Bruce Riezenman, executive chef and owner of the much-awarded Park Avenue Catering, is one of Wine Country's most sought-after chefs and speakers on the subject of food and wine pairing. A native New Yorker, Riezenman graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York in 1979. He soon opened his first restaurant, The Bew Deal Restaurant in Manhattan.
After his success in Manhattan, Riezenman wanted to relocate to a quieter, slower and more sustainable area. He sold his restaurants and, after exploring many possibilities, chose to settle in Sonoma County. In 1986, he opened Prospect Park restaurant in Santa Rosa; Buona Sera Ristorante in Petaluma followed in 1990. Though both were successful, he wanted a new adventure.
“After my experience as a restaurant owner, I decided to explore catering as an interesting new challenge,” he says. From Riezenman’s perspective, the keys to the company’s success are its excellence in execution and “our ability to ask good questions and listen carefully to the answers.” This lets him “help clients determine the goals for their events and ensure that we help make them happen.”
The company organizes and sets up events in venues of all sizes, and part of the business caters events in private homes. Riezenman is sensitive to his client’s needs and recognizes the stresses that can present themselves when attempting to put together an event. He and his staff work with clients each step of the way, determining the budget and helping match the event with what they’re trying to accomplish.
Networking with local farmers, artisans and wineries lets the company handle most client and event needs. Riezenman sees his organizational skills as his saving grace: “I take this responsibility seriously, and I’m always making lists to ensure everything’s covered,” he says. In addition to the booming catering business, in 2012 Riezenman ventured into a new restaurant venture, opening Park 121 Café and Grill on Highway 121 in Sonoma (at Cornerstone Gardens), which serves what he calls “Sonoma casual—elegant and stylish dining with the garden setting of Sonoma.”
Riezenman believes it’s important “to become a part of our community.” The company does this through charitable contributions, buying locally and by providing excellence in food and service. An example of this is, every Thursday, 30 meals are donated to Social Advocates for Youth in Santa Rosa; it also caters SAY’s major fund-raising every year. Reizenman serves on the advisory boards for Worth Our Weight (WOW) Culinary Apprentice program, which provides tuition-free culinary and food service training to young people between ages 16 and 24 who’ve faced major challenges in their lives, including foster care, difficulties with the law, homelessness and significant family disruption. Reizenman is also on the advisory board for the Santa Rosa Junior College Culinary program.
Riezenman is the author of Pair It!, a highly acclaimed food-and-wine pairing app for smart devices that includes more than 1,000 dishes and 20,000 pairings based on varietals and regions. His experience in entrepreneurship and as a chef are marked by his passions for sustainability, culinary arts, quality craftsmanship and technology—topics he continues to explore in both his food creativity and speaking engagements. His approach is about savoring the flavor of food and wine and the way they taste together, but also appreciating the moment, the place and the people we share them with. He shares his vision of food and wine as opportunities to enjoy the things in life that truly matter: health, happiness, family and friends. For him, that’s what Wine Country living is really all about.
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