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David Kinch on the folly and frustration of rebuilding Manresa from scratch

Plus: James Syhabout, Ari Taymor, charlie parker, Flynn McGarry and Trick Dog’s Caitlin Laman

Your guide to holiday entertaining ||| 8 great winter cocktails ||| Tracing a dish from farm to table


Behind the scenes at Saison

The Chairman’s cuisine


in an area as culturally diverse as ours, it’s possible to sample bites from all of china’s regions in a day, including “mao family cuisine” in san mateo. 68

holiday party guide 44

winter cocktail recipes 76

things we love: aprons 6

farm-to-table, in photos 62

things we love: cookbooks 87

things we love: cheap eats 4, 8


on the cover illustration by ping zhu

Things we love


Spicy chicken shawerma at Truly Mediterranean, San Francisco

Let’s eat. By jackie burrell photograph by max whittaker of prime collective

CHICKEN OYSTER SKEWERS at izakaya rintaro, San Francisco


e Bay Area denizens are, frankly, spoiled rotten. We dwell between mountains and sea, in a land kissed by the sun and cool ocean breezes. As a result, our verdant farms and hillsides yield some of the most gorgeous produce on earth: earthy wild mushrooms, leafy lettuces, and fruits and vegetables that could make a chef weep. Best not to get us started on the sustainably raised lamb, wild salmon and free-range, organic eggs. Even the burgers here are sublime, with their grass-fed beef, house-made aioli, organic produce and Acme bakery buns. As I said, we are utterly, deliriously, spoiled. Last month, the Michelin Guide bestowed its highest honors on four Bay Area restaurants, adding Corey Lee’s Benu and Josh Skenes’ Saison in San Francisco to a list that includes The French Laundry in Yountville, The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena and just eight other three-star restaurants in the country. We have half a dozen two-star restaurants and 30 with one star. And if we’re feeling a tad smug about that, Michelin’s international director, Michael Ellis, says that’s justifiable. “Northern California is one of the most exciting gastronomic destinations in the world today,” he said, calling in the morning the 2015 Michelin stars were announced. “There’s a great alchemy of superb local ingredients, chefs and this big Asian influence in the San Francisco Bay Area that are really unique signatures. It’s one of the most exciting areas for us.” For us, too. The Bay Area has always been a melting pot, drawing immigrants from Europe, Asia, North and South America from the earliest days of the Gold Rush. Golden dust may have wooed them here, but it was this rugged setting that launched


Known for its cranky service and stringent ordering requirements, this place is a falafel and shawerma must-have. Chicken carved fresh off the poultry turbine, along with tomatoes, yogurt sauce and spicy red schmear. Just order fast. (Matthias Gafni)

If you’re not familiar with the chicken oyster — that delicious, oystershaped piece of dark meat on either side of the bird’s backbone — this is a great introduction. Salty, rich and perfectly grilled, one order ($6 for two skewers) won’t be enough. (Tim Ball) Sesame Paste Noodles with handmade noodles at Shan Dong, Oakland The dumplings may get all the buzz, but don’t come here without getting a plate of sesame paste noodles. The spicy, velvety sauce is a perfect pair for the doughy, thick handmade noodles. Wash them down with a Tsingtao. Repeat. (Tor Haugan) Smoked trout fried rice with fried garlic and ginger at Osmanthus, Oakland Perfectly balanced, pale and smoky, with the lightest rice, mixed with pea-sized bits of smoked trout and a hint of ginger, sprinkled with golden nutty garlic. Simple yet sublime. I’m savoring the thought of another bowl on a really special occasion, such as the first real rainy day here — with a glass of rosé or prosecco. (Dave Johnson) Meatball and egg banh mi at Banh Mi Ba Le, Oakland There are a couple dozen delicious Vietnamese sandwiches at this International Boulevard shop (and it’s hard to go wrong at $2.50-$3 each), but No. 13 may be the best, mixing crumbled meatball with cucumber, jalapeño and greens, all topped by a freshly cooked egg, and on a surprisingly great hunk of bread. (Michael Mayer) Herb potatoes at Los Gatos Cafe, Los Gatos

Boudin and Ghirardelli — even an unlucky miner can find sustenance and solace in bread and chocolate. That’s true today, too. Those 19th-century risk takers, adventure seekers, miners, farmers and immigrants set this region on a culinary path that now seems almost inevitable. Today, for example, you can dine in a different Chinese restaurant every single day for a year and never set foot in the same place twice. In fact, virtually every epicurean region of Asia is represented here today, from trendy ramen shops to the pinnacles of haute cuisine, where Korean and Japanese flavors inspire Lee and Skenes. That thirst for adventure and limitless possibility that sent wagon trains across the Sierra and Above: Marina Lopez carries a crate of beets at Dirty Girl Farms in Watsonville.

brought ships to the Barbary Coast plays out in our restaurants, as well, where the culinary creativity bred at such iconic restaurants as David Kinch’s Manresa and Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse has spread to scores of bistros. We once tried to sketch a gourmet family tree that showed how many Bay Area chefs and mixologists’ lineages traced back to these two restaurants — James Syhabout, of Michelin-starred Commis fame (and Box and Bells, Hawker Fare and The Dock at Linden Street), for example, was Kinch’s sous chef. Silvia McCollow of farm-to-fork Nido interned at Chez Panisse. Scott Baird, co-founder of San Francisco’s Bon Vivants, which owns Trick Dog, hails from Cesar, which was co-founded by Chez Panisse alum Maggie Pond. We ran out of paper. So we did the only rational thing: We went out to eat. Join us.

