Photo by Octavio Valencia.
September Featured Artist
This September, Sacramento365 is cooking up something new for its Featured Artist series. To complement all of this month’s farm-to-fork happenings, we’ve decided to highlight a different type of artist — one responsible for turning our region’s ag bounty into culinary masterpieces.
While every chef has a story, Casey Shideler’s is one that needs to be shared. An introvert in an industry full of colorful characters, she lets her food do most of the talking. And it speaks volumes. After working at a number of kitchens in the area, Shideler has found her home as executive chef of Land Park’s Taylor’s Kitchen, where she emphasizes comfort and approachability in her cooking.
On September 24, 800 guests will get to taste this firsthand during at the Tower Bridge Dinner, where she is the only female on the six-person lead chef team.
Dig in and learn how the resilient Kansas-native has made it big in the Farm-to-Fork Capital.
Finding Her Purpose
Complicated is the easiest way to describe Shideler’s journey to becoming a chef.
Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, she was always aware that she had a creative streak. A textbook introvert, she found her happy place, immersing herself in the worlds of art and cooking. “From as young as I could remember we were always doing art projects, whether it be building a home for rolly-pollies or presenting elaborate homemade finger puppet shows – with homemade programs — for our parents. Becuase who doesn’t love neverending puppet shows?” laughs Shideler.
However, in her late teens and early 20s, Shideler’s mind was being overshadowed by a growing dependence on alcohol. Alcoholism led her to drop out of art school at the University of Kansas, and in year two of her American Culinary Federation Chef Apprenticeship, she entered her first of many trips to rehab.
“I was constantly in a fog. I wasn’t [retaining] anything from my studies. I wasn’t passionate about my work,” says Shideler. “I existed, but I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted.”
Making the big move to California is a dream for most, for Shideler, it was a difficult one, but one out of necessity. “I burned a lot of bridges and exhausted many of my relationships back in Kansas. Adjusting to life in California was tumultuous and anything but easy, but it gave me a fresh start. It was the motivation I needed. I had the drive to move past my past and move forward.”
She credits Sacramento for all she has learned in the kitchen and about herself. Slowly but surely, she worked her way back into the restaurant scene, working for Blackbird Kitchen and Bar, Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, and now at Taylor’s Kitchen.
While her road to redemption hasn’t been without incident — her relapse two and a half years ago marked her well-known exit from Mulvaney’s Building & Loan — she has come to terms that sobriety is a muscle.
“In this industry, you work long hours and deal with a lot of stress. It’s easy to fall into drinking and into bad habits. In the last few years, running has become my outlet, which is funny because I never had an athletic bone in my body before.”
In fact, personal training almost took her out of the industry, but a promotion to work as a sous chef at Taylor’s Kitchen restored her faith in her kitchen abilities: “I was so embarrassed about my past and what people thought of me…I didn’t think I could ever work in a kitchen again. But having a restaurant believe in me boosted my confidence…every day I come into work ready to give my all.”
Keeping It Simple at Taylor’s Kitchen
Opened in 2009, the intimate Taylor’s Kitchen shows what can become of the prime cuts of meat and fresh produce available next door at Land Park’s landmark Taylor’s Market. Cozy, the restaurant feels and serves up dishes that feel like home.
As executive chef, Shideler is on a mission to keep it simple, elevating everyday comfort food to fine dining, all while taking advantage of the cornucopia of produce available in Sacramento. “Food shouldn’t be overly complicated and every ingredient should have a purpose.” One element she plays up in her dishes is acidity. “Bringing complexity and dimension to any meal, acidity is just as important as seasoning. It brings out the flavors of other ingredients.”
Her dishes are also visual knockouts, after all, she did go to art school. “I definitely think about my dishes very artistically. I think about color simultaneously with all the other elements that make for a rich flavor profile — temperature, acidity, textures, and sweetness.”
