'Chasing the Heat' covers 50 years in the kitchen by chef who first hit the big time in Taft

A popular chef who spent a quarter century tempting the taste buds of diners in Taft and Bakersfield before trading his kitchen for a galley has penned a book.

Leonard Gentieu’s journey from the Rendezvous Room at Maricopa High School to a yacht in Morro Bay is chronicled in “Chasing the Heat,” an insider’s look at the restaurant business.

“Many of the chapters are written about my 26 years spent in Kern County,” he said. “Taft was where I opened my first restaurant (Gentieu’s Pantry) with an investment of $7,000 at age 25.”

Before opening his sandwich shop at Third and North streets, he launched a food service program at Maricopa High, creating a model restaurant he named the Rendezvous Room. The program is still going, but the lab restaurant is now known as the Tea Room.

“Taft is where I learned how to run a restaurant and ended up owning and operating three successful restaurants and made the world’s longest sandwich for the 1975 Oildorado.”

After getting his start at the Pantry he opened Gentieu’s West and later Leonard’s.

Moving to Bakersfield his chef positions included Fikes Finer Foods, the Petroleum Club, Stars Dinner Theater, Maison Jaussaud, Mickey’s Mesquite and the Elegant Pantry.

Gentieu also was the house manager at Bakersfield Country Club.

“Literally, half my career has been spent in Taft and Bakersfield.”

He calls the book “an insider’s exploration of life in the kitchen and at the register – the difficulties and obstacles as well as triumphs and achievements that span a 50-year career.”

That story “is told with humor, frankness, generosity and unfailing optimism.”

“Anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant industry will undoubtedly recognize something of themselves reflected in its arc, and the general reader will see there’s a lot more to the restaurant business than ‘for here or to go’ and ‘rare, medium or well done.’”

The book concludes with the fulfillment of a boyhood dream of owning a yacht, from which he and wife Midge run a charter business in Morro Bay featuring gourmet dining experiences.

Gentieu said he started writing the book 26 years ago but got only a single chapter done.

His interest was rekindled three years ago when a literary agent was a guest on his yacht, the Papagallo II, and asked him if he’d done any writing.

“I mentioned that one chapter,” he said. “She read it, said she loved it and told me I should finish it.

“Once I restarted the writing I realized I could share the behind-the-scenes of restaurant life and what an important role food service industry workers play in our towns and cities across the nation.”

Along with its insider’s look at the restaurant business, Gentieu’s memoir includes photographs and recipes.

One of his biggest fans is Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band.

“Chef Len’s abalone is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted,” he said.