Aside from stellar food, a strong local following (Selland’s Family Restaurant Group, anyone?) and an unshakeable bond, keeping customers at the forefront of everything is their recipe to success. I had the pleasure of chatting with Nelson—while he was on a family trip to Hawaii, no less—about their journey, what guests can expect from The Kitchen and everything in between.
Has your family always known this is what you were all meant to do?
My mother taught my stepfather how to cook—she ignited this passion in him. The Kitchen started as a commercial space for catering and it was previously a cooking school. A wine merchant in town asked if we would do a wine-pairing meal. It went really well, so we thought ‘maybe we should try this.’ We began doing that once a month, then every week. We received a nice write-up and it was off and running. We were booked for a year solid! At that time, it sat only 18 people. It was organically conceived; it just kind of happened. I think it has a lot to do with its soul. It has grown into what it is over a long evolution and never over-conceptualized.
What’s it like being able to work alongside your family?
It’s great. We all get along well and spend time outside of work together; we’re a very tight-knit family. The older I get, the more I recognize the blessing to work with my family. We’ve never been a family to bicker or fight over money, power or interest, and we’ve all been equally invested since day one. When we do bicker, it’s only because we really care.
I’d love to hear about the vibe at The Kitchen.
Our guests have full access to the whole place. We won’t teach you how to do it, but we’ll show you how it’s done. We have all the touches and steps and ingredients of a Michelin-caliber restaurant, but we strip away all the pretention. It’s a place to have fun and enjoy yourself. We don’t want you to feel like you’re going to go to your grandma’s house to be on your best behavior—take off your coat and relax!
Can you tell me a little bit about the menu structure at The Kitchen?
We do roughly a monthly menu and like to think of things as six seasons a year instead of four: early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, etc. Some seasons are shorter while others are more drawn out. While we do 12 menus a year, they follow more closely to Mother Nature than the calendar. In July, we’ll certainly get porcinis, tomatoes and corn, as well as berries throughout the year. Our menu depends on what Mother Nature gives us.
Where do you source your ingredients from?
Randall is very much about supporting the local farmers. We’ll get ingredients from Sunday and Wednesday farmers markets, and farmers will drop products at the restaurant. We spend the bulk of our money locally. However, if someone has a like philosophy and like practices, such as Nantucket Bay Scallops in Maine, we still personally consider that farm-to-fork. It’s not defined by distance. People doing good with food is typically who we like to support.
I’ve heard that you will go above and beyond for customers at The Kitchen—you’ll even go out and get them Taco Bell if that’s what they want. Are the rumors true?
Yes, that’s correct! Randall’s hospitality is the drive for our front-of-house philosophies. We don’t approach The Kitchen from an ‘I’m the chef, this is my meal, this is what you’ll eat’ mindset. We’ve gone to fetch Selland’s mac and cheese, In-N-Out and Taco Bell. Whatever someone requests, we do our very best to accommodate. I think that people want to have fun with it more than a real desire for the food! There also seem to be a lot more dietary restrictions in the world we live in today. We build custom meals for people all night long; it’s part of what we do.
Congratulations on your recent Michelin star! What does this mean to you?
In our industry, Michelin is the final word. It’s great to have that recognition. Michelin hasn’t been in our market so we haven’t strived for any award or accolades—we’ve strived to take care of our guests and put out the best product and service we can. That being said, it’s quite an honor and it’s pretty incredible. It shines fresh light, so it’ll be very impactful for the restaurant. Will it change what we do? Absolutely not. You’re only as good as your last service, and we always strive to do better than the day before. We celebrated for a night, which was fun, and then were back at it.
What are your final thoughts that our readers simply have to know?
There’s a lot more to it than just our family. We have about 375 staff members total; all of these journeys that we celebrate take a lot of committed people. They work really hard and are caring and dedicated. They’re the best in the business, and we’re proud and honored to work with them. Looking at the recognition that the Michelin star has brought us (I mean, we’re currently doing an interview about it!), I have to give the nod and hats off to the team.