Make no mistake about it: Molly Levine is a force — a beautiful, effervescent and gracious force, but one with a reverberating energy field that is hard not to get drawn into. If Princess Leia were a chef, she’d be Molly.

As the 28-year-old head chef of a restaurant that is open seven days a week, for three meals a day, and that sent 160 covers out of a cubicle-sized kitchen last Saturday night, Molly could use a Wookiee or two. Only she’s got something better in her Behind the Bookstore kitchen: Ladies. (And a playlist.)

“Right now I am working with a lot of women, which feels really empowering,” Molly told me. “We have a female manager, a female head chef, a female head bartender, a female bread baker, and an all-lady line seven nights a week for dinner.” In addition to Behind the Bookstore’s manager, Elana Carlson, Anna Morris is the head bartender, Aubrey Johnson is the head baker, and Paige Costa, Nydia Fornelos and Ayla Walter are Molly’s “three leading kitchen ladies.” But, Molly is quick to add, she also has “amazing” men working for her, many who are working long hours and impress her with their work ethic.

Elana Carlson reached out to Molly two years ago (via a not-so-underground network of young food and farming folks — both male and female — that runs between Martha’s Vineyard and Northern California) to see if she might be interested in coming east for the summer.

At the time, Molly was three years into cooking at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’s famed Berkeley restaurant that spawned a generation (or two) of American chefs and a new cuisine championing organic, uber-local, and direct farm-to-table cooking. Molly had worked her way through every station in the Café, starting at garde manger (pantry chef) and moving on to prep cook, salads, wood-fired oven (“I love fire!” she says), grill, and sauté.

“I was starting to feel a bit antsy, but I just kept thinking, where do I go next? Chez was like this magical experience,” said the girl who had fled Nashville and heartbreak after cooking for two years out of college at a popular East Nashville restaurant called The Silly Goose — only to land a job at Chez Panisse three weeks into a visit to California.

Jeanna Shepard

By the time Molly and Elana got to talking, spring was fast approaching. “If you want to do this, Elana told me, you’ve got to go down to L.A. and cook for the owners. So I was already working like 60 hours that week, and I basically prepped this eight-course tasting menu in my kitchen in the middle of the night and sped down the 5 on Sunday morning and cooked this meal for them. I got a call a week later from the Sudikoffs [Joyce and Jeffrey, BTB owners] asking me if I wanted to go to Martha’s Vineyard. [A place she had never been. Ever. Not once.]” She said yes.

To hear Molly tell about this job offer, and every other cooking job she has been fortunate to get, it was all due to circumstances. I kept hearing her say, in different ways, “I’ve had a lot of happy accidents land in my lap that developed a career and got me where I am. It had more to do with the people and the experience and less about ambition.”

I believe her — I know by her tone that she is not being gratuitously humble — and I know how much luck and circumstance have to do with landing chef jobs (or any coveted jobs for that matter). But I’m still feeling like the kind of determination Molly has is the kind that would get her back on the horse if she fell off a hundred times. When the Chez Panisse offer came in, she recalls being terrified and calling her mentor, Nashville chef Lisa Donovan, to ask her what to do. “If it’s not scary, it’s not worth it,” Donovan said. “Don’t be that person who turns down a job at Chez Panisse. Just jump off the bridge, woman!” And she did.

That jump worked out pretty well, building the courage to take another jump last spring to the Vineyard, and to return again this year after spending the winter back in Berkeley.

Last summer, Molly spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with Vineyard farmers and other local purveyors.

“It’s pretty amazing what goes on here,” Molly said. “It is very special. In coming back, I realize how much I appreciate and love all these people. Lily [Walter] and Collins [Heavener] at Slip Away Farm, and Tucker [Pforzheimer] and Truman [French] who grow mushrooms, and Jefferson [Munroe] and his chickens. And Rebecca [Miller] at North Tabor. They’re all so incredible.”

Choreographing the ingredients she gets from these growers into daily menus is of course the main skill Molly has mastered in order to shine in a job like this.

I followed her into the cubicle kitchen to watch her prepare Shiitacos, an insanely delicious dish of smoked and sautéed shiitakes (from MV Mycological) on a corn tortilla spread with house-made chipotle sauce and thinly sliced avocados, along with grilled onions, cotija, cilantro, and limey cabbage.

Jeanna Shepard

Her music was playing. In Molly’s family, food and music are intertwined. “I’m old school, I guess. Lots of blues and soul grace the playlist — Al Green, Otis, Sam Cooke, bb king, Nina Simone, Charles Bradley. Also Neil Young, Dylan, Grateful Dead. And some days it has to be all about the ladies — Stevie Nicks, Carole King.”

I watched Molly pirouette between the one six-burner stove, giving the mushrooms a shake in a cast iron pan as she went by, and a narrow strip of cutting board near the cold station (there is no true “plating” surface). The ladies — and the dishwasher — were moving around her, prepping for dinner. I noticed how easily the women absorbed the intrusion of a reporter and a photographer into the tiny kitchen, laughing and making room at the same time.

Molly arranged the taco ingredients in swift, sure motions, making it pretty, but not fussy.

Which is how her food rolls. “Some of my food I think people would describe as feminine. It certainly isn’t delicate or chi chi by any means. There are generous portions — I want to nourish and fill people up. I don’t want it to be creative to the point that you don’t feel sustained. But I also don’t want you to feel heavy.” I look at the menu and see the dinner offering of fresh handcut linguine, lobster brodo, rancho gordo heirloom beans, escarole, gremolata breadcrumbs, and I think that sounds about right.

On the way out of the kitchen, Molly mentioned the ladies again.

“Working in a female-centric kitchen feels special and feels safe to me,” she said. “Working with all women, you can have a bad day. You’re allowed to be human and have feelings and let that kind of come out from time to time. And I think that aura of comfort feeds into the food we’re making.”

In fact, if the time comes when Molly does feel ready to do her own restaurant, she’s thinking it might be fun to make it an all-women effort. “We could even have a wine list of all-women winemakers!”

But she’s not ready yet. “The one thing that prevents me from taking a leap is that I love everywhere I go.”

There is, however, a limit to the 2017 season’s run on Molly’s food, since Behind the Bookstore stops serving dinner when the nights get cold in September. And since dinner — think grilled little gems, sea beans, kumquats, avocado, dill dressing and benne seeds, followed by pan seared striped bass, Carolina gold risotto, peperonata, summer squash and hazelnut relish — is where Molly does the food she loves most, you might consider making a reservation.

Recipe for Shiitake Tacos with Chipotle Sauce.