BIO: NIVEN PATEL, EXECUTIVE CHEF
Chef Niven Patel, 2018 James Beard Award finalist and executive chef at MERCATO Pasta & Produce, uses his early training in Florence and years of experience to beautifully marry Italian cuisine with Sonoma County agriculture. An avid farmer and classically trained chef, Patel’s menus marry the ethos of fresh-from-the-garden produce with dynamic flavor profiles.
A pursuit for knowledge was the stimulus and continues to be the driving force behind Chef Niven’s career. The 34-year-old was born in Georgia to parents of a traditional Indian heritage. Patel’s first glimpse into the restaurant world was during culinary school at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and he was hooked. “I was cooking and working in restaurants the whole time during college”. But his passion for cooking came much earlier on, he says, “I have been cooking all my life. I used to make my menus as a child and let my family order, and then I went into the kitchen to cook whatever they wanted.” Patel earned his chops at 3030 Ocean Restaurant at the Harbor Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale Florida, working under Chef Dean Max for six years. He then traveled to Italy to learn and cook for six months, returning to the U.S. to be a part of various restaurants such as Watertable at the Renaissance Baltimore, Atlantic’s Edge at four-diamond resort Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada, Florida, The Brasserie in Grand Cayman,Cayman Islands and Michaels Genuine in the Design District, Miami. Honing his craft, Chef Niven had the opportunity to experience the farm to table renaissance happening at each location.
Working closely with farmers and purveyors, Patel developed a deeper appreciation for the product coming into the restaurant. He began digging in his back yard, lovingly referred to as RanchoPatel, cultivating greens, fruits and vegetables. For young cooks dreaming of one day becoming a chef, Patel offers some words of wisdom, cultivated over his many years of due diligence, “Be inquisitive. Every time there is something you don’t know, research it, look it up”. Clearly the success of the highly disciplined Patel proves that the chef is guided by his own advice.
I want my guests to walk into my restaurant with the sense of entering my home. I want them to feel at home. I want them to smell the aromas and spices and get more engaged in their meal. One of the things that I always tell my cooks is, ask questions, be inquisitive if you don’t know. I want the same for my guests.I want to share with my guests what truly fresh pasta is, made in house daily."
From his own experience on his 2 acre farm, he also wants to provide the downtown Santa Rosa core with access to fresh farmer's market produce that underlies Italian cooking. With MERCATO, customers can find cheeses, sauces and quality pastas to take the experience of using the best and freshest ingredients in their own cucina. The concept grew out of this marriage of dining and shopping in the same place where the celebration of fine quality local food is the focus, not so much where you eat it.