The herb potatoes at Los Gatos Cafe move it atop a crowded list of great breakfast spots. Almost impossibly crunchy and flavorful, laced with just the right amount of onion, and you don’t even have to order ’em. They come on the side with the soufflé omelets, which creates a different problem — the omelets are so deliciously huge (or hugely delicious) you’d be tempted to skip the potatoes, but there’s no way to do that. Skip dinner instead. (Bert Robinson) Mujaddara at The Mediterranean in Concord The shawermas and kebabs may be the big draws at this small, colorful restaurant, but the mujaddara is a must. Order a container of this scrumptious salad — full of perfectly cooked lentils and rice, then tossed with tomatoes, cucumbers and caramelized onions — to enjoy with your shawerma, but save some for tomorrow’s lunch. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself finishing it up as a midnight snack. (Kristen Crowe)

staff Section editors: Tim Ball, Jackie Burrell Section art directors: Tim Ball, Tiffany Grandstaff Executive Features Editor: Lisa Wrenn Photo Planning Editor: Jami Smith Copy editors: Tor Haugan, Kristen Crowe

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Things we love

Aprons photographs by mark dufrene

Hanging, from left, are the ’Merica Apron from Hedley & Bennett ($90 at, made of 8-ounce American canvas with seersucker piping and a pen pocket; the Black Stripe Apron from Ferm Living ($45 at, made of organic cotton; a linen kitchen apron from StudiopatrÓ ($68 at, made of oyster linen; and the Standard Apron with leather straps from Stanley & Sons ($128 at, made of black selvage denim.

Above: Alex’s Lemonade kids (ages 2-4) apron from Hedley & Bennett ($40 at is made of 9.5-ounce Japanese navy pinstriped denim.

bay area roots

Ari Taymor’s great awakening By tim ball photographs by Lauren-Edward


or someone who now holds the earth’s bounty in such high regard, Ari Taymor was a bit of a late bloomer. The chef and co-owner of Alma, a bright spot on Los Angeles’ culinary scene, grew up in Palo Alto, but back then his focus was on anything but the kitchen — and nobody would have guessed Food & Wine magazine would name him a Best New Chef at age 28. “I was not at all into food until I was already gone,” he says, and on his way to college at George Washington University, where he studied international affairs. “I really didn’t have any interest in knowing about it as a kid. I had no idea it would become so important to me.” But after college and after bouncing around some kitchens in the East Bay, it became very important. He joined Thomas McNaughton and a small opening crew at San Francisco’s Flour + Water, now one of the city’s mainstays in the Mission. For all Taymor’s more casual flirtations with professional kitchens, it was a startling wake-up call. “Flour + Water was absolutely insane. It was the perfect restaurant for the perfect neighborhood at the perfect time,” he says. “It was an intense place to work, just a totally different experience than anything I’ve ever seen.” Anything he’d seen up to that point? “No, different than anything I’ve ever seen to this day.” It was working those long hours for an ever-growing number of diners each night under McNaughton’s watchful eye that shaped Taymor’s work ethic, his ambition and the attitude toward fresh ingredients so central to Alma’s success. “Tom pushed everybody really hard, and it prepared me to do just about anything,” he says. Including, it seems, taking a plunge on a small space on what was a fairly seedy block of down-

town Los Angeles in 2012. Taymor had been operating Alma as a pop-up for several months, but when he and Ashleigh Parsons, now Alma’s co-owner and general manager, got a call that summer about an available space, they decided to put down roots on Broadway. Next door was a “hostess club,” with darkly tinted windows. It’s still there, but it has been joined by a painstaking renovation of the United Artists building across the street, bustling with hipsters as the Ace Hotel. Downtown as a whole, it seems, has caught up with what Taymor and Parsons have been

offering from the start inside their modest space. Things were motoring along for the duo (who first met in San Francisco). “We were really consistent,” Taymor says. “But we were maxing out around 40 or 50 covers a night, which is really easy with an à la carte menu.” The food was inventive, produce-forward and exuded a clean, ultra-fresh feel, both in taste and in plating. The laid-back yet modern bites coming out of the kitchen matched the setting. And then all hell broke loose, in a very good way. In August 2013, Bon Appetit magazine named Alma

The wild success of Alma, in downtown Los Angeles, has become a bit of a blur for chef and co-owner Ari Taymor, above.

