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For those who aren’t food blog-trawling, Edible [fill in your city]-subscribing Cooking Channel fanatics, keeping up with the fine dining vanguard can be daunting. Which is why Oakland, Calif.’s Guest Chef, a cozy 23-seat restaurant in the Rockridge neighborhood that installs a new chef and menu every two weeks, is such a refreshing concept. The brainchild of real-estate developer Scott Cameron and partner Jerry Boddum, the five-month-old space (formerly a dress shop) takes two or three applications per week from aspiring cooks as far afield as Peru and Italy who want to test their skills in a commercial kitchen with a public audience. Provided they pass an interview, which may involve cooking (and a little Google stalking), guest chefs then get their time in the spotlight, literally. Framed by black slate, the kitchen is theatrically lit. “So the chef is kind of on display,” says Cameron. He even installed a webcam in the kitchen to entice international chefs, not to mention reality-TV prospects. While this novel, sink-or-swim mentality can attract curiosity seekers for dinner, the restaurant also enjoys repeat business by hosting events (like local firefighters cooking for charity) and allowing established Bay Area chefs to promote new menus before they launch, such as Michelin-starred Joseph Humphrey did in January with his then-unopened Dixie restaurant. “Everybody loves the idea — there’s an excitement about it,” says Cameron, who already envisions outposts in New York, San Francisco and Seattle. “The thing I take pride in the most is that we’re providing a really good experience for the chefs. … So far, everyone we’ve worked with wants to come back because it’s fun.”
5337 College Ave., (510) 658-7378, www.theguestchef.net