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The Kitchen celebrates 20 years

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Husband-and-wife team Randall Selland and Nancy Zimmer, who are the co-founders, executive chefs and owners of The Selland Group, will celebrate the 20-year success of The Kitchen restaurant by opening up another Selland’s Market-Café in El Dorado Hills on Nov. 24.

The Kitchen started in May 1991, offering Sacramento the revolutionary demonstration dinners while providing a personal and intimate experience by talking with guests while cooking in front of them.

Prior to cooking, Zimmer and Selland were both involved in art.

Zimmer worked at an art gallery when she and Selland first met, Zimmer said. “I always had an interest in cooking, and I just loved to cook. (Selland) was always just an artist, and so I think he just turned his food into art.”

Selland said Zimmer worked as a manager for Tower Gallery on El Camino.

Selland said he was trained in the stained glass business before he became a chef. Zimmer saw his artwork at a show in Sacramento and she tracked him down because she liked his artwork. After meeting each other for the first time, they started dating and have stayed together ever since.

Zimmer and Selland at the original The Kitchen restaurant

Selland said he traveled on large-scale commissions.

“I was in Amsterdam in a show in 1985,” Selland said. “I decided that I didn’t want to do (stained glass), so I traveled to Spain and Portugal. I came back home to Sacramento, finished up obligations (and we began) cooking and started catering.”

Selland said he started cooking at Fat City for two months when he got a call from The Cookery owner Jean Luc Chassereau.

“That’s where I kind of got my big start,” Selland said.

“While he was doing that I was working at the art gallery starting catering companies,” Zimmer said.

According to Zimmer, they have both always had a passion for food.

“(We had) no formal culinary training,” Selland said.

According to a press release, Sous Chef Bernice Hagen closed La Bernice Cooking School and offered to lease the kitchen. Selland and Zimmer ran a catering business there and, after some time, Marcus Graziano approached the two to host wine and dinner in their catering kitchen.

“(Graziano) came to sell wine and wanted us to do food in the space we had, and it had a counter around it because it was a cooking school, and people loved the fact that they got to interact with Nancy and I and that we cooked the food right in front of them,” Selland said. “I think that’s where we kind of got going.

“We started at $30 a person, (and now) it’s $125. The food was very simple, with four courses. What we’ve done is tried to continually make the food fresh (and with a) twist. We’re always tweaking everything – it keeps us interested … We keep giving (clients) new things.”

Selland with tuna at the original The Kitchen restaurant

According to Selland, one way their cooking has changed from when they first started to now is how they prepare a beef tenderloin.

They used to marinade, grill, slice and put it in the oven. Now, they cut the meat into blocks and use a sous vide technique by vacuum sealing it, cooking the meat and using a circulator and throwing it in the grill. They changed their techniques of cooking to make dishes more interesting to make and keep them fresh and new for the customers.

“We give the menu item a different twist (by) the way we prepare it,” Selland said. “We never try to duplicate dishes … Instead of playing it safe, you’re always evolving.”

According to Selland, they cook for 50 people at The Kitchen. They discontinued their full-service catering business and opened up the Selland’s Market-Café in 2001 and Ella Dining Room and Bar, named after their granddaughter, in 2007, according to the press release.

“It’s always cooking something that we would want to eat ourselves,” Selland said. “If you come to The Kitchen and you tell me the food was interesting, then we’re not doing our job, because our job is to make food that just tastes really good.

“That’s how Nancy and I like to eat, and that’s how we’ve always liked to eat. We enjoy going to places that are trying new techniques, pushing the envelope a little bit to where sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t … But we like to cook food for our clients that just tastes good. I mean, the best compliment you can ever get at The Kitchen is that the food is really yummy.”

Selland said that he and Zimmer still do the menus at The Kitchen after 20 years even though they have a chef there.

According to Selland, he goes to a lot of farmers markets to look for what is in season and they put their heads together to come up with menus.

For example, he said he would sit down and share an idea that he had with Nancy and she would think about it and if she has a different way of doing it, she would share it with him.

“(We have) never argued. (We) agree on the end result,” Selland said. “(We) taste all the components … I love the spontaneity of the creative process … It’s how I’ve always worked. Most chefs try and reflect … I’d rather have something with passion than something that’s technically perfect.”

Selland said they never base their menus on playing it safe. He also said they have never taken a dish off of the menu, but they have tweaked it through the process.

“When we do a menu at The Kitchen, we’ve never tasted it or done it before, and so we have to start that month and put it out there without ever having done it before,” Zimmer said. “It’s a brand-new menu, brand-new items, things we’ve never done before.”

Selland also commented on how Sacramento’s dining and restaurant culture has changed over the years.

“I think things have come a long way to where there are a lot more restaurants out there focusing on making food you can feel – you can transport to other cities … instead of thinking of cooking for the Sacramento market,” Selland said. “Everything is how we want to do it and we hope people accept it and embrace it.”

Zimmer said that they have gotten thank-you letters over the years. According to Selland, several of the letters have included how happy customers are, how lovely their experience was at The Kitchen and that they want to come back.

“We’re really proud, we started with an idea … people have embraced the ideas that we’ve had,” Selland said. “We’re proud of what we have accomplished in Sacramento and we’re not finished.”

The Selland Group has won multiple awards for food and service, one of which was the “Award for Ultimate Distinction” by the Wine Enthusiast.

“We both came from nothing, especially me, and we have been able to achieve (things) and make people happy,” Zimmer said. “People are so kind to us and think we’re something special somehow.”

Selland said that he has enjoyed seeing customers come back through the years.

“It’s exciting because people give us money to do what we like to do,” Selland said. “We get to make a living with our passion. We love to cook – pretty simple and basic.”

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Rachel Aquino

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