Interview with Chef Domenica Catelli

Chef Domenica Catelli

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the remarkable chef, Domenica Catelli. In our conversation, you’ll discover how Domenica embarked on her culinary journey and what keeps her inspired in her craft every day. Dive deeper into my interview on my blog to uncover more about the talented Chef Domenica Catelli!

What was your first memory of cooking and what did you cook?

My first memory of “cooking” is being in the kitchen at Catelli’s when I was about 3 and standing on a chair with what I thought was a “giant” whisk stirring the salad dressing with our infamous server Kitty Dugan. My mom said I cooked my first “dinner party“ when I was in 4th grade and I made pork chops.

What is the story behind your family’s acclaimed Geyserville restaurant Catelli’s?

My Italian immigrant grandfather, Santi Catelli, and my Italian 1st gen grandmother, Virginia, opened Catellis in 1936, the year my father Richard was born. It was opened as “The Rex” as they got a free sign and later added the family name to make it Catelli’s The Rex. My grandfather was a big bootlegger back in the day as well. We were the stop for farmers, wine growers and people traveling north and south on the 101 highway as it used to run through the town of Geyserville.

My father took over running the restaurant in the late 60’s after my grandfather got ill. He married my mom and she worked in the kitchen learning to cook from my Nonni Virginia. He later married Jeannie when I was 6, my brother Nick and sister Alicia’s mom whom also worked at the restaurant.
The restaurant stayed in our family until the early 90’s then was ran by no one in our family and moved to Healdsburg.

My brother and I had always wanted to bring Catellis back and got the opportunity to in 2010 when the restaurant, Santi, who was leading from our dad, moved to Santa Rosa. My brother and sister in law Anna who were a big part of the re-building of Catellis moved from the area 1.5 years ago and has since been myself, husband and our amazing team.

What is your favorite dish on the menu you would recommend to someone dining at Catelli’s for the first time?

It’s hard for me to choose. It depends on the weather and time of day. The minestrone soup is my go to when I’m busy, I add some quinoa and chili flakes and it gives me nutrition and energy to get through the day. The kale salad is my other fave. The 10 layer lasagna would be one of my go to recommendations as it’s a true Italian style, melt in your mouth pasta not like the American heavy type. Im also playing around with a lot of specials of whatever inspires me in the moment. Last week it was a Neiman Rancher Iberico Pork chop on creamy polenta with a pear and purple mizuna salad and a balsamic bbq sauce. Today it’s sunny so it’s wild California coast Yellowtail Jack with a tomatillo salsa and cilantro rice.

What was one of the biggest mistakes you made your first year in the culinary industry?

That’s tough as I can’t really decide when my first year is since I was in the Catelli’s kitchen since my mom was pregnant with me! My first job outside or Catelli’s in food service was at ToGo’s in Santa Rosa when I was 13 so not sure if that counts either. I think when I was 19 and put in charge of the kitchen at an Italian restaurant in Southern California it was not being able to ask for help when I needed it because I was scared to seem like I couldn’t do my job (I was given more responsibility than was appropriate for my age or experience). One of the biggest mistakes I ever made though was when I was asked by Jamie Oliver to do the focaccia for an event at the SoHo house in NY (this was probably 2008ish) and I got nervous I would mess it up. So I went back late in the night and ultimately over worked the dough and killed it and we had to order bread! Still makes me sick

When did you know you wanted to become a chef?

 I didn’t think I was going to go the chef route but after my daughter Chiara was born I knew I needed to pick a lane. I had worked between fashion and food for 5 years and so I chose food and was given my first Executive chef job creating the restaurant, Ravens, for the Stanford Inn in Mendocino when I was 26 years old.

What is your favorite culinary spot in Sonoma County (outside of your restaurants)?

My favorite culinary spots in Sonoma county are:
Lo & Behold
Rooftop at the Matheson
Hana Sushi
Spinster Sisters

Who has been the most influential mentor/chef in your career?

The careers and food of Alice Waters & Nancy Silverton were huge inspirations but didn’t know them personally back then. The most influential mentor/chef in my career would probably be my peers. The Italian chef I apprenticed under when I was 18 was good for a bit but then he became weird so that ended. Since I re-opened Catelli’s and went on the journey of being an owner and chef it has been the others I know who have forged that path that I learn from when we share our ups and downs. Liza Hinman, Duskie, Estes, crista ludke, Maneet Chouhan, Tiffany Faison, LeeAnn Wong, Alison Ward, laura Sanfilippo, Tara Hefferon, Dustin Valette, Ari Rosen, Dino Bugica, Sean Kelley, & any restaurant or food truck or stand where I eat something memorable.

What is your favorite after work drink?

Depends on the season, Paper plane or GinGimlet or anything that Marilyn at Lo and Behold decides to make me.

What is next? Anything fun coming that you want to share with my readers?

I am having a blast in the kitchen with my great team. Our CDC left about six weeks ago and I am back in the kitchen full-time and going to stay there and am looking forward to doing some pop-ups later on this spring and summer myself, and hopefully bringing some other Chef friends as well, I’ll keep you updated

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

That’s a great question, and I don’t quite know how to answer it because I don’t know what people think of me lol… Maybe that I’m a vegan at heart. Meat and fish is way easier to cook and get a quick and easy meal out of that creating something Plant-based that’s delicious takes more time and steps so I’ll default to ease. That I had a morning cooking segment on the news in Houston for a couple years? That I cooked for upper Winfrey for 5+ years?

Chef Domenica Catelli

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