Adam Ornellas is finally living his dream, and it shows.
After 22 years in the culinary field, the longtime chef and his wife, Teresa, opened Fia’s Bistro in July 2012. Although the Alta Sierra “European fusion” restaurant is in the former location of the now-defunct Gray Goose Bistro and Bar, the two eateries share little in common.
The bistro’s name comes from Ornellas’ mother, Ofelia, who was affectionately known as Fia.
“My mother was the one who initially instilled in me a real appreciation for good food,” he said. “She cooked with passion and a respect for fresh ingredients.”
Early in his career, Ornellas apprenticed with Chef Almir Da Fonseca, who is now an instructor at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif. That set him down the path of a 22-year career in fine dining.
Ornellas went on to work for a variety of high-end Bay Area restaurants, including working as executive chef for Starwood Hotel and Resorts, which owns the likes of the Sheraton, the Westin, the St. Regis and W San Francisco.
While Ornellas’ spin on European fusion includes the cuisines of Portugal, Spain, Italy and French/Creole, his extensive culinary experience also includes Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, molecular gastronomy and Mexican.
Despite an impressive resume, Ornellas wants to make one thing perfectly clear.
“Our goal when we opened Fia’s was to make it affordable,” he said. “It’s possible to have a nice meal without breaking the bank. It hurts me to see people spending their hard-earned money at corporate conglomerate restaurants that serve soup shipped in a bag, frozen foods and pre-chopped greens.”
Once a week, Ornellas wakes up at 5 a.m. and heads out in search of the best ingredients at places such as the fishmongers in Lincoln and Sacramento and the local Starbright Acres Family Farm.
“There’s no Sysco food truck pulling up here,” he said. “Everything is fresh. I truly want people to appreciate the flavor of fresh food — everyone works hard for their money. Also we want to support small farms nearby — we’re the small guy too — we want to help each other.”
Examples of Fia’s traditional supper menu include the likes of grilled bone-in pork chop with sauteed mushroom gravy, roasted Cornish game hen or Black Angus New York Steak, all with a choice of sides.
In addition, the “Chef’s Weekly Menu” changes constantly. Recent examples include coconut milk poached sole with curried sauteed toasted garbanzo beans, cauliflower and charred red onions with raw celery cucumber salsa or hand-made tomato ravioli served in a black lentil broth with Brussels leaves and shaved baby heirloom carrots.
“Dinner should be like theater — you should come out to be pleased and surprised,” said Ornellas. “I want people to be wowed. I’m dedicated to changing the menu and involving the customer. If you see something on Top Chef or the Food Network that you want to try, get on the phone and tell me — I’ll put it on the menu. Who else does that?”
Teresa says her husband isn’t kidding. Adam has been known to make special meals for groups, such as the Soroptimists, even on his day off.
“Adam wants everyone who walks through the door to be happy,” she said, while waiting for the daily bread to rise. “This is quality food at a reasonable price — not just a special meal for your anniversary. It’s almost like having a personal chef.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4203.