Interview: Chef Patrick Mulvaney and Bobbin Mulvaney of Sacramento’s Mulvaney’s B & L

‘Whatever the farmer brings in the front door goes on the menu’

Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento, California.

Patrick and Bobbin Mulvaney co-own and operate Mulvaney’s B & L in in Sacramento, California. Open for more than a decade, the “B&L” as locals call it, is one of the region’s best-known restaurants with perhaps the best-known local chef. Their restaurant’s name pays homage to the 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” in which star Jimmy Stewart worked at Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.

The Mulvaneys are a new breed of restaurateurs — equal partners in a demanding business that requires the best of their combined talents. Executive chef Patrick Mulvaney is one of the Sacramento region’s most vocal champions of its “Farm-to-Fork Capital” claim, and as the only Sacramento chef to be invited to cook at the famous James Beard House, he has the culinary credentials to back it up. The couple cooked at the James Beard House in 2014. They were also named the 2018 "Sacramentans of the Year" by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

The Daily Meal: How did you get into cooking?

Patrick and Bobbin Mulvaney: I graduated college in 1993 with a degree in English, which qualified me to be a waiter. I was living in Manhattan, and thought that if I learned how to cook, I would be better prepared to own my own restaurant. So in 1995 I took an apprenticeship with Sean Kinsella at the Waterville Lake Hotel in County Kerry Ireland, where I was fired six times in nine months for being an illegal immigrant. I returned to New York to cook, working for Leslie Revsin at Metropolis and Argenteuil, and David Burke when he started at the River Café.

In 1988 I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and cooked at the former RoxSand restaurant. I then came to California to work with Madeleine Kamman at the School for American Chefs and fell in love with the agriculture and beauty of the Valley. I knew then my roots were destined to grow in Sacramento.

My wife Bobbin was raised on a ranch in California’s Central Valley. She worked in the family businesses from a young age, learning all about agriculture, cooking and hospitality. Bobbin moved to Sacramento in the 1990s and later began a successful catering business. Soon we found each other and then founded the restaurant together.

Do you have a specialty dish?

Whatever the farmer brings in the front door goes on the menu.

Do you prefer a particular style of cooking?

Chef Kinsella gave me a strong background in classic French techniques. Chefs Revsin and Burke and RoxSand Restaurant taught me how to apply them to the glorious mosaic that is American food.

I prefer simple, fresh food, which is why I settled in the middle of the richest agricultural region in the world. I’m also fond of pigs, every part. Still working on a use for the oink.

What kind of atmosphere do you create in the kitchen?

I consider myself the “captain of the pirate ship.” It is my job to make sure everyone — from the kitchen staff to the servers — stay afloat in the chaos. Even when we are super busy, everyone treats each other with respect. We are like family.

What do you look for when you hire restaurant staff?

Hospitality workers are a special breed of people. I look to see if they have passion for food, and if their temperament fits in a small, stressful business. I [Patrick] am very interested in how to identify and perhaps help a staff member who is living with mental illness. Many people don’t ask for help, even when they have a serious problem.

Since Anthony Bourdain died in 2018, we’ve also lost Sacramento chefs to suicide. My peers in this region are concerned as well, and we are working together, with the support of Kaiser PermanenteWellspace Health and the Steinberg Institute to find appropriate solutions. For example, we offered courses in Mental Health First Aid to restaurant managers and staff. We will continue this important work.

I [Bobbin] am passionate about promoting the valuable role that women play in culinary arts. Patrick and I are proud to have helped Saint John's Program for Real Change open Plates, and Plates to Go, two Sacramento restaurants that are dedicated to helping formerly homeless women develop marketable food service skills.

How has the restaurant industry changed since you started cooking?

I now prepare food that may have been growing in the field just hours earlier. It doesn’t come much fresher than that. I have a personal relationship with growers and ranchers. They tell me what they have available, and I tell them to bring it in. I certainly didn’t have this access to fresh products when I began cooking in New York and Europe 30 years ago.

My attitude about waste in our kitchen has also changed. We used to compost about three garbage cans per week of pre-consumer waste: husks, skins, and stock vegetables. But now there’s a large anaerobic digester at a nearby cardboard plant, and they need nitrogen to fuel the digester. Sending our compost there has reduced our landfill production from three dumpsters per week to less than a 5-gallon bucket.

Related

Women are more accepted and appreciated in the kitchen than they were 30 years ago. In many kitchens now (including mine) there is no tolerance for harassing women. I know the industry is still evolving in this arena, and the change is necessary. Bobbin and I see more women opening their own restaurants now, which may be how women make sure to work in a respectful kitchen.