Dressed in a black Patagonia jacket, Boll?sunglasses and a pair of green Crocs, Gerard Nebesky barrels out of Occidental in his sea-green 1961 Chevy truck with both hands clutching the steering wheel.
The broad-shouldered Wine Country chef famous for cooking up big, bubbling pans of paella ? the national rice dish of Spain ? has a hearty appetite for life.
?I pack a lot into a day,? says the 41-year-old chef, who sports a curly gray mane and a goatee. ?In the summer, I often do two or three paellas a day.?
There?s no such thing as a dull moment with this peripatetic paella master, who routinely pops wheelies on a snowboard, ascends Europe?s tallest peaks and free dives in the chilly Pacific Ocean for abalone and rockfish.
And all the while, he?s thinking about the next meal he?s going to serve at a rustic beach in the Bahamas, the windswept Sonoma Coast or an upscale Napa Valley winery. This guy loves to eat, and Nebesky?s penchant for adventure may be his greatest asset as a chef, since it translates into vibrant, exciting flavors on the plate.
Even a short drive on Coleman Valley Road turns into an E-ticket ride, with Nebesky popping into second gear and cranking the steering wheel around the bucolic road?s twists and turns. And at the end of the ride, the chef proudly cooks up a Wine Country repast from ingredients he has foraged himself, including porcini mushrooms and abalone pried off an undersea ledge, washed down with a glass of his own Cabernet Sauvignon. He finishes it off with a dollop of sea urchin roe.
?It?s so easy to get stuff here,? Nebesky says, happily hammering the abalone, then saut?ng it with garlic and mushrooms. ?Everything, except for the wine, was alive when it came into the kitchen.?
A Bohemian at heart (his father was born in the former Czechoslovakia, his mother hails from Australia), Nebesky makes his home in Occidental, where he owned the Bohemian Cafe from 1990 to 2000. The homey restaurant showcased an eclectic mix of authentic dishes, from pizza to Pad Thai, collected from his travels all over the world.
Wherever he wanders these days, this chef takes his kitchen with him: paella pans and propane burners, cutting boards and knives, coolers and work tables. He always cooks his paella outdoors, rain or shine, in a protected spot that?s out of the wind.
?I bring a tent if it?s rainy, some tablecloths, and that?s basically it,? says Nebesky, who has thrown paella parties for celebrities like Teri Hatcher and Corbin Bernsen, the cast of ?Lost? and the crew from ?Saturday Night Live.?
In the summer, Nebesky often can be found tending a steaming pan of paella outside the Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg on Tuesday evenings, or cooking gourmet lunches for Wine Country Bikes, a tour company based in Healdsburg.
Last fall, he gave a paella cooking class for Relish Culinary School at Wright?s Beach, south of Goat Rock in Jenner. It sold out early, despite its rustic setting. Relish founder Donna del Ray described it as ?extreme cooking.?
Thanks to del Ray, Nebesky landed a job this past winter as the chef at a luxury helicopter-skiing lodge in the remote, 11,000-foot-high Ruby Mountains of eastern Nevada. When the wilderness outfit asked her for a recommendation, she didn?t have to think twice.