the nation’s best new restaurant. “We were not ready,” Taymor remembers. “We really didn’t know what it was going to mean for us.” All of a sudden, open tables on OpenTable became nonexistent. The kitchen staff — three employees, many nights then — more than doubled its workload, routinely handling 105 covers. Taymor wanted to offer a tasting menu and did — but offered that on top of the standard à la carte. It all became too much. “We became really inconsistent for a while,” he says. “But we learned a lot about our limits.” For a perfectionist like Taymor, EAT ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| 7

Things we love



“James Syhabout, dollar-for-dollar, has the best food in the Bay Area. Commis is an exceptional restaurant, and at that price point, it is an absolute steal. His cooking is at least at the twoMichelin-star level ... It’s honestly as good as any of the top places — it’s as good as Manresa, as good as Saison.

The name sounds more adventurous than the dish appears. Order these as a starter and you’ll soon be presented with a bowl of what appear to be giant chicharrónes. Instead of pork skin, though, it’s beef tendon, which translates quickly in your mouth to creamy, silky-smooth liquid meat. Everything else on the menu from chef Yoni Levy (formerly of Chicago’s outstanding Blackbird) is equally crowdpleasing. (Tim Ball) Chili Sesame Noodle Salad at Charlie Hong Kong, Santa Cruz This cold salad brings all the major food groups together into one delicious pile — noodles, smoked tofu, avocado and red leaf lettuce. But it’s the tangy sweet-chiliand-sesame dressing that makes it worth standing in the usual long line at this tiny neighborhood joint. Pro tip: Call ahead to order. (Leigh Poitinger)

“David Kinch is the master. To me, he’s the most influential American chef, and one of the most influential chefs in the world. Look at the chefs that have come out of his kitchen ... That’s a true testament to his absolute genius. “Chris Kronner, who is about to open his own place in Oakland, makes some of the flat-out most delicious food. His burger is out of this world. “Brett Cooper is super rad. Outerlands was the most underrated restaurant in the city when he was there. The owners were extremely short-sighted in how they handled that situation, and they’re about to get a big-screen view of just how talented he is when he gets the reins taken off in this new place.” (Editor’s note: Cooper’s new restaurant, Aster, is targeted for an early 2015 opening in the Mission.)

Chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland

learning to deal with those limits was part of the process. “We were putting out dishes that weren’t quite right, … and it really pissed me off. I’d have to just completely leave service and go outside to cool off.” So, lesson learned. “It’s one of those lessons you learn about being ambitious — how to be ambitious in the right way” — another one from back in his days at the Flour + Water kitchen. “You learn how to make things efficient instead of wasting all your time and energy on something that sucks.” Alma never sucked, and it hasn’t lost its shine. In his review for the Los Angeles Times, critic Jonathan Gold said, “You are not quite sure what any one bite you are eating might be, but it tastes, gloriously, of early California fall. Nobody is cooking quite like this in L.A. at the moment.” The restaurant, along with Taymor, has learned from its mistakes. The kitchen is staffed up; the


menu is now exclusively a chef’s tasting. Business remains brisk, and Taymor has taken up more of a role in menu development than in acting as expediter at the end of the line in the open kitchen — though on busy nights he’s still standing watch. Brian Maynard is now chef de cuisine, and, Taymor says, “His organizational skills are tremendous — I just don’t work like that. And he works really well like that, which allows us to really push the food in a progressive direction with every menu change.” But for Taymor and Maynard (and Parsons, who also operates Alma’s outreach program teaching inner-city youths about healthy eating and gardening on a small scale — putting to use her master’s degree in education from Harvard), it all comes back to freshness. Taymor relates a tale from La Chassagnette, the famed restaurant in the South of France where a young Taymor and Parsons both interned: “We were sourcing every-

thing multiple times a day. We would get produce brought to us in the morning, before lunch, and do that prep. Get lunch out and then get a new batch of produce before dinner, and do it all over again. “They really understood the power of having herbs and vegetables that are … basically alive. So from then, my mission became finding a way to have a restaurant where food goes in and comes out as quickly as possible. It doesn’t sit in a walk-in; it comes in on a Wednesday and is gone by Friday. Having that kind of a time frame allows you to have produce that tastes wonderful on the plate with a minimum amount of manipulation.” And that, in a nutshell, describes precisely what Alma is doing. Back at Palo Alto High School, Taymor was voted both “Most Dramatic” and “Biggest Gossip” by his classmates. “Both hold true,” he says. But now there are many more accolades to pile in front of them.

