Masque Ristorante in El Dorado Hills still will be Masque Ristorante next week, but guests who drop in might think they are in the downtown Sacramento branch of Il Fornaio. Ezio Gamba, chef-partner at Il Fornaio since the spring of 2006, on Tuesday is to become the new executive chef at Masque. He will be joined by Daniel Shinaut, the general manager at Il Fornaio, who is assuming the same role at Masque.
Gamba succeeds Jonathan Kerksieck, who has been in the Masque kitchen since the restaurant opened in the spring of 2004. He became the restauarnt's executive chef shortly after the original executive chef, Angelo Auriana, left early last year.
Both Auriana and Kerksieck practiced a refined, creative and seasonal interpretation of regional Italian cuisine. Gamba will retain some of the tone of the menu and several signature dishes while adding more mainstream and recognizable plates, such as pizza and lasagna, says Nancy Mallory, the restaurant's spokeswoman. Gamba also will be expected to build up the restaurant's banquet and catering operations, which have been underutilized, Mallory says.
The change in chefs extends an uncanny parallel between the careers of Auriana and Gamba. Both grew up in the northern Italian town of Bergamo, studied at the San Pellegrino Culinary Academy in Italy and worked at the highly regarded Santa Monica restaurant Valentino. They've been pals, and when Auriana was executive chef at Valentino, Gamba was sous chef at Valentino's Las Vegas branch. Today, Auriana again is executive chef at Valentino.
Kerksieck, whose last day at Masque is to be Monday, will join Matt and Fred Haines at their Sacramento restaurant Bistro 33 Midtown following a vacation on Maui. The change will be good for him, says Kerksieck, for it will put him closer to his home and family and simplify his training for triathlons, which he took up not long ago. Masque is on a course to be more "family friendly," and while he no longer figures in those plans he left without any regrets or hard feelings, though he was "a little disappointed in way things have transpired."