September 17, 2012
Thiemann earns early promotion but will still cook at Ella

There's a lot going on with the local restaurant scene these days, but one thing you may not have heard about is the expanded role of Michael Thiemann, the chef at Ella Dining Room & Bar, who has been winning raves since taking over for Kelly McKown.

The Selland Group, which owns Ella, as well as The Kitchen and Selland's Market-Café, didn't put out a public announcement about it, but Thiemann's role has definitely expanded in recent weeks to include oversight of all of the kitchens.

"Mike Thiemann has been given a promotion. That's something that's been done ahead of schedule," Josh Nelson, co-founder and chief financial officer of the Selland Group, told me Monday.

The plan all along, when Thiemann left his high-profile job at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco to take the reins at Ella about 10 months ago, was for him to oversee multiple restaurants. That got fast-tracked, in part because Ella's sous chef, Ravin Patel, has been so impressive. With the Thiemann promotion, Patel has been promoted to chef de cuisine at Ella. That essentially means that while Patel doesn't design the menu, he can run all aspects of the kitchen in Thiemann's absence.

"Ultimately, he will be executive chef at that restaurant," Nelson said of Patel. "That's the grand plan. He's got all the makings."

But all of these behind-the-scene moves don't mean Thiemann is stepping away from his much-admired work at Ella. He's simply adding more responsibilities on top of running one of the area's best kitchens. The chefs at the other restaurants will report to him and he'll sit in on planning meetings, deals with kitchen financials, etc.

"He probably hits Ella five to six days a week," Nelson said. "Mike's home is Ella. It's almost like he's stepping out and consulting on the other restaurants."

In other Selland Group news, Mike Ward has accepted the high-profile position as sous chef at The Kitchen Restaurant, the ever-popular place that is part culinary theater and part ultra-high-end dining experience, with plenty of laughter throughout the 3-hour, $125-per-person dinners. Ward is best known as the chef de cuisine at Lounge ON20, where he starred with executive chef Pajo Bruich before the place closed. Bruich moved on to Enotria and unveiled his new menu there last week. Ward will be working closely with chef Noah Zonca.

Ward had been working as chef and head of product development at Feeding Crane Farms, but he apparently missed the energy and excitement of a restaurant kitchen and decided to leave that position two weeks ago.

For ambitious young chefs, there's a lesson or two here. When Lounge closed several months ago, Ward didn't sit back and mope. He promptly arranged a "stage" to work at The Kitchen to keep his skills sharp and maybe impress the folks there. When The Kitchen's sous chef, Stan Moore, left to work at Enotria, Ward had already made his mark and the folks at The Kitchen knew what they were getting -- a significant talent with a big-league resume.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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