The waffles are surreal: light and, somehow, perfectly crispy, like something out of a dream. Paired with apple cider syrup, there’s really no need to eat anything else. Ever. Except, perhaps, for the perfectly fried tender-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside buttermilk fried chicken that comes with the waffles. Right there next to them on the plate. And if some syrup accidentally gets on the chicken … well. … (Jami Smith) “Sicilian sashimi” at Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco If you think sushi bars do the best raw fish, try this dish, not even on the posted menu at this legendary Polk Street spot. Thinly sliced pieces of the freshest scallop, yellowtail, salmon and sardine (or whatever is freshest that day) delicately topped with capers, chopped red onions and olive oil. (Michael Mayer) Big bag of crawfish at Rockin’ Crawfish, Oakland Pick your level of spice, add sausage, tie on a bib and dive in — there is no better treat for a shellfish lover than the gluttonous mounds of mudbugs. (Jeremy C. Owens) Shanghai soup dumplings at Shanghai House, San Francisco Do not be fooled by Yelp. Ignore Shanghai Dumpling King down the block, bring cash and enjoy sublime, ethereal soup dumplings. Small space. Cash only. Well worth it. (Patrick Cant)


Food, flames, fervor Manresa’s David Kinch opens up about rebuilding his dream from scratch. 10

A transformative trip James Syhabout, one of the Bay Area’s hardest-working young chefs, travels to Thailand. 18

The mistress of mixology Trick Dog’s Caitlin Laman has had a very good year. She talks about how it all came to be. 26



David Kinch’s TRIAL BY

A new cookbook, a starring turn in a documentary and a bakery about to open. Quite a year for the brain behind Manresa. Even before his restaurant burned to the ground.

by rachel khong photograph by lipo ching illustration by jeff durham


hef David Kinch has ordered the Pretty Hot Wings at Kin Khao, his partner Pim Techamuanvivit’s new-since-thisspring Thai restaurant in downtown San Francisco. The wings are menacingly orange — glistening with Sriracha and fish sauce — and he wants to safeguard against them, so he’s trying, unsuccessfully, to tuck the paper napkin into his button-down shirt. It keeps fluttering out. “Maybe try buttoning the top button before tucking the napkin in?” I suggest. Success! “Thanks, Mom,” he replies. Kinch, chef and owner of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, has had, to put it mildly, quite the year. He released the Manresa cookbook in the fall of 2013—a beautiful tome of enticing, full-color photographs and thoughtful commentary on both the how and why of his cooking. He was the subject and titular chef in “The Farmer and the Chef,” a documentary about his relationship with Cynthia Sandberg of the biodynamic Love Apple Farms in the Santa Cruz mountains. There’s a soon-to-be bakery — ManresaBread, just a block from the restaurant — in the works (it started as a pop-up). And then in July, in Kinch’s words, there was his “first major disaster” — a two-alarm fire. The restaurant’s been closed since. It was the middle of the night, the wee hours of the Monday morning after Fourth of July weekend. Manresa had been closed for a week; the plan was to go into work on Tuesday to prep and to reopen on Wednesday after a brief summer holiday. Kinch was in Pittsburgh at the time, readying himself for a flight home, when the phone rang. It was a number he didn’t recognize — a Los Gatos number. “Who’s calling me from Los Gatos at 5:30 in the morning?” Kinch remembers wondering. “It was the Fire Department. I asked them how bad it was. They said that it was bad. And I said, ‘Well, I’m getting on a plane right now. I can be there in about seven hours.’ They said, Rachel Khong is senior editor at Lucky Peach magazine. She lives in San Francisco.


‘We’ll be here.’ ” He had to change planes in Minneapolis. “I went online, and there was some footage of it burning,” he says. “I didn’t click on it. I’ve never watched it. Can’t watch it. It was a numb plane ride. I don’t even remember the flight.” This is a notable omission for a chef whose cooking demands — insists, even — that you pay attention. What Manresa is rightly lauded for is the care Kinch puts into just about everything. A signature dish at Manresa, Into the Vegetable Garden, varies not just with the seasons, but every day: a stunning tangle of plants — cooked and raw, from root to flower — dotted with “dew” and nestled in “dirt.” It’s the sort of singular creation that couldn’t have sprung (sorry) from anybody else. As Kinch sees

At left, Kinch arrives to survey the damage at Manresa after a cross-country flight as firefighters, above, begin their investigation. karl mondon photographs

it, there are three phases in a chef’s career: imitation, assimilation and, finally, innovation. Arriving at something like a voice, which is, in any chef’s career, the trickiest part. The part you have to be patient for. “When we had the fire,” Kinch says, “I thought we were the best restaurant we’ve ever been, and I thought we had the most momentum we’d ever had. Which made this even more painful.” Being the best, after all, was the point. It was why Kinch bought and opened the restaurant in 2002; it’s why he’s rebuilding it today: “I wanted to be the best cook I could possibly be. I wanted to have the best restaurant I could possibly do. It’s still my goal. And I mean that in a noncompetitive sense.” He feigns an evil-villain

voice — “I WANT TO BE THE BEST RESTAURANT IN THE UNITED STATES. I WANT OTHER CHEFS TO LOSE. I WANT TO WIN” — then is David Kinch again: “No, the battle is with ourselves.” “I want to be the best restaurant we can possibly be,” he says. “I want to pay my bills. I want to take care of my employees. I want to be busy. Steady, positive cash flow. I don’t ask for much. Unfortunately I don’t have that right now. I don’t have a restaurant.” Here’s what David Kinch is not: He’s not a fan of the spotlight (“I tend to be pretty uncomfortable with that sort of thing; people do it better than I do,” he says) but was, once upon a time, a contestant on “Iron Chef” (“largest winning margin by a challenger in the show’s

