New chef takes the reins at vegetarian hot spot Mother

Photo by Ryan Donahue
Anthony Scuderi will guide the kitchen at Mother, taking over from founding chefs Mike Thiemann and Matt Masera.

The team behind K Street’s popular eatery Mother is welcoming a new player into its celebrated kitchen.

Anthony Scuderi, an alumnus of the East Coast restaurant group owned by famed Iron Chef Jose Garces, joined the vegetarian hot spot this month as its new head chef. He takes over for Mother’s co-founding chefs Mike Thiemann and Matt Masera, the latter of whom will lead the kitchen at the neighboring Empress Tavern when it opens this summer inside the Crest Theatre.

Scuderi arrived in Sacramento 18 months ago, roughly around the time Mother first opened its doors. He had previously served as chef at Garces’ restaurants Tinto and Village Whiskey (in Philadelphia) and Amada (in Atlantic City), relocating to the capital city with his wife—a Sacramento native whom he met in Philadelphia—in early 2014.

He comes to Mother after a stint at another celebrated Sacramento eatery The Kitchen, winning his new job after improvising a vegetarian meal that Thiemann (who, as co-owner of Mother and Empress Tavern, will oversee the staffs and menus at both restaurants) describes as “one of my favorite tastings I’ve ever been a part of.”

“I tried to stay in the realm of what Mother is from what I saw, but still try to cook what I cook,” Scuderi says. “Previous to working here I worked in a lot of Spanish restaurants. A lot of that [goes to] the core of how I cook. I made this double-fried potatoes with roasted garlic aioli and fried garbanzo beans—when you fry them, they kind of puff up like popcorn. Then you toss then in paprika. I did a nice simple salad with carrots, baby beets and a little pistachio purée on it. And then roasted squash with a kind of Spanish-style pesto of almonds, tomatoes and basil blended up.

Mother’s founders are counting on those instincts to keep its buzzing, bustling kitchen thriving, with Scuderi pushing Mother’s cuisine forward while also recognizing and upholding its successful young tradition. 

“When you hire talented people, you want them to be talented enough to sort of spread their wings and do what they want to do,” Thiemann says. “There’s a brand and a style that you try to protect. I mean, it’s vegetarian, and we do things a certain way. I felt like he understood us really quickly.”

While Mother’s menu staples—from its beloved oyster mushroom po’ boy to its devastating brown butter cookie with sea salt—aren’t going anywhere, Scuderi has already worked to integrate new seasonal items like a cold sesame noodle dish with cucumber, peppers, carrots, lime and cilantro, or a gazpacho whipped up with fresh market tomatoes.

One of Scuderi’s key directives is to resurrect Mother’s “Chef’s 10,” the nightly tasting menu that the restaurant discontinued at the end of 2014. The dinner, which costs $65 for two people, consists of eight savory courses and two sweet dishes, accompanied by the chef's introductions to each. (One of the current courses, for instance, features an empanada with refried black beans, nopale relish and salsa roja.) The majority of the courses change weekly (or even daily) and are unavailable as standalone items on the published menu.

“That’s a priority,” Thiemann says of the Chef's 10 revival. “For the most part, if people want to see Anthony in his element, that’s where I’m having him focus. And keeping up with the seasons—with vegetables, there are micro-seasons and macro-seasons that will have us constantly evolving the menu.”

“Menus change—especially here—organically,” Scuderi adds. “We’ll go to the market on Wednesday and we might see really cool melons that we want to put into a melon dish because it’s there and it’s good.”

“But instead of my perspective, it’ll be his perspective,” Thiemann says. “He comes from more of a Spanish background; those were more of the flavors I noticed that you might see a lot. You still see smoke in vegetarian food. It’s just a different smoke.”

Meanwhile, construction on the long-awaited Empress Tavern continues two doors down from Mother, in the space once occupied by the Crest Theatre’s downstairs cinemas. Thiemann forecasts an August opening for the new restaurant, while not missing a beat at Mother as Scuderi settles in.

 “We’re really proud to have him,” Thiemann says. “I’d never considered bringing in a chef until I met Anthony. It made sense, and I can’t wait.”

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