Berkeley chef on catering, Covid and walk-up window Cali Alley

At 44, Berkeley chef Dov Sims’ culinary lifestyle has previously appear full circle.

Sims grew up cooking alongside his mom, Rosa “Nonna” Mendicino, a longtime Bay Space food stuff seller and caterer. Now his eldest son, Nico, is the grill master at Sims’ pandemic-born Cali Alley, a West Berkeley wander-up window specializing in comfort and ease food, from buttermilk fried chicken to a brisket-and-shorter-rib burger that Sims statements is the greatest in city.

In between, he labored his way up from busboy to head chef in great dining dining establishments in Berkeley and San Francisco and in 2002, took about his mom’s catering firm, California Rose. Sims released Cali Alley, a completely outside artisan eatery, in April just after shedding the bulk of his consumers to COVID-19 cancellations. As Nonna claims, he does his best get the job done beneath pressure.

We recently caught up with Sims to find out about his journey and what else he learned from Nonna.

The Cali Alley Burger is produced with hand-floor brisket and quick ribs in Berkeley. (Jane Tyska/Bay Place News Group) 

Q: You grew up with some wild food items ordeals. Convey to us about these. 

A: I was born in a modest city called Hayfork north of Redding. We had a cabin in an even smaller sized town, Hyampom, in the mountains. We’d continue to be there for months at a time. My mother, a meals seller and hippie, would market her Hen Wings and Dingalings at pop-up fairs in the woods. A dingaling is a headband. Every person that bought a hen wing plate would get a headband. It was out of another time.

When I was close to 8, she made the decision to travel close to Mexico. We caravanned for two many years. That’s where by I bear in mind consuming my first shrimp off a barbecue in Santa Cruz and stirring a pot of black beans when everybody went to the beach front. I never ever stirred. As an alternative, I played with my hermit crabs. The beans burned. I had no plan, so I added sugar to consider the burn off flavor absent. It didn’t perform. My mother laughed and we designed new beans.

Q: Mom’s business enterprise continued when the spouse and children moved to the Bay Region. What purpose did you play in that?

A: As a child I utilised to pack the truck for her food stuff cart, Jane Dough, on campus at Cal. She also did the festivals, like the Gilroy Garlic Pageant and the Folsom Road Reasonable. When I was in middle college, I would assistance her with the meatball sandwiches and Italian sausages. I grew up cooking and feeding on a lot of unique food items. I did not have ketchup as a kid, but since my mom is Calabrian, I always experienced fresh pesto at the desk.

Q: You ended up managing a cafe kitchen area at age 20. How did that happen?

A: Out of significant faculty, I commenced performing at a restaurant on Fourth Street named Ginger Island. At 17, I was a busboy. At 18, I started off doing the job in the kitchen and at 20, I was acting chef. The typical manager observed a spark in me. She reported, “I know you are heading to make a good deal of issues. And I want you to make them.” I commenced working a team of 20 and coming up with the nightly specials.

Q: You did a few stints in good dining places to eat. Why did not you keep? 

A: Yeah, I labored as sous chef for Mark Zeitouni at Bistro Viola in Berkeley and assisted him open Glow in San Francisco, but it was not what I desired. At Glow, the art and passion of cooking was misplaced. It was all about how you glance and who was there. Functioning with Johnny Alamilla to open up Alma in the Mission was a ball. Johnny was a diverse animal. He was all about the integrity of food items.

Following that, in 2002, I made a decision to get around my mom’s catering organization. We experienced one particular account. At that time, catering did not offer you a mid-level price — you both expended $150 a man or woman or $30 a particular person — so I was like, “How about brief ribs with chimichurri?” We went from that just one shopper to 80 shoppers, such as big companies, like Clorox, and spanning from Berkeley to Healdsburg to San Jose.

Q: How did you get Cali Alley up and jogging so immediately?

A: Going into 2020, we experienced 40-in addition situations on our calendar. We ended up established to have our biggest 12 months ever. But January was quiet, and I had a cook dinner contracting for me who necessary more get the job done. I decided to open a window on Grayson Avenue so he would have function and I could test anything new. We did not count on COVID to hit.

In a span of six months, 25 marriage ceremony partners postponed their programs. We lost everything. I did not want to go back to eating places. So I did this rather. We place up a wall at the rear of a industrial roll-up metal door. We reset the counter and the entire presentation, with bouquets and music, each working day. Usually you have three to six months to put together for an opening. I had two weeks.

Q: What has the reaction been to the food items?

A: It is been awesome. I wished to do meals that was consolation or that you could not get devoid of getting to get in touch with a restaurant. It is what I get in touch with labor-intense foodstuff. We grind our possess meat for our burger. We do our own pork belly and I put 3 types of chocolate in my little one back again ribs. We have large portions that are not for the faint of coronary heart — and vegan solutions also. Individuals in the Bay Space are vital. We experienced to arrive out with an awesome screen of food stuff. If it signifies spending two added hours in the kitchen area accomplishing almost everything by hand, that is what you do.