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Piatti’s Shoberg Is Right Where He Wants to Be

Following his passion for mountain biking and his burgeoning reputation on the culinary scene, chef has taken the itinerant path. He says he’s found a home in Mill Valley.

chef Todd Shoberg has a knack for picking picturesque places to ply his trade.

From his lakeside hometown of Grand Haven, Mich. and his multiple stops in Albuquerque, N.M. to a stint in Boulder, Colo., Shoberg has put roots down in places that belong on postcards.

“It’s always been a major puzzle piece in my decision making,” Shoberg says. “And of course it’s a no brainer living here in Mill Valley.”

Shoberg, 33, arrived in the Bay Area in 2006, living in an apartment in San Francisco and working as a sous chef at Town Hall. A former professional mountain biker who nabbed a silver medal at the national collegiate championships and went to the Olympic trials in 2000, Shoberg knew the history of the area as one of the birthplaces of mountain biking, but he’d never been here. Six weeks after his arrival, he visited Muir Woods on a friend’s recommendation, and was left in awe of Mount Tam.

He moved to Tam Junction less than two months later.

“I knew that this was where I needed to be,” he said.

Shoberg took the reins at Piatti in March 2009, inheriting a decade-old Italian restaurant with a reliable customer base but a spotty track record among foodies. He set out to put Piatti on the farm-to-table map, launching a daily Market Menu in May 2010 that is laden with ingredients he finds at the farmers market that day. Given the sheer size of his 110-seat restaurant, he also sought to keep menu staples like veal scallopini and linguini with clams to which Piatti’s longtime customers had grown accustomed.

The Market Menu gives Shoberg the creative outlet he craves and simply makes sense because of our proximity to some of the best produce in the world, he says.

“It’s picked at 4 a.m. in the valley, I’m picking it up at the farmers market that morning, I’m cooking with it that afternoon and we’re putting it on the plate that evening,” he says. “As chefs here we get access to the very best produce and protein in the world.”

That balance has helped Shoberg reverse Piatti’s reputation.

“Changing the perception of the restaurant takes some time and we’re just chipping away at it,” he says.

Shoberg has already made his mark, as 2010 was the restaurant’s most profitable year in its 12-year history and 2011 is on track to do even better. Piatti is part of the Moana Hotel & Restaurant Group.

Establishing himself in his first stint in running his own restaurant has been time intensive for Shoberg, but not enough so that he no longer gets out on his bike. He rides to work from his home near downtown Mill Valley a few days a week and gets up on the mountain as often as he can.

“It’s so ingrained in the mechanics of my body that I have to,” he says. “If I don’t ride, my body starts to fall apart.”

Shoberg has taken a circuitous and scenic route to Mill Valley. But it sounds like he’s had plenty of fun along the way.

He left Grand Haven, a waterfront town on Lake Michigan that he likens to Sausalito with its range of recreational activities, when he was 20 years old. His success in mountain biking brought him to the warmer weather and higher altitude of Albuquerque.

Four years later, Shoberg got a mountain biking scholarship to Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky., where he nabbed All-American honors. He later left school and continued racing professionally, but also started waiting tables for extra cash.

He moved to Chicago and found himself pouring through culinary books at the Chicago Public Library and eventually landing on one by local chef Michael Lachowicz.

“The way he viewed the cooking and restaurant world was inspiring and exciting and the excitement of the industry that he portrayed was what caught my eye,” Shoberg says. “I’ve always been sort of a thrill seeker and traveling around and when I read his stuff, he portrayed that side of this business and it got me.”

Shoberg convinced Lachowicz to take him under his wing.

“I’ve been hooked ever since,” he says.

Shoberg next headed back to Albuquerque and worked at Scalo under stalwart chef Jonathan Perno.

“That’s when the real fire was lit,” he says. “He showed me how to create food based on inspiration attained from your local environment.”

Perno connected Shoberg to people he knew in the Bay Area like the Rosenthal brothers and Doug Washington, owners of Town Hall, Anchor & Hope and Salt House. Shoberg landed the sous chef gig at Town Hall, and stayed there for two years.

He left to run Liberty Café with Julia McClasky for eight months and then headed to Boulder, where he learned the business side of being a chef.

“I learned a lot about how to make money in the business – it’s not easy,” he says. “That’s why you see so many restaurants come and go.”

Piatti was hiring a chef at the beginning of 2009, and Shoberg liked what he saw.

“I just love this room,” he says as he glances up at Mount Tam.

Shoberg, who is also an avid photographer and vinyl record collector, has since gotten married. His wife Melissa is the daughter of Forrest Young, longtime proprietor of the Cheese Shop on Miller Ave. downtown.

Shoberg has no delusions that he’ll be at Piatti forever – new challenges and opportunities will come along at some point. But he’s equally clear about Mill Valley’s place in his life after more than a decade of jumping from one picturesque town to another.

“For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be,” he says.

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