Juri Sbandati is not your average Oregon chef.
A native of Florence, Italy, he has a doctorate in history. Named by his parents for Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin, he is an avid fan of Grand Prix and Formula One race-car driving, and he named his own 21-month-old son Ugo after a favorite driver.
Juri and his wife, Kinley, own and operate Trattoria Sbandati (www.trattoriasbandati.com), an intimate cafe on College Way, on Bend’s west side. “There is an Italian saying: ‘The fewer the tables, the fuller your restaurant,’” recites Juri, 37. “I am tired of restaurants that seat 150 people. I decided to go the opposite direction. “A trattoria in Italy is a family-run restaurant, a place where you can develop strong connections with your customers and make everyone feel special.”
The 36-seat restaurant, its Florentine art and draperies giving it a sense of European style, opened in October 2009 and already is rated one of the premier places to dine in Central Oregon.
The cuisine is authentically Tuscan. It is not Americanized. There’s no spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. “That is not Italian food,” Juri says. “You also won’t find fettuccine Alfredo or chicken Parmigiana here.”
Italian food is simple, accessible and versatile, he says. “But simple does not mean easy. I try to be an artisan. I don’t cook much with butter or heavy cream. I want to cook for people, but not feed the masses. I am cooking with a personal touch.”
Pastas, sauces, breads and soups are all hand-made. Prix-fixe dinners are worthy of special occasions. At these, the four-course menu is determined several days ahead of time. “I want to create an experience,” says Juri. “I want to make you anticipate for days.”
Juri discovered his flair for cooking as a university student. It was in Florence that he met Kinley Fitzkee, a Boston native who had gone to Italy for graduate studies in art. They married and settled in Oregon, where Juri set up his own business, Sbandati Personal Chef, and cooked in the homes of clients from San Francisco to Seattle.
After several years, they opened their own restaurant, and Bend is the better for it. “A chef without a kitchen is like a country without a government,” says Juri, who is never at a shortage for words. “Besides, food is a great excuse to talk about your country and who you are.”
This profile is one of two dozen that will appear with original recipes in “Sage in the Kitchen,” a cookbook soon to be published as a benefit project for Bend’s Community Center. For more information, please see: www.facebook.com/pages/Sage-in-the-Kitchen/277434852281807