At 44, Berkeley chef Dov Sims’ culinary lifetime has by now appear complete circle.
Sims grew up cooking along with his mom, Rosa “Nonna” Mendicino, a longtime Bay Space foodstuff vendor and caterer. Now his eldest son, Nico, is the grill grasp at Sims’ pandemic-born Cali Alley, a West Berkeley walk-up window specializing in comfort foods, from buttermilk fried rooster to a brisket-and-small-rib burger that Sims claims is the finest in town.
In involving, he worked his way up from busboy to head chef in great dining eating places in Berkeley and San Francisco and in 2002, took above his mom’s catering business, California Rose. Sims introduced Cali Alley, a completely outside artisan eatery, in April after getting rid of the the greater part of his clientele to COVID-19 cancellations. As Nonna suggests, he does his greatest function beneath strain.
We lately caught up with Sims to find out about his journey and what else he figured out from Nonna.
Q: You grew up with some wild foodstuff activities. Explain to us about those.
A: I was born in a smaller city named Hayfork north of Redding. We had a cabin in an even more compact city, Hyampom, in the mountains. We’d stay there for weeks at a time. My mother, a foodstuff vendor and hippie, would offer her Rooster Wings and Dingalings at pop-up fairs in the woods. A dingaling is a headband. Everybody that bought a rooster wing plate would get a headband. It was out of a different time.
When I was close to 8, she resolved to journey all around Mexico. We caravanned for two yrs. That’s the place I remember having my 1st shrimp off a barbecue in Santa Cruz and stirring a pot of black beans though absolutely everyone went to the seashore. I never ever stirred. As an alternative, I performed with my hermit crabs. The beans burned. I experienced no program, so I additional sugar to choose the burn flavor away. It did not work. My mother laughed and we manufactured new beans.
Q: Mom’s organization continued when the loved ones moved to the Bay Spot. What function did you enjoy in that?
A: As a child I utilised to pack the truck for her foodstuff cart, Jane Dough, on campus at Cal. She also did the festivals, like the Gilroy Garlic Pageant and the Folsom Street Truthful. When I was in center faculty, I would assistance her with the meatball sandwiches and Italian sausages. I grew up cooking and consuming a ton of exclusive foodstuff. I didn’t have ketchup as a child, but for the reason that my mom is Calabrian, I always had new pesto at the table.
Q: You had been functioning a cafe kitchen area at age 20. How did that happen?
A: Out of large college, I started out operating at a restaurant on Fourth Road named Ginger Island. At 17, I was a busboy. At 18, I commenced functioning in the kitchen area and at 20, I was performing chef. The normal supervisor saw a spark in me. She said, “I know you are going to make a good deal of issues. And I want you to make them.” I began managing a personnel of 20 and coming up with the nightly specials.
Q: You did a couple stints in fine eating restaurants. Why didn’t you keep?
A: Yeah, I labored as sous chef for Mark Zeitouni at Bistro Viola in Berkeley and helped him open up Glow in San Francisco, but it wasn’t what I preferred. At Glow, the art and enthusiasm of cooking was misplaced. It was all about how you glance and who was there. Doing the job with Johnny Alamilla to open Alma in the Mission was a ball. Johnny was a various animal. He was all about the integrity of foodstuff.
Just after that, in 2002, I made a decision to consider about my mom’s catering firm. We had just one account. At that time, catering did not provide a mid-degree rate — you either put in $150 a person or $30 a man or woman — so I was like, “How about quick ribs with chimichurri?” We went from that one particular shopper to 80 consumers, together with key organizations, like Clorox, and spanning from Berkeley to Healdsburg to San Jose.
Q: How did you get Cali Alley up and functioning so swiftly?
A: Likely into 2020, we experienced 40-in addition functions on our calendar. We had been established to have our largest 12 months at any time. But January was peaceful, and I experienced a prepare dinner contracting for me who wanted much more get the job done. I made a decision to open up a window on Grayson Road so he would have work and I could consider a little something new. We did not count on COVID to strike.
In a span of 6 months, 25 marriage partners postponed their strategies. We shed all the things. I didn’t want to go again to dining establishments. So I did this in its place. We place up a wall powering a business roll-up steel door. We reset the counter and the full presentation, with bouquets and tunes, every single day. Commonly you have a few to 6 months to put together for an opening. I experienced two weeks.
Q: What has the reaction been to the food?
A: It is been remarkable. I wished to do food stuff that was convenience or that you couldn’t get with no owning to connect with a cafe. It is what I simply call labor-intensive foodstuff. We grind our very own meat for our burger. We do our individual pork belly and I place three kinds of chocolate in my infant back ribs. We have big portions that are not for the faint of coronary heart — and vegan selections too. People in the Bay Region are vital. We experienced to appear out with an magnificent exhibit of foods. If it indicates paying two additional hours in the kitchen area performing every little thing by hand, that’s what you do.
Q: Your 17-12 months-outdated son is following in your footsteps. What variety of chef is he?
A: He is one thing we all form of marvel at. He understands the purpose. The value of integrity and not chopping corners. I really don’t assume I would’ve been in a position to do it with no him.
Q: What’s have you figured out from your mom?
A: My mom has taught me to be fearless. That no possibility is far too excellent. She’s imbedded the depth of her deep Italian no BS roots. Her attention to element and overall interest to what she cherished was never ever anything I took for granted. Her tomato sauce is historic. Her lasagna is my birthday present.