No day for Shideler is the same. Starting early and ending late, she’s responsible for a staff of 18 (9 at Taylor’s Market and 9 at Taylor’s Kitchen). Throughout a typical day, she’ll take phone calls, manage staff assignments, and experiment to craft the restaurant’s weekly specials as well as the market’s upscale deli and to-go meals. And at dinner time you’ll find her working behind the grill.
Shideler cites her two years at Mulvaney’s B&L for training her for the challenges in and out of the kitchen. “To be a successful chef, you have to be prepared for anything and everything. You have to be resourceful and adaptive to any situation.”
Patrick Mulvaney’s no-nonsense management style complemented Shideler’s Midwest work ethic. “[Patrick] really stressed the idea of being accountable. As a chef, I am responsible for creating the memorable culinary experience. If I mess up, I have to own it. I’ve brought that ‘no excuses’ mentality here to Taylor’s.”
Staying True to Farm-to-Fork
Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork movement has had its fair share of criticisms and controversies, but to Shideler, the hype is real. Despite growing up in America’s breadbasket, it was only in California, the Sacramento region specifically, where she could find a kaleidoscope of fresh, seasonal produce.
“In Kansas, pretty much everything I worked with in the kitchen came out of a truck. Ingredients were frozen, processed, or canned. Few things were fresh and produce definitely wasn’t local. At cooking school, I toured a Sysco factory…not a farm,” says Shideler. “When I came [to Sacramento], there were so much produce I’d never seen before. Quince, persimmons, and even Thumbelina carrots blew my mind. It was a chef’s dream to experiment with all these new ingredients.”
“People easily criticize [the farm-to-fork movement] for being self-proclaimed, but people will always criticize. We actually live it here [in Sacramento]. Restaurants really do have relationships with local growers and farmers. We grow and cook honest food here.” tells Shideler. Local producers Azolla Farms, Riverdog Farms, and Taylor’s own Pico Farm supply her kitchen.
(Fun fact: Pico Farm located on the two-acre fruit farm where Taylor’s owner Danny Johnson grew up.)
This year, Shideler will join Chris Barnum-Dann (Localis), Ernesto Delgado (Mayahuel, La Cosecha, and Mesa Mercado), Michael Tuohy and Santana Diaz (Legends Hospitality at Golden 1 Center), and Kurt Spataro (Paragary Restaurant Group), to showcase our region’s bounty at the Tower Bridge Dinner, the fundraising event for the previous day’s free Farm-to-Fork Festival, which brings over 50,000 people to the Capitol Mall.
Shideler is responsible for the Dinner’s third course. (Details on the full Tower Bridge menu will be revealed on Monday, September 11.)
While a lot of the prep work for the event will be done days before the dinner, she admits “I know I won’t be sleeping that night. I’d probably be out there all night if I could.”
For Your Information
We couldn’t let these tidbits from our dishy conversation go to waste.
- On her day of rest, Sundays, you’ll find her far removed from the kitchen, running out on dirt trails in the Foothills or around the levee. “Running keeps me sane.”
- Shideler will be competing in her fifth California International Marathon (CIM) this year. This year’s marathon is scheduled for December 3, high noon for the holiday party season. “The marathon happens at the absolute worst time for me and for anyone in the restaurant industry, but I will power through it.”
- What’s the weirdest thing you’d find in her kitchen? Pig heads, and quite a few of them. Given the stellar reputation of Taylor’s Market’s meat department, we suppose it isn’t all that strange. “Head cheese is pretty popular at the market. In the restaurant, we’ll use it in our meatloaf dishes.”
- She’s got a doppelganger and an awesome one at that. Shideler has a twin sister, Lara, who lives in Kansas City.
- Even chefs can’t resist junk food. Her three guiltiest pleasures point to a sweet tooth. 1) Diet Coke, 2) Fruity candy (her favorite being Starburst Tropical Fruit Chews); and 3) Chobani Flips (“I feel like I’m going to get a lot of sh*t for this one from other chefs.”)
- At Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, she was one of four chefs to travel to NYC to cook a five-course meal at the James Beard House.