chef’s table

Turning the Tables

Despite humble beginnings, young Localis earns impressive accolades.

WRITTEN BY Jordan Venema
PHOTOS BY Debbie Cunningham

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Chef/owner of Localis, Chris Barnum-Dann, mixes up the sauce for his Granny’s Fideo pasta dish, which contains tomato, olive oil and cumin.

I n July, the popular website Eater.com published 38 Essential Restaurants of California, profiling the “most important and defining restaurants right this minute,” which included everything from a neighborhood taqueria to Michelin-three-star restaurants. Oh, and there’s also a three-year-young restaurant located on S and 21 streets in Sacramento, the first venture of owner and chef Chris Barnum-Dann.

That Eater calls Localis the crown jewel of Sacramento’s farm-to-fork movement isn’t surprising since the concept is essentially written in the restaurant’s name. But as a movement, at least for Barnum-Dann, farm to fork is just how cooking should be. Growing up in Forestville on a less-than-one-acre property, Barnum-Dann marked the changing seasons by homegrown vegetables and fruit.

ikedas9 Growing up in Louisiana Cold smoked mussel, chicken andouille crepinette, blackened prawn, dirty rice, fried okra, pickled peppers.

“So farm-to-fork, seasonal cooking was natural for me,” Barnum-Dann explains. “I had no idea it was a thing.”Black sheep While farm-to-fork cooking is essential to Localis, its name also is a tribute to more than just food. “It goes beyond the food and into support of the community,” he says. “What about paper goods, coffee, tea? Scott-Naake is a local paper company, so we buy from them, even though it’s more expensive than Sysco, but I like to support this city because I’m so into it.”Which is why it’s surprising to hear Barnum-Dann describe Localis as a black sheep inSacramento, at least to the restaurant community. “I also came into Sacramento completely unknown,” he admits. In fact, Barnum-Dann never thought he’d become a chef, and were it not for what he calls a personally defining moment, he may not have come to Sacramento at all. “We were in Vegas at the end of a six-week tour,” he says, explaining that from ages 18 to 25, he toured regularly as the drummer of a band. “We woke up, and it was 100 degrees in this nasty tour bus; [we’re] drenched in sweat, can’t breathe.”He and the guitarist began arguing, he adds, “then we pulled over and started throwing blows in the middle of the desert.”

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Chef Barnum-Dann greets guests from behind the chef’s counter

And that, he says, was it. “I got home and my wife was done,” he recalls. “She started crying and I started crying, and we both were saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’”Later that night, a commercial for the The Art Institute of California — Sacramento’s culinary program — came on television, and Barnum-Dann knew immediately: “That’s what I want to do,” he says. Within the week he applied, was accepted, and started classes. On the first day of classes he also walked into Auburn’s Hapa Sushi, and though he had no experience, was hired on the spot. By the end of his first night, he was left alone in the kitchen. “And I didn’t fuck anything up too bad,” he says with a laugh. “I was all in. I was sold on cooking.”

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Farm to family

Only eight years later, in 2015, Barnum-Dann opened Localis, a concept he’d come up with during culinary school, serving locally and seasonally inspired dishes from a tasting menu. And in terms of the environment, Localis truly is an extension of its chef. “I have one goal and one hardened rule in my life,” he says. “I am me — whoever I’m around ... I’m probably the most honest person you’ll ever meet, though it’s not always fun.”Barnum-Dann is unapologetically himself — so much so that, during this interview, heexcused himself to kindly but sternly reproach a pedestrian who had littered on the sidewalk. Then he picked up the trash himself before returning as if nothing had happened. There’s a confidence about him and yet also humility in equal measure. In one breath, he says Localis deserves Eater’s recognition before quickly adding that his restaurant doesn’t compare to others on the list —yet. Which is why, perhaps, his menu, like his personality, exhibits a blend of strong, even at times conflicting but ultimately complementary, flavors. Just like Barnum-Dann. Leading the flock With food, he says, “there are only two types: stuff I like and stuff I don’t.”This is how Barnum-Dann approaches unconventional pairings, from curry with pasta tolobster with popcorn, to foie gras with vegan cheese. And with an ever-changing tasting menu, Barnum-Dann has every opportunity to explore extraordinary dishes, each created with a personal story, usually explained by the chef as he hands each dish to diners sitting at the chef’s bar. And that’s truly the best way to eat at Localis — while watching the choreography of its dynamic staff preparing each plate. This adds flavor to the meal, heightening, even completing what every food experience should include: an opportunity to see it prepared and to hear its story. And that environment, says Barnum-Dann, is intrinsic to Localis’ success. “I might call myself a chef, but that doesn’t mean I’m in there storming around the kitchen. I’m usually singing, dancing, and having fun. It’s about way more than the food,” he says. “I cuss on the line, I joke with guests, and I don’t want it ever to be too serious.” Though he adds quickly, “but we’re deathly serious about our food.”Which is how Localis could make Eater’s list, which still came as a shock despite Barnum-Dann’s confidence. When the announcement first came, he figured the list was for Sacramento only. “But when the list came out that day, I was looking at my phone, and the first thing that popped up was Atelier Crenn, and then benu, and then Meadowood, and then Manresa, and I just started crying, because how are we on a list with these people? I don’t think we’re at that level,” he says, adding, in typical fashion, “but it’s a goal. We’re trying.”So, black sheep or not, Localis will stand out among the flock. Jordan Venema is a California-based writer who likes his food messy and his whiskey neat. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Resources

Localis
2031 S St., Sacramento • 916-737-7699
Localissacramento.com Dinner
5 – 9 p.m. Tues. – Thurs.,
5 – 10 p.m. Fri. – Sat.
Local Hour 4 – 6 p.m. Tues. – Fri.

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