Greg Desmangles, the executive chef behind three of Sacramento’s most popular restaurants (Urban Roots Brewery & Smokehouse, Bawk! and Pangaea Bier Cafe), talks about how he got his start, his take on beloved dishes and keeping family traditions going.
What are your earliest food memories?
I have a lot of food memories around Thanksgiving and the holidays: All the men would watch the game on TV and I would hang out in the kitchen trying to get scraps. I started learning cooking by hanging out with my mom, grandma and my grandma’s sisters. I always liked to eat; it was a pastime. I was a chunky kid.
How’d you get your start in restaurants?
My parents wanted me to be a doctor, but I kind of lost interest in college and was begging my uncle [restaurateur Rob Archie] to let me do something, anything, at Pangaea because I loved the energy there. He was hesitant to work with family, but eventually I started bussing tables and washing dishes. Over time, I worked my way up through the kitchen.
You’re cooking the kind of food that many people grew up with and have strong opinions about: barbecue and fried chicken. Is there pressure to compete with people’s food memories?
I think we’re more about tapping into our food memories and what makes us feel good. With barbecue or fried chicken, we just try to do it to the best of our ability; we don’t try to compete.
We’re finally hearing more about African American cuisine and how foundational it is to American cooking through things like the Netflix series “High on the Hog” and the culinary historian Jessica B. Harris. What are your thoughts?
I’m happy that it’s getting exposure on a mainstream platform. It’s a good thing for people to understand its influence on the American palate. There’s a lot that we can learn about how certain dishes came about.
You’re a new father. Are you excited to share your cooking with your daughter?
Food is definitely one of my love languages. Two years before my grandmother passed, it was the first year I took over Thanksgiving and she got to taste it. It was special because I spent so many years idolizing the way she cooked. I’m looking forward to passing that down to my daughter.