Food trucks often attempt to walk that fine line between casual dining and culinary masterpiece, but by their very nature often fall short. Often appearing in vacant parking lots, and sporting tiny kitchens and limited staff, these modern chuck wagons can sometimes seem like a lesser restaurant, detracting from the culinary reputation that may surround them.
However, through the hard work of Chef Matthew Elias, and his front of house partner Laine Ayre, the Bodega bucks any such notion, offering food and service on par with the area’s best restaurants, only coming to you in unpretentious and often beautiful settings throughout the North Bay.
Elias started his culinary career in high school, working at a local café in his hometown of Benicia. He later moved to Phoenix to attend Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts, where he ended up working at Quiessence Restaurant. Although certainly more commonplace in the Bay Area, Quiessence was rather unique for the Southwest in that they had their own farm.
“It was a funny place to learn about farm to table,” says Elias. “But it really laid the foundation for my return to the Bay Area and my appreciation for where our food comes from.”
Upon his return to the Bay Area, Elias was able to work with a who’s-who of culinary masters, such as Chef Samin Nosrat, whose cookbook “Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat” is a must for any cook’s kitchen. At Eccolo in Berkeley, Elias worked under Chef Christopher Lee, who trained at Chez Panisse. He also did a stint at Hayes Valley’s Bar Jules, before meeting Guido Frosini of Valley Ford’s True Grass Farms.
Elias’s love of Petaluma was first sparked in 2008 when he attended an “Outstanding in the Field” dinner at Green String Farms, but was not solidified until he met Guido. When Guido decided to move to Valley Ford to help his family with their fifth generation family farm, he left a vacant room in Berkeley. Elias just so happen to rent that room, and would hear stories from his roommates about visiting True Grass Farms.
He would eventually move to Sonoma County in order to join True Grass Farms because he wanted to learn more about butchery.
“Up until that point, I had worked in some great kitchens so knew about good sourcing,” says Elias. “But, I wanted to live it myself and True Grass Farms gave me that opportunity.”
Coincidentally, it was on a trip to Italy with Guido where he and Elias would talk Evan Wiig into moving to Sonoma County, where he started the Farmers Guild. Now expanded throughout California, the Farmers Guild supports local farmers and puts on events such as Petaluma’s Farmer Olympics to help raise awareness about local farming.
After several years with True Grass Farms, Elias was itching to get back into the kitchen. He started off helping out with the “local’s night” prix fixe dinner on Mondays at Salt Water Oyster Depot in Inverness, and would eventually join the kitchen full time, which is where he met his future business partner, Laine Ayre.
Ayre grew up in Detroit and after high school went on to earning her teaching degree from Oakland University in Michigan. While living in Michigan, Ayre also worked for the J. Alexander’s restaurant group. She would later move to Arizona to help them open their Southwest restaurants, while also teaching 7th grade English. She would eventually find work with the Hillstone Group, which is best known for their Houston’s restaurants, as well as being one of the first restaurant groups to reintroduce team-style service.