OAKLAND -- Abbey Kletz of Berkeley and her sister Susie Farber are exactly the kind of cooks an East Bay entrepreneur hoped to cultivate when he established an experimental restaurant in Rockridge more than a year ago.
The siblings have dabbled in the culinary arts for decades, enjoying cooking for family and friends but never opening their own restaurant. However, last summer the two tested their ability to do just that, collaborating for two weeks as headliners at The Guest Chef, a College Avenue restaurant featuring meals prepared by a revolving cast of mostly Bay Area cooks.
"I loved it," said Kletz, 68. "I have been cooking for 46 years and having dinner parties, so I feel totally comfortable handling food on a large scale and getting it to tables on time."
This week the sisters return to The Guest Chef for a repeat performance as "Simply Delicious," hoping once again to pack the intimate eatery's 24 seats with a hearty menu featuring braised lamb shanks, pepita-crusted halibut and a French-cut pork chop. Since opening in November 2011, the restaurant has featured two dozen chefs, cooks and caterers whose experience and goals have run the gamut.
High-concept chef Joe Humphrey, a former Meadowoods star, used his gig at Guest Chef to preview items from his San Francisco hotspot, Dixie. David Tendick of Martinez's Smokehouse 10, who will complete his first Guest Chef gig Jan. 27, hopes he garnered some new customers for the restaurant he'd like to open.
"I've always had a passion for it," said Tendick, who recently returned to cooking after losing a high-tech job. "I think this is a great opportunity to try my menu and generate some interest."
The Guest Chef features an open kitchen and a webcam, both of which allow people to watch chefs work.
"It was like having 10 balls in the air and keeping them going all at the same time," Farber, a Half Moon Bay resident, said of her first Guest Chef stint. "It was exhilarating."
The idea of opening a restaurant where the whole identity changes every two weeks was a gamble for co-owners Scott Cameron, whose primary work is in building and real estate, and business partner Jerry Boddum.
But, Cameron said, "There are enough foodie people around here" to make it work, especially when he insists on keeping the top price point at $30-$35.
Chefs procure their own ingredients while the restaurant supplies and sells all the beverages, typically employing just one server and one dishwasher each night. The Guest Chef takes 50 percent of the first $5,000 in sales and a dwindling share thereafter.
After chefs apply on The Guest Chef website, Scott requests menus and conducts interviews with those who interest him. Then they work together to attract diners, with Cameron drawing on email blasts to regular customers and chefs urging friends to visit.
"We built the kitchen like a stage," Cameron said, expecting chefs to mingle with their customers. "We want them to be part of the dining room."
What: "Simply Delicious," featuring sisters Abbey Kletz and Susie Farber
When: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday; closed Monday through Feb. 10
Where: The Guest Chef, 5337 College Ave., Oakland