history,” he boasts jokingly). This was in 2009: “The world’s falling apart, restaurants are not busy, people are going out of business, and we definitely slowed down a bit. So I was considering doing things that I normally wouldn’t do. And that was one of them. But it helped. Pretty funny — the power of the Food Network. Carried us through. We didn’t have an empty seat for six months.” (“So you took one for the team?” I ask. “I took one for the team,” Kinch agrees. “That’s my job.”) He’s not interested in making a farm-to-table political statement. “The farm definitely drives the menu, but it’s not dogmatic,” he says. “It’s about flavor and pleasure. And, you know, there are plenty of people here in California who like to make political statements, and


“If a chef is really talented and he opens up a restaurant but it goes out of business because nobody comes — is he a great chef? I don’t think so.”


they say things much better than I ever could. I let them do it.” He’s not an artist; he doesn’t see cooking as an art. “Cooking is an artistic endeavor. It’s very rarefied,” he says. “Is building a car an art? Building a Lamborghini is. It’s the kind of car you walk by and it takes your breath away and makes your heart beat faster — and you’re not into cars. It’s like a beautiful painting or reading a good book or a beautiful woman wearing the right skirt. It’s a million things.”

Rescued from the July fire at Manresa: a rack of chef’s coats and linens. above: karl mondon opposite: lipo ching

“Cooking can do that,” Kinch says, “but 95 percent of the time, it’s the success of a bunch of small things done correctly over a period of time, doing it over and over and over again. Which is, like, the definition of a craft.” Here’s a related question, from Kinch: “If a chef is really talented and he opens up a restaurant but it goes out of business because nobody comes — is he a great chef?” A pause to reflect on that. “I don’t think so,” he says, admit-

ting that he’s likely in the minority. “A great chef needs an audience. That’s what chefs do. They’re in the hospitality business. They take care of people. They make people happy. So if he’s not doing that, is he still a great chef? Just because he cooks a dish that nobody really wants to pay money to eat?” And that’s what Kinch is in the business of: making people happy. Since the fire, Kinch has been spending his time on insurance

claims, the build-out and a bakery, which will probably be open sometime before Christmas. “It’s not because I have this vision of opening up a bakery,” Kinch says. The pop-up started as a way to showcase the talent of one of his chefs, Avery Ruzicka, who was responsible for transforming Manresa’s bread program. “It’s more like, ‘You’re a talented baker, and I’m looking for an outlet for you to continue what we do.’ ” His policy with employees has



always been to encourage honesty, to look for ways to grow together. “It ain’t all me,” Kinch says. “I’m only as good as the people who work for me. The longer people stay, and the more they feel like they’re being challenged, it allows us to get better and better. Happier employees cook happier food.” At the bakery, “everything’s going to be handcrafted; long, slow fermentation; really natural. We’ll be milling our own flour. It’s going to be artisanal bread and good. I’m very excited about it,” Kinch says. More time at home has meant more time to cook for himself: “I cook very simple stuff, revisiting ingredients and revisiting my love for cooking. And it always has been a therapy — therapeutic — but even more so now.”

Above: Manresa as it appears now, with construction in full swing. At left: Kinch appears as the titular chef in “The Farmer & The Chef,” with Love Apple Farms’ Cynthia Sandberg. above: lipo ching opposite: courtesy of cinequest

“I really like to cook. That satisfaction that I found when I first discovered cooking and how important it was to me — to work with my hands, to please people and to be happy myself. … It was like, why would I want to do anything else? And that hasn’t left. I think when that feeling leaves, that’s when I leave the business, because it’s a shitty business to be in if you don’t like it.” About the new Manresa, Kinch says, “We’re getting closer now. It might open by the end of the year, and if it does, I’ll be very grateful and feel very happy.” I ask if he wants to elaborate, and he says no, but that it’s an “opportunity to do something different.”

“Part of the so-called silver lining in having something like this happen is, a lot of times, when you’re trying to self-improve, sometimes you’re just too damn tired or busy with the day-to-day operations. This time off has allowed us and our core team to be introspective, revisit everything we do. “We’re rebuilding from scratch. We talk about how many spatulas we need because they’re not there anymore. How many spatulas did we have? Well, we had some of those small ones and some of those. … Well, how many do we need? We’re revisiting every detail about the operation, and what we do. All the way down to how many spatulas. And how can you not be introspective?” Dealing with permitting and

plans in the wake of the fire — all the waiting and seeing — felt like a “dream,” Kinch says. “I’ve had my ups and downs. … I think anybody would have. I don’t sleep as well. Usually I’m a pretty good sleeper.” But now that they’re making progress and actively building, “things are getting better. Things are physically getting better,” Kinch says. “I want to be really kick-ass. I don’t want to say we’re going to cook angry — that’s the wrong word — but we’re going to cook angry. We’re going to show everybody that we’re as good as we’ve ever been, even better, and nothing’s going to hold us back. “We’re gonna be kick-ass. Arrrrgh. Angry’s the wrong word. I’m going to cook with a sense of purpose.”





