BY ANDREA THOMPSON / PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEBBIE CUNNINGHAM
"If [a cook] comes to me but has no passion for food and wine and flavors, I can't teach them passion. The other way around, I can."
Boulevard Bistro in Elk Grove opened in 2006 on Valentine's Day, one of the busiest nights of any restaurant's year. Looking back, chef and owner Brett Bohlman laughs that it wasn't the best idea, even though the cottage-like restaurant is one of the most romantic in our area. But having always worked in others' kitchens, he was ready to begin living his dream of operating his own place.
His intimate knowledge of his kitchen goes beyond most chefs': Bohlman built his restaurant himself, taking two years off from cooking to do so. Should anything go wrong with the plumbing or electrical, he knows exactly what to do to fix it. And since he spends so much time at his restaurant, sometimes only having two days off a month, it's important that he enjoys his workplace.
"I designed all of it, the flow of the stations," he says. "I made it special, made it mine."
Bohlman trained at the California Culinary Institute, and for several years was chef of the executive dining room at Oracle, where he was able to play with food without having to worry about food cost. He also served as chef of the Ione Hotel before moving back to his hometown and building his restaurant.
It's clear from his food that Bohlman is a chef with passion, a quality he himself values most in a cook. "If [a cook] comes to me but has no passion for food and wine and flavors, I can't teach them passion. The other way around, I can."
His daughters must have inherited that same passion—they now work with him. Candace runs the front of the house, and Lauren works alongside him on the line, and also is the pastry chef responsible for the grown-up Ding Dongs. (Keep your eyes open for her latest creation: a crushed-pretzel-crusted chocolate tart with whipped peanut butter mousse.)
"It's about food and about pleasing people. I love coming here and looking at the books—I know 90% of the people coming in, people who have been coming for the last eight or nine years."
This summer he'll have new clientele to meet. Not far from Boulevard Bistro, he's opening up a healthy lunch spot called Sage Mill, which will turn into a wine bar in the evening.
Bohlman's excited about his career. "I get to create spectacular food and make people happy. I'm in the food and pleasure business."