Tim Bereika, excutive chef at Secco Wine Bar, began cooking professionally to answer a simple question: "Can I pursue a career doing something I love?" The answer, fortunately for Bereika — and anyone dining at Secco — was yes.
"Growing up, I never thought of becoming a chef," Bereika says. The Boston native, 34, was always attracted to art, a proclivity he pursued at Connecticut's Hartford Art School, then at Virginia Commonwealth University. Cooking at local casual dining spots such as the Blue Marlin and Legend Brewing Co. during his college years familiarized Bereika with commercial kitchens. But after completing his graphic-design degree, he hung up the apron and began work as a studio designer at the Martin Agency.
After moving on to a design job elsewhere that he found unfulfilling, Bereika asked himself how he could exercise his creativity in an active environment. Cooking re-entered the picture.
Bereika's growing food itch was confirmed by his honeymoon trip to Italy in May of 2005 — "It sort of sealed the deal," he says. Two years after his honeymoon, Bereika was back in Italy taking classes at the Culinary Institute of Florence and working at Ristorante Ricci, an upscale seafood restaurant.
Between classes and work, Bereika spent about 15 hours per day for three months immersed in Italian cooking, and the dedication paid off. After returning to Richmond, he was hired as a sous chef at Amici Ristorante and eventually moved to Ollie's, at the Country Club of Virginia, to work as a line cook.
While he was there, Bereika's friend Julia Battaglini, owner of River City Cellars, contacted him about her plan to open a wine bar next to her Carytown shop, and he ended up helping to create Secco — literally. "I tiled the entire kitchen," he says, in addition to developing the menu. Of the restaurant's dishes, Bereika says, "Inspiration comes from everywhere, but the focus really is Mediterranean."