February 27, 2008
At 18, He's the Chef

At 8, Kevin James O'Connor was serving his parents breakfast in bed - eggs Benedict. At 14, he was washing dishes at Z's Bistro in El Dorado Hills. Today, at 18, he's the new chef at Balcony Bistro in Folsom.

"My family is really big on family meals every night. It's a four-hour process. I started to develop a palate at a very young age," says O'Connor, who already is retooling the Balcony Bistro's French-grounded menu to make it more contemporary.

"He's real smart, with a real passion for food, so I said let's do something together on a trial basis. So far, he's awesome," says Rhonda Renee Lynam, the restaurant's owner. O'Connor recently visited the restaurant for a job interview, and even though it wasn't open for lunch some guests walked in as if it were, so he stepped into the kitchen in dress shirt and tie to prepare their meal, which impressed Lynam.

He started just last week, and already I've received an email praising his scallop pot pie. "He’s going to be famous, this kid, just watch, he’s that good," says Lynam.

Aside from his family's influence - both parents are serious cooks, and tend their own young wine-grape vineyard in El Dorado Hills - O'Connor picked up his culinary acumen from reading cookbooks and working alongside several notable local chefs, including Jonathan Kerksieck when he was at Ristorante Masque and Kevin Nichols of Serrano Country Club. (Some of his kitchen stints had to be scheduled around his play as a defensive lineman with the Oak Ridge High School Trojans.)

When he isn't in the kitchen, O'Connor plans to start working toward a degree in business and hospitality management. He also hopes to spend a year or so in Paris working for a Michelin-starred chef. "To work and train under a chef there would be awesome," he says. Eventually, he'd like to have his own restaurant, a career move being encouraged by his parents.

In addition to the scallop pot pie in beurre blanc, O'Connor's new menu, to be formally introduced next week, includes such dishes as seared salmon paupiettes with caper-and-tarragon cream cheese; seared pecan-crusted sole with a roasted-grape and white-wine butter sauce; and duck breast with lardons, pearl onions, a sun-dried-cherry reduction and a root-vegetable gateau ("A gateau is a cake, but I didn't like the sound of 'cake' on the menu.").

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