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Your Downtown Neighbor: Gray Rollin, Executive Chef & Owner, Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Taproom
Get to know Belly with Executive Chef and Owner Gray Rollin
Published Thursday, June 21, 2018 7:00 am

 

I started cooking about 25 years ago, when I was a kid. My dad wanted to know what I was going to do for my summer, and I said “I don’t know.” He knew that I liked to cook in his kitchen, and I had a cousin on the East Coast who’s a legit chef, owns a bunch of restaurants. So he sent me to the school of hard knocks in the summer. I’d peel potatoes, peel onions, and he would tell me not to cry. Every summer I’d fly back out there. I did ten years in the restaurant business, then went to culinary school, so I did the opposite of what’s typical. I graduated from the California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, and then moved to Maui, had my externship in Maui. I did a three month stint there, went home because my time was over - went home for like five days and said “I’m going back to Maui.” Contacted a couple chefs and one said to take the next flight over, I’d have a job.

And how did that lead to your career as a tour chef?

I had an opportunity, got a call from a friend that I worked with on the East Coast with my cousin, saying: “Hey I’m Michael Buble’s personal chef, I tour the world as a caterer for all these amazing rock bands, he wants to know if you’d be interested.” I go “yes,” and did a three day working interview with a Madonna and Justin Timberlake concert in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. Three day working interview, on the second day my boss at the time said “you’re hired” and then within a month and a half I was on tour with Motley Crew as their chef. That job catapulted me into other tours, from Motley Crew to Kiss, to the Black Eyed Peas when they were at their peak. Then I was with T-Pain, I was with Lil Wayne really really quick, just a couple of shows, Katy Perry for a couple shows, Blink-182 as their personal chef, Tori Amos as her personal chef, and Linkin Park and countless others. Name a band, I was probably--Prince, I was with Prince before he passed away.

Kid Cudi?

No, but I know persons that know him. I jumped around all these different bands, and then Linkin Park hit me up about eight years ago and said “Hey, you’re the same age as us, keep us healthy and happy and let’s travel the world. I said hell yeah. So I’ve been to 66 countries with just Linkin Park alone, traveled with them. I would cook for them and I would cook for a lot of their opening acts, because the band wanted everyone to be happy. Not just like “I have a private chef, you have to go eat tour food” or whatever it is. I would pull off and cook for Jared Leto, 30 Seconds to Mars, AFI, and then Linkin Park when they showed up I’d pull off and cook for them.

How did you start Belly? What was that process like?

After 66 countries, about five years ago I had the opportunity to open Belly with some partners and some friends at the time. I knew when I sat at that table when this was Checkers, that I was looking at all of them and thinking “I’m gonna buy you out” but they didn’t know that. I knew that I wanted this expansion, I wanted the second location. I feel like a lot of people start one restaurant and then they have another restaurant in another town, or maybe the city, and I feel like the quality diminishes a lot. So I just want to make Belly as awesome as possible, bust through that wall and connect these sides and make it awesome. Belly has 26 beers on tap next door, we have 32 taps on this side. We’ll have a stage for music and probably some stand-up, open mic night, and stuff like that. I signed a long lease, so I’m not going anywhere.

Tell us more about the expansion - what are you most looking forward to?

I think I’m excited about the expansion as something new. Belly’s not the new kid on the block anymore, so I’m looking for a different little angle. Still on the amazing Fourth Street of Santa Rosa. I know Santa Rosa’s been through a lot, so I want to make sure everyone’s happy, healthy, bring some good music, some stand up, some entertainment to downtown. That was a part of my life, and I miss that right now because one of the band member passed away so we’re kind of in a sit and wait game. Belly has become so busy that at times, when the restaurant was open I would leave on tour, and it was never run right. I trust everyone I work with, that’s not the problem. But when the boss is home I see everything, I see Mondo mopping over here, the little things like that. I think that Belly needs me more than touring right now, and having this expansion is something I’ve always wanted. I wanted something bigger, something with music, with big garage doors that open up to the outside so it has that Maui feel.

That’ll be perfect for the summer months.

Yeah, we got


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