Case for Place

Mise en Place Kitchen

Every morning when Theully Calderwood goes to work, she makes a brand new “Cake of the Day.” The Mise en Place Kitchen’s Instagram account is a showcase for her enticing creations. Last week I tried a slice of her blueberry cornmeal cake. The IG caption for it read, “We can’t decide if it’s better as a breakfast, dessert or afternoon snack!” Agreed. I’ve tasted many cornmeal-based desserts that were as dry as desert sand. Calderwood’s was the opposite—tender and laced with fresh blueberries. Today she’s making a marble cake that, regretfully, I won’t get to try.

On Aug. 8, Calderwood opened Mise en Place Kitchen together with her husband, Rob. Located in the downtown Berkeley space that Maîson Bleue vacated in March, Rob describes the cafe’s concept as “California cuisine.” Theully worked as a lawyer in her native Brazil before attending culinary school in the United States. After graduating, she started a second career in catering and loved it. Expanding on her husband’s description, she feels the restaurant is an extension of her home kitchen. A place where customers can collaborate with her on the menu.

“Today I made corn soup because one of our repeat clients asked me to sell it after tasting a sample,” Calderwood says. She likes having a kitchen that accommodates special requests. “You are welcome to say what you like to eat or what you want on the menu next week.” This sounds like a dangerous approach for a long-term strategy, but she’s unafraid of improvising.

Rob says her menu fuses, “different foods from different cultures that come together, beautifully, on a plate.” One example he cites is her version of Pao de Queijo, a Brazilian cheese bread. Theully has perfected a recipe batter that works as a waffle. If you order it a la carte, she pours a warm honey drizzle over it. It’s the right combination of savory and sweet.

The lunch menu at Mise en Place Kitchen is divided between tartines and sandwiches. They also serve brunch items and will substitute a cheese waffle as the base for a tartine instead of a multi-grain levain bread. The heirloom-tomato tartine I tried had, in addition to whipped feta, tiny spheres of “balsamic caviar” on top. Calderwood excels at baking, but she also incorporates molecular gastronomy into her dishes.

“I heat the balsamic, boil it with agar-agar, and I have a very cold ice-bath of olive oil,” she says. Using a syringe, she drops the hot balsamic in the cold oil until it gets firm. And, voila!—balsamic caviar, glistening like black pearls.

The tartines are plated with precision and traveled home nearly intact. “I try to put the right food in the right to-go boxes,” Calderwood says. For dine-in orders, she cuts them in half. For to-go orders, she doesn’t. Rob says his wife’s creative fusions not only taste delicious, but their presentation is also beautiful. He’s noticed the composed plates put a smile on people’s faces.

Rob remembers that, after a particularly stressful day of catering, Theully would bake a cake to decompress. “She’s extremely scientific and methodical when it comes to cakes,” he says. “She probably tried 50 marble cake recipes to perfect it.”

“I love a very light, sweet, moist cake,” Calderwood says. “I grew up eating my marble cake. It needs to be buttery, not that sweet, not that much crumble, and the perfect bite, so that when you eat it, it’s like, ‘Ooh, this is good.'”

The Calderwoods waited years to open a place to showcase her kitchen talents. They began negotiating with the owner of Maîson Bleue in February, before Covid-19 hit the West Coast. When they finally moved in, it was July. Rob says that when they reached the moment when they had to sign the lease agreement, Theully couldn’t physically sign it, “out of fear of what we were getting into.”

“If you asked me then if I was ready to open this? No, I was never ready, but who cares?” she says cheerfully. Right now their only expectation is that they present good food, good service and that all the clients are happy with what they are doing. She affirms that, “it’s a very hard job, but if you do it with passion and you care about it, I think it will be successful.”

Mise en Place Kitchen, open 9am to 3pm Monday–Sunday, 2020 Kittredge St., Ste. C, Berkeley. 510.900.1845.

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