Scott Ostrander's known for being a behind-the-scenes kind of chef, a fairly low key guy who eschews the limelight yet known for a fierce work ethic. And now, he's preparing to say farewell to his native Sacramento for one of the country's most heralded restaurants.
On Aug. 22 Ostrander starts work at Alinea, the Chicago restaurant known for its three Michelin stars and recognized as the nucleus of the country's molecular gastronomy movement. Oh, and Ostrander picked Alinea while mulling an apprenticeship opportunity at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro.
So who is this guy, anyway?
"I just learned on the job," said Ostrander. "I started at the midtown Cafe Bernardo as a busser and I wasn't trying to be a chef by any means. It was just a job. I don't know what happened, but I got into the lifestyle of being a Sacramento cook."
Ostrander, 29, currently serves as sous chef at the Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar, with previous stints at Restaurant Thir13en, Ink, the Golden Bear, the former Arco Arena, Paragary's Bar & Oven and was head chef at Cafe Bernardo R15.
"Yeah, I've been around," said Ostrander.
Ostrander's had his sights set beyond Sacramento. He'd e-mailed his resume to the Thomas Keller Group regularly over the past five years. He also checked Craiglist job openings in restaurants around the country, and happened to find one at Alinea. Ostrander sent his resume right over.
"Alinea e-mailed me back the next day saying they needed help in the kitchen," said Ostrander. "The asked me to come out for a two day applicant stage."
Ostrander was soon off for Chicago in mid-July, and endured two 16 hour shifts in Alinea's kitchen. He made foams, peeled apples, broke down lobsters, shaved fennel and completed other kitchen tasks. The pressure couldn't have been any hotter. One of the dining guests at Alinea was Keller himself, who insisted on eating in the kitchen.
The tasting menu at Alinea costs from $210 to $265 per person, and features some of the world's most cutting edge cuisine. Executive chef and owner Grant Achatz crafts such courses as an edible "balloon" of helium and green apple and anjou pear with onion, brie and "smoking cinnamon."
"That kitchen was on fire," said Ostrander. "People were focused with a determination I've never seen in any kitchen. There was no orientation, just get to work and grab a cutting board. I've seen enough kitchens to know how they operate. Now, it'll be about learning recipes and perfecting dishes, and time management."
Ostrander was formally offered a job at Alinea, and Aug. 8 marks his last day at Red Rabbit. Then, he'll head to Chicago to get moved in and hunker down in Alinea's kitchen.
With all his experience in Sacramento's kitchens, Otsrander's eager to help craft some Michelin quality cuisine.
"I've sat there with the same mis en place for years," said Ostrander. "There's really only one good way to break down a chicken, duck or lobster. It's the quality of ingredients and steps of service that are different. Anybody can do what I'm doing. You can start at the bottom, but you just have to work hard, play smart and focus."
Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias