Theully Calderwood grew up in Brazil, where she earned a law degree. But when she moved to the U.S. with her husband and infant daughter, she couldn’t use her law degree here.
“So I decided to follow my true passion, and enrolled in the culinary program at San Francisco City College.” Her work baking and creating pastries led to catering, and most recently, to launching Mise en Place Kitchen on a quiet part of Kittredge Street in downtown Berkeley next to the Central Library.
“‘Mise en Place’ is a French expression used in the culinary world,” chef Theully (pronounced TAY-oo-lee) explained. “It literally means ‘put everything in place’ and describes getting your setup, tools, and ingredients ready and organized before service in a restaurant. But it also means, for me, a way of working. If you prepare well, you’re in a better position for success, and better prepared to deliver something amazing to our clients.”
Positioning for success is something Calderwood has had to think about a lot, opening a restaurant amidst the many challenges of 2020.
Together with her husband and business partner, Rob Calderwood, the San Leandro residents found the space, then operating as Maison Bleue, and in January, began discussions to purchase the business and lease the cafe space, including its spacious patio. In the midst of preparations to launch, the pandemic and all its restrictions happened.
“When we opened, we were emotionally prepared to have slow customer traffic and probably operate at a loss initially. We also knew that we had to place extra focus on our outdoor seating area, so we invested in making it a really nice, comfortable, safe space for our guests.”
The patio was separated from the cafe and open on three sides. Rob Calderwood works in architecture and construction and redesigned the space, adding a low redwood fence, gate, modern wood pergolas, and refurbished existing wood and steel picnic tables and benches. The result is a large, comfortably appointed, outdoor seating area with plenty of room to socially distance.
“We installed a fence around the area and have spaced tables six feet apart. We do our best to routinely cleanse the tables and chairs after guests leave. People have told us they feel safe and like they are in their own backyard or a park.”
Mise en Place also offers catering and rents its outdoor space after 3 p.m. for private events. “A great option for a family that wants to get together for an event in a safer way,” Calderwood said.
Several groups were enjoying brunch in the sunshine on the deck the Sunday afternoon I visited. Inside the cafe, all staff wore masks and customers were admitted one by one to order. For now, Mise en Place is doing more eat-in (outside) than take-out service.
Although the café has a small indoor seating area, Calderwood said she’ll likely continue seating outside only for the time being, despite recently relaxed regulations that permit indoor dining at 25% capacity.
Mise en Place Kitchen offers traditional cafe fare: pretty tartines, sandwiches, yogurts and grain bowls, seasonal soups, fresh salads, daily specials and creative drinks. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten- and dairy-free options are available, and the menu indicates which items include nuts and seeds.
Signature tartines are topped with a flavorful, artfully arranged mix of vegetables, herbs, cheese and proteins. They’re served on Calderwood’s very popular gluten-free, vegan crispy cheese-bread waffle, inspired by the famous Brazilian pão de queijo (cheese bread). I couldn’t get her to divulge what ingredients she uses to get the nice body and texture in the waffle.
“This is the one item I consider my ‘secret recipe.’ I spent months developing the recipe before serving it at the cafe.”
The waffles are also available as a side order, drizzled with a bit of honey ($7).
The heirloom tomato tartine ($15) comes layered over whipped feta cheese, sprinkled with herbs and small balls of “balsamic caviar” that pop like caviar, but taste of balsamic vinegar — a special ingredient that Calderwood makes herself using a molecular gastronomy technique.
“I heat the balsamic with agar-agar, and I have an ice-bath of olive oil. Using a special syringe, I drop the hot balsamic mixture into the cold oil, where the droplets turn into firm little balls that resemble caviar.”
The lox tartine ($13) has smoked salmon pieces with very thinly sliced cucumbers, pickled red onions and a finely chopped lemon confit. An avocado mash tartine ($11) comes with an egg and salsa roja.
Calderwood kept some Maison Bleue favorites on the menu, like omelets, giving them her own spin.
“Seasonality is really important to me, so the fruits and veggies in our dishes are often changing,” Calderwood said.
Crepes were on offer the day I visited, though they’re no longer a standard item on the menu. The vegetarian crepe ($12) had a nice mix of tastes and textures: finely chopped, crunchy asparagus; sliced mushrooms; Monterey Jack cheese and a light, creamy, tangy cilantro pesto.
Various smoothies, yogurt, grain, and salad bowls ($6.50-$12), chicken, pastrami, and breakfast bagel sandwiches ($11-12) layered with a mix of fresh vegetables and cheeses similar to the tartine combinations, are also available. Local craft beers, wines, and ciders are served.
Mise en Place is open seven days a week, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Calderwood considered opening for happy hour with a small-bites menu and has experimented with evening hours and dinner meals. But given the pandemic challenges at the moment, she’s focusing on breakfast, brunch and lunch, with several daily specials that can be found on the Mise en Place Facebook and Instagram pages.
“We’re always trying new things, new specials, new cakes of the day,” Calderwood said.
A display cabinet showed off enticing sweets, including the house-made, gluten-free almond cake ($5), a moist, sticky-crumbed cake sprinkled with sliced almonds and powdered sugar; big gluten-free blondies with chocolate chips and coconut ($3); almond-pear cake made with whole pears ($5); and several other appealing items.
“We sometimes get Starter Bakery pastries, like the kouign-amanns they are famous for.”
The quiet location and comfortable outdoor space make it a lovely destination to meet for a snack or a light meal. Mise en Place serves West Oakland Blend coffee from RoastCo in Oakland, and features house-made specialty lattes like lavender, basil, and pumpkin ($4.50), as well as flavored lemonades ($3.75).
“We infuse dried lavender blossoms and fresh basil in house. We also make our own syrup for our seasonal cold and hot pumpkin lattes. We try to make as much as possible in-house, like our house-cured lox, and horchata, among other things.”
Calderwood carefully packs to-go food in compostable containers. My order arrived at home looking much like I assume it would have if it had been delivered to us at a table outside the restaurant.
“I did pay special attention to our to-go packaging, to ensure that our dishes would arrive intact and as beautiful as they left the kitchen,” Calderwood said.
Mise en Place Kitchen is open 9 a.m.-3 p.m., daily for outdoor patio dining and for takeout and delivery. Orders can be placed in advance online.