James Syhabout is 34, has the East Bay’s only Michelin star for Commis and runs three other successful restaurants. He is no stranger to success. But a trip home helps him reclaim his culinary roots.



ometimes, you have to go back to go forward. No one understands that more than James Syhabout. For the past decade, the celebrated young chef from West Oakland has been working at a feverish pace, earning the East Bay’s only Michelin star for his fine dining gem, Commis; launching downtown Oakland’s beloved Thai street-food eatery, Hawker Fare; his Rockridge new wave gastropub, Box and Bells; and, most recently, revitalizing his childhood neighborhood with the opening of The Dock at Linden Street, a melting pot of food and drink in the Port of Oakland. But it was within the graffiti-clad walls of Hawker Fare, the spot that formerly housed his mother’s restaurant, where the young Syhabout sat on overturned plastic drums peeling garlic and picking chiles, that something occurred to him. He was cooking traditional Southeast Asian food for the first time, but he hadn’t been to his native Thailand since he was 14. He was making moo yang and khao mun gai but hadn’t eaten at a Bangkok food stall in 20 years. And, while the food at Hawker Fare was good — very good — Syhabout knew that if he could just take a step back, peel back the layers of his European training and David Kinch coaching, he might find that intuitive Thai chef inside. “James has incredible focus and work ethic,” says John Birdsall, a close friend and editor at “And there’s something very beautiful and technical about the food he does at Commis. What’s been fascinating for me is watching him learn to cook the way his mom cooks. Going from working from his head to working from his heart.” Part of that journey unfolded in September, when Syhabout took four weeks off to eat his way through Thailand. He started in Bangkok, where he was invited (for the third year in a row) to cook at the 15th World Gourmet Festival at the Four Seasons Hotel. This time, he accepted, and he brought along Hawker Fare chef Manuel Bonilla to cook with him, alongside Akrame Benallal of Akrame in Paris and Paolo Jessica Yadegaran is a freelance food and wine writer for the Bay Area News Group, where she worked as a staff writer for 10 years.


Above: James Syhabout and his staff prepare for service in the kitchen at Commis. Left: Syhabout’s left bicep sports a tattoo of a Thai wood carving. Right: A view out the window from the Commis dining room. Opposite: Syhabout continues preparation for dinner service.


All photos on this page (clockwise from top) courtesy of James Syhabout: An outdoor restaurant in Ubon Ratchathani, Syhabout’s birthplace; grilled fish crusted in salt; roasted pig head; Som Tum (papaya salad).


All photos on this page (clockwise from top) courtesy of James Syhabout: The Volkswagen Bug Bar at Bangkok’s Talat Rot Fai market; a pot of jungle curry; street vendors cooking Hoi Thawt, a scrambled-egg pancake with mussels.


Casagrande of Barcelona’s Lasarte. Of the seven chefs, Syhabout was the only native Thai with a Michelin star. “It was very humbling,” recalls Syhabout, 34, sitting at a table inside Commis on a quiet morning with his son, Magnus, 1, babbling on his lap. “The vibes were all positive and very supportive of what I was doing in Oakland. Everyone was pumped.” What pumped up Syhabout most about Thailand, though, was the street-food culture — and the spirit of communal eating. “That’s what inspired Hawker Fare in the first place,” Syhabout says. “Everywhere we ate, we noticed there were no two-tops.


James Syhabout and his sous chef, Keone Koki, discuss the preparation of Black Tai Snapper in the kitchen at Commis. Opposite: Syhabout, left, slices sunchokes with Commis’ chef de partie, Felix Santos.

Just parties of four or more. Eating there is more than just nurturing. It’s a big event. Everything’s shared. You eat sticky rice with your hands and everyone’s double dipping because food is all about trust.” The warm reception at even the smallest restaurants was eye-opening, he says. “Everywhere we went, we had bottle service, and I’m not talking about a club where you lay down $200,” Syhabout recalls. “Even at holes-in-the-wall, they asked us what we wanted to drink and when we said, ‘Whiskey and soda,’ they’d bring us a bottle of each. That kind of hospitality was just startling.” So was the ability to eat well at any price point. “Cabdrivers and

businessmen in suits were sitting on stools in the street having amazing bowls of noodles for 50 baht ($1.52),” he says. “And the variety. You can have noodles or a rice bowl or fried doughnuts or warm soy milk at any time, day or night. I miss that.” From Bangkok, Syhabout flew an hour to Ubon Ratchathani, the agricultural area where he was born in a refugee camp, and where most of his family still resides. He saw everyone, from his eldest uncle to his young niece. Naturally, everyone cooked. One night, Syhabout’s cousin ducked into the rice fields with a flashlight and came back with a frog, which Syhabout butchered and turned into a green peppercorn

stir-fry. “We ate some esoteric stuff for sure,” he says. “Fried silkworms that tasted like Parmesan french fries. Water beetles that tasted like roasted pears. Fire ant eggs that tasted like lemon grass.” Some of the dishes really took him back. “I had water buffalo tartare with bile and blood. It reminded me of the times we’d buy a whole cow growing up in the Laotian community of Oakland and do offal dishes. I was just having them at the source.” From Ubon Ratchathani, they drove to Khon Kaen, where Syhabout and his crew were hosted by a resort run by Singha. Even then, he kept the fine wine and

dining to a minimum, preferring to eat with locals at stalls, where he admired the efficiency with which the vendors, or “warriors,” as he called them, cooked. “They’re not using $200 Japanese knives,” he says. “They’re using tin knives that cost two bucks and beat-up cutting boards, with a propane tank in the middle of the street, working five woks at a time. They have no brigade and yet they’re consistent every time.” And perhaps the most relevant: They didn’t pulverize their ingredients with blenders or let all the goodies pass through a chinois. They cooked like his mom — with soul. “They don’t think of food in a scientific manner, where I do; that’s

my background,” Syhabout says. “They’re doing just a pinch of this and that, maybe that’s what makes it soulful. They’re cooking with their instinct.” These days, Syhabout doesn’t peel all of his garlic or chop it too fine. Basil stems make it into the pot, not the trash. And he reaches for a mortar and pestle more often than a blender. “I totally taste the difference if I’m making, say, a chile paste,” he says. “Same ingredients and proportions, but it’s like night and day. The mortar and pestle gives layers of flavor and texture. The blender just marries everything together.” As he puts it, he is “cooking from taste memories.”

Five thoughts from James syhabout If I did another restaurant, it would be a Thai restaurant in San Francisco or a noodle stall in the driveway at Commis. “I’d buy a pushcart and set up plastic stools and do 30 bowls of noodles at lunch and be done. That would be our lunch service.”

Mortar and pestle or blender: “It’s easier to use a blender, but I totally taste the difference if I’m making, say, a chile paste. Same ingredients and proportions, but it’s like night and day. The mortar and pestle gives layers of flavor and texture. The blender just marries everything together.”

Favorite Bangkok food stall: “There was a lady who was my hero. She was turning around this dish called kway chap, crispy pork and fried garlic with triangle-shaped noodles that curl up when you cook them.”

Annoying foodie term: “Authentic. People say it and don’t even know what it means. When I was in Thailand I had over 30 versions of papaya salad. Which of the 30 was authentic? Each cook makes it to their palate and with whatever is available.”

On the popularity of Asian food: “I think the culture shock is over. People used to think fish sauce stinks. Now they love it and are realizing that not all Asian food tastes the same. My goal is making them like shrimp paste.”




Study business, play rugby, become a ski bum: Caitlin Laman’s circuitous path to becoming the country’s fastest female bartender and manager at one of the world’s best bars

by CAMPER ENGLISH photographS by lipo ching illustration by jeff durham


his year, Caitlin Laman turned 30, earned the title of fastest female bartender in America, completed the most prestigious bartender education program in the U.S., was chosen as a Best New Mixologist by Food & Wine, and was made bar manager of Trick Dog, the newly designated 33rd best bar in the world. “I’ve never been very good at sitting patiently,” she says. On a recent Saturday night in the Mission, Trick Dog is packed to the gills, which is to say it is a typical Saturday night in the Mission. They’ll serve 810 cocktails this evening, plus beer and wine and dinner. Laman is stationed near the center of the bar, in the position that customers naturally gravitate toward first. She prepares four different cocktails at once, as it’s rare that groups order multiples of the same drink here. Both hands are always in use, first measuring ingredients then shaking one drink while stirring another. She then grabs two more shakers, bangs their bottoms together with a satisfying clang, and shakes the heck out of them for several seconds. While doing so, she makes sure her last customers are enjoying their drinks and takes the next ones’ orders. She is magnificently efficient in her element. At high-volume bars with complex cocktails, such as Trick Dog, Smuggler’s Cove, and Bourbon & Branch, bartenders talk a lot about ergonomics, mechanics and conservation of movement. When preparing a round, one never puts an ingredient down just to pick it up again. Drinks that will be stirred can sit longer on ice, while shaken drinks should be strained immediately. Bubbles go in last. Every round is a small puzzle to be solved. “I simply love the process of making drinks,” Laman says. “The first reason I really liked bartending once I got into craft cocktails — I liked the sequence of how to make drinks, how to make drinks efficiently and how to make them Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer, speaker and consultant and founder of He lives in San Francisco.


well. I would think, ‘I just did it this fast, now let’s see if I can do it faster.’ ”

The competitive edge Years ago, entering Babson College on the outskirts of Boston, Laman had dreams of being an investment banker or an accountant, “but probably a year into it I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life around people who wanted to do those things,” she says. Though she graduated with a degree in business administration, she found more satisfaction in playing rugby. After college, she played in New York, attended a training camp in Utah, and moved to California to train for a women’s developmental team. She worked in bars and hotels on the side, but that was more a means to an end. Until the end came: In 2007, she suffered a major concussion that made playing impossible. Somewhat aimless but still unable to sit still, Laman spent a couple of years as a rugby coach and ski bum, then returned to the hospitality industry, first working in Pacifica and then fibbing her way into a bartending job at the short-lived restaurant Lafitte in San Francisco. There she met Alex Bachman, who became her mentor and turned her on to craft cocktails. “Looking back, he taught me to respect what I’m doing — the craft more than just the bartending,” she says. “And I really hadn’t been interested in much of anything since I stopped playing rugby, so it was exciting.” She followed Bachman to Southern Pacific Smokehouse in Novato and took over that bar program after he moved to Chicago. Though planning to eventually follow Bachman, she bartended at Starbelly in the Castro until the same restaurant group opened Lolinda in the Mission. It was there she was recruited by an owner of the forthcoming bar Trick Dog.

Failures, successes Bartending may seem like a noncompetitive profession, but a former athlete is always looking for new ways to win. Laman says, “I was fast for Lolinda, then I got


to Trick Dog and I asked people, ‘How do I do it faster? What are you doing?’ Working with Morgan (Schick, now creative director) and Chad (Arnholt, a Boston bartender who moved to work at Trick Dog), I learned how to be faster.” “It’s the same with guest interactions,” she says. “We can have successes and failures when it comes to dealing with guests, and seeing how many successes I can have in a night is pretty fun to me.” She enjoyed one very big success at the Speed Rack competition earlier this year, beating out more than 150 other women from around the U.S. to take home the title. The competition measures speed, but also quality: Competitors must make any of 50 classic cocktails selected at random and lose points

Like many other craft cocktail lounges, Trick Dog changes the setup behind the bar with each menu change to boost efficiency.

Make it! Turn to Page 78 for this recipe: RADIO FLYER (laman’s take on a flip, perfect for a chilly evening)

if the drinks come out anything less than perfect. Judges are notoriously harsh — one competitor was scolded because the citrus-peel garnish in her cocktail was floating upside-down. It could be nerve-wracking, if one weren’t Laman. “Being behind a busy bar like Trick Dog has allowed me to not be nervous onstage,” she explains. “As soon as they hit the buzzer, I was relaxed as I’m just making drinks, and I’m used to that.” Which is not to say that it was easy. “I am really glad I won, so I won’t ever have to do it again. Everyone takes it so seriously and trained so hard. It was really calculated, with choices like saving four seconds of time but risking a five-second penalty on flavor.”

The need for speed When the craft cocktail renaissance began, bars served pre-Prohibition cocktails faithful to their original recipes and built temples to serve them in: speakeasy-themed, somewhat-hidden, jazz-playing lounges with a set of rules nailed to the door. Once inside, the bartenders were generally some combination of stressed and curt (suddenly they had about five times more ingredients to deal with) and the time lag between ordering a drink and receiving one seemed purgatorial. Nearly a decade later, craft cocktail bars are still serving high-quality, creative drinks made with fresh ingredients and ever-more-obscure liquors, but the whole process has become faster and more pleasant

for everyone involved. The biggest changes may be behind the bar, where everything has been redesigned for modern craft cocktails with glass chillers, built-in shaker rinsers and refrigerated garnish holders. At Trick Dog, some liquids are batched together so that during service a bartender only needs to add fresh juice, a dash of bitters or a splash of soda. When the menu changes every six months, so does the entire arrangement of ingredients. All of this is meant to increase the speed of service by a few seconds per drink. It adds up. The ability to handle volume has helped Trick Dog earn the ranking of the 33rd best bar in the world, according to Drinks International magazine’s annual survey of more



than 300 of the best-traveled bar experts globally. The bar has many points of pride: the upbeat hospitality of the staff even during the crush, its creative cocktails with unexpected ingredients, and fun menus that have come in the shape of Pantone paint strips, a record album, and a fold-out San Francisco tourist map. Based on Trick Dog’s success, its founders, Josh Harris and Scott Baird, are now at the helm of an entire hospitality and marketing group known as The Bon Vivants. They consult on bar menus, manage events, and employ bartenders around the country as

The summer/fall cocktail menu at Trick Dog takes on the style of a San Francisco tourist map.

part-time brand ambassadors. All of this international moving and shaking is great PR for the bar, but it’s important that Laman and Schick, the creative director, are there to keep it running smoothly on a day-to-day basis. Schick’s position has grown to include menu development at Trick Dog (a monthslong process done twice annually) as well as new consulting projects like The Bon Vivants’ forthcoming bars at the Swedish American Hall. In addition to bartending three or four shifts each week, Laman assists with the menu (she also consults on the cocktail

program at the Andaz hotel in Napa) and