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The Local Dish: 03/01/2013

The Local Dish

Glen Ellen Inn Oyster Grill & Martini Bar, Chef/Owners Chris and Karen Bertrand

Twenty years ago, husband and wife team Chris and Karen Bertrand threw open the doors of a tiny, eight-table 1940's cottage they called the Glen Ellen Inn. With a loan from the landlord, 12 bottles of wine bought on credit, three pans and one pot, Chris and Karen were living their dream of running their own restaurant.

As a child, Chris had always been interested in cooking, watching reruns of Julia Child on PBS and making crepes in his parents' kitchen. Chris' father's side of the family were French immigrants who originally settled in the small town of Minden, Nebraska. While Chris grew up in Agua Caliente, summers were spent back in the cornfields of Nebraska, where he remembers “waking up awfully early to move irrigation pipes, eating corn, and tipping cows.” He also spent time cooking family dinners in the kitchen. Chris' father Glenn also likes to cook, and Aebeskiver (Danish puffy pancakes with powdered sugar) is a favorite family recipe. Once Chris got his first restaurant job - at Mary's Pizza Shack in Sonoma - he discovered the camaraderie of the restaurant lifestyle and his passion for professional cooking took hold.

Unable to afford a formal culinary school education, Chris moved to Manhattan and made the rounds as dishwasher and sous-chef, learning techniques and the trade along the way. After several years, however, Chris missed Sonoma Valley and returned to work at John Ash Restaurant, where he met Karen, a waitress at La Gare in Santa Rosa.

Karen and Chris were married on New Year's Eve at City Hall and “scrimped and saved” until they found the little country cottage on Arnold Drive that became the Glen Ellen Inn Restaurant.

As the clientele grew, so did the Glen Ellen Inn, expanding to include vacation cottages. The menu evolved, as well. With seasonality and variety as their hallmark, Karen and Chris now serve a combined lunch and dinner menu all day long. Chris added Wine Country Cioppino, a dish he originally invented for his father, who was visiting from Nebraska and wanted seafood, but also wanted some chicken, “and not a day goes by when he doesn't eat sausage!” said Karen. “So Chris put it all together, and made him our 'West Coast Cioppino.' We re-named it on our menu to 'Wine Country Cioppino.' But whatever you call it, it's delicious!”

The Glen Ellen Inn is located at 13670 Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen.

Wine Country Cioppino & Sourdough Bread

Chris Bertrand, Glen Ellen Inn Oyster Grill & Martini Bar

6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions

3/4 cup chopped green bell peppers

3/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh oregano

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup dry sherry or white wine

1 (28-ounce) can crushed plum tomatoes and their juices

2 cups fish stock

1 whole Dungeness crab, quartered (if available)

1/2 pound chicken, diced

1/2 pound sausage

1 pound mussels, well scrubbed and de-bearded

1 pound salmon, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 pint oysters and their juices, picked over for shell

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1/4 cup chopped green onions, green tops only

Sourdough bread, accompaniment

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and fennel, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf, salt, oregano, red pepper, fennel seeds, thyme, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook until starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the sherry or white wine, stir to deglaze the pan, and cook until half of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add the plum tomatoes with their juices and the fish stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Add the crab quarters and mussels, and simmer until the shells open, about 6 to 7 minutes. Remove and discard any unopened shells. Sauté chicken and sausage separately, and add to the pot.

Lightly season the salmon and shrimp with salt and pepper, and add to the pot. Add the oysters, and stir. Simmer, covered, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf. Stir in the parsley. Ladle into large soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese and green onions. Serve with sourdough.

If you are a local chef in Kenwood, Glen Ellen or Oakmont and have a favorite dish with a great story, email Sarah Phelps at

Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.

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