We’ve all been there: it’s the end of the work day, you’re hungry, and the thought of cooking feels like a chore. You want to eat a healthy, tasty dinner, but preparing it takes time and energy, and you’re running low on both.
“There’s a great need for healthy home-cooked food that nobody has the time to prepare themselves,” says League of Chefs founder Nicole Hodge. Along with her team of five, Hodge is helping her customers eat well in a way that accommodates their busy lifestyles.
Opened in February of 2017, the business is based out of a commercial kitchen on the corner of Virginia and Sacramento Streets in Vallejo. Hodge, who has nearly two decades of experience working as a chef, originally planned to use the space to serve her catering clientele in Oakland and Berkeley. “I didn’t know if there would be a market for it here,” she says.
But Vallejoans kept dropping by, asking if they could order food. She started opening the door on Saturdays, when the Vallejo Farmers Market takes place, selling buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches. “I began meeting people and realized they wanted good food and to support a local business,” she says. “I’m providing a variety that didn’t really exist here.”
So how does it work?
Dinner orders—available three days per week—are placed online, typically a day or so in advance. Customers can choose from two entree options, a soup and a salad. The eclectic menu is different each day, but always features a meat or fish main as well as a vegetarian entree. Dishes can be picked up at four different locations (including the Vallejo Ferry Dock in spring and summer) or delivered for $5—yes, even to Benicia.
To give you a taste, a recent week’s menu offered Cider Braised Chicken Thighs with Wilted Kale; Blackened Salmon with Orange Scented Black Beans & Brown Rice; and Thai Yellow Curry Tofu with Ginger Bok Choy, and Shitakes with Jasmine Rice. Not to mention Creamy Spicy Poblano Soup and Farro Salad. Prices range from $4.99 for soup to $15.99 for a meat entree, and local, organic ingredients are used as often as possible.
“We like to be really varied, using different ethnic foods that aren’t always widely available,” says Hodge. “I have a nice variety of chefs that can create that cuisine, so I take advantage of that.”
On-site provisions like Tuscan Pork Stew, Pot Pies, Bone Broth, and Vegetarian Nut and Grain Loafs can be picked up Monday-Thursday without advance ordering, as well as soups and salads for a takeaway lunch.
Along with dishes to go, League of Chefs puts on unique Pop-up dining experiences. Held mostly on site, the events vary from monthly four-course dinners ($59 or $89 with wine pairing) to Sunday brunches (last month’s featured a Wild Shrimp and Cheesy Grits main course and Apple Crisp for dessert) to an all-you-can-eat Supper Club.
Vallejo resident Mimosa Montag-Clark, who has attended several League of Chefs Pop-ups, says the events bring the community together in a new way. “It’s a fun environment and a great way to meet other people since everyone is there for a shared experience,” she says. “Nicole and her staff are so welcoming, kind, and genuine.” Details of upcoming Pop-ups are shared on the League of Chefs website and Facebook page.
With a loyal clientele that continues to grow, Hodge says League of Chefs is here to stay. She is already collaborating with other local businesses (such as Mare Island Brewing Co.) and offers full-service catering in Vallejo and beyond.
“I would like to build a food empire out here and support other food businesses,” she says. “I love to feed people—it makes me feel good when I’m making a product that’s not only delicious, but good for you.”
League of Chefs
300 Virginia St., Vallejo