Tree House Restaurant

Posted on July 4, 2011 – 3:56 PM | by Admin
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By Sarah Singleton

The most exclusive restaurant in town only has eight seats. It’s not in the phone book. It’s not even on Yelp.Tree House is the brainchild of 22-year-old wunderkind Kevin O’Connor – a young man with no formal culinary training but with curiosity and imagination in spades.

O’Connor describes Tree House as a ‘Private Dining Cooperative.’  You “like” their page on Facebook to get on their mailing list.  Once on the mailing list, you can be invited to participate in a dinner event.  It may seem complicated, but it’s actually no more difficult than securing a reservation through Open Table.

I was lucky enough to visit Tree House for dinner in May.  The menu featured local seafood from Passmore Ranch, milk and cream from a local dairy and wine from nearby Revolution Wines.  Winemaker Craig Haarmeyer also came by to give us a lesson on the wine pairings.  O’Connor told me that besides creating dishes to eat, he feels it is important to educate and inform diners about the great products that abound in our immediate vicinity.

O’Connor describes his style as ‘regional California cuisine’ but strives to make it fun, interesting and whimsical.  One dish we had sums that philosophy up: a terrine of pork and beans – familiar but new and exciting all at the same time.

Photo by Debbie Cunningham

Kevin:  Ever since I could remember I knew I loved cooking. I think my first experiences in the kitchen,besides with my grandmother or parents,involved bringing my parents breakfast in bed which turned into having a one-night-only Italian restaurant for my family in my bedroom where only two of the items on the expansive menu were available. I think I was seven or eight when I did that. I started working as a dishwasher in my early teens and as soon as I got the chance to work with food I knew it was the only career I could have. Through high school I worked at a handful of restaurants including Masque and Serrano Country Club.

Tell us about working your way up in the kitchen.

I started at the bottom about eight years ago. Through high school I was a bit of a “restaurant whore,” bouncing about and learning as much as I could at numerous restaurants. I was extremely persistent, I’m pretty sure to the point where I was annoying. The chefs that have given me the most bludgeons have taught me the most. Everywhere I went [to work], I was the youngest and consequently, the whipping boy. I am thankful for every time a chef has gotten in my face and made me feel like nothing. I was once told I’d be mixing paint at home depot in three months in the alley behind the restaurant.

Do you feel you have an advantage or disadvantage over those who went to formal culinary training?

I feel like my only advantage over culinary school graduates is that I don’t have a $50,000 loan to pay off with a cook’s salary. I know if I did, Tree House wouldn’t exist. After high school, I got the chance to really hit the ground running.

I know you spent some time in France.  How did that come about?

Photo by Sarah Singleton

I always knew I wanted to go to France. For months I looked at regions and airfare and cheap alternatives and possible loop holes. I found WWOOF [World Wide Opportunities on an Organic Farm] and once I had the money, I knew it was time to go. I left not knowing any French or how long I’d be there, but came back refreshed and inspired…and speaking French.

How did your stay in France inspire you for Tree House?

While I was touring the South of France for a number of months through WWOOF France, I stayed at a winery/b&b/restaurant called Domaine Blancardy where instead of exchanging my work on the farm, I exchanged my work in their kitchen. One night I asked if I could cook dinner for my host family and their vacationing friends and it instantly turned into a Sunday ritual. Each dinner I was more creative and had more fun with my free range at the gorgeous town market. When I came home to Sacramento and moved into a home with a dining room and kitchen, I knew it was what I had to do. Tree House started where the dinners in France left off – just fun dinners with a bunch of friends and family.

Is it difficult trying to get people in your age bracket interested in fine dining or eating adventurously?

I feel like my generation has become really divided when it comes to good food. There are a handful of young people who are into food and wine, but lack the funds to express their interest. On the contrary, for that handful, there are masses of young people who think a nice dinner is going to an Applebee’s. I don’t necessarily want to get young people into fine dining, but I think it would be great to make them aware of what they’re putting in their body, why local, fresh food is important, and how you don’t have to break the bank to eat well.

What is it about cooking that excites and inspires you?

Photo by Sarah Singleton

It’s tough to explain where all my excitement and inspiration comes from. Right now I’m excited to do new things for Sacramento, our little fledgling food city with so much potential, and I’m inspired by pushing Tree House to where I really want it to be. Inspiration comes from all around, sometimes in the strangest place. It can come from other chefs, a walk by the river, or a stoned friend dreaming about some crazy snack.

What do you see yourself doing in one year?  In five years?

In one year I see Tree House being a larger part of my life. It’s time to expand and I’m excited to take Tree House from an amateur weekend hobby to something more important. Five years? Maybe back in the South of France! It’s hard to imagine what I’ll being doing in five years, but I know there will be a base of operations/restaurant in the future.

Follow the Tree House page on Facebook, where you can get on their mailing list and find out about upcoming events.

  1. 4 Responses to “Tree House Restaurant”

  2. avatar

    By Blanca jacobo on Jul 16, 2011 | Reply

    I look forward to sharing dinner at your place with my husband and friends.

  3. avatar

    By andrea t on Aug 20, 2011 | Reply

    I would LOVE to be on your list however I do not have a facebook. I’m ‘Liking’ you here! ok? 🙂

  4. avatar

    By Sarah Singleton on Sep 1, 2011 | Reply

    I don’t think commenting here will alert Kevin that you are interested. Try sending a private message through Facebook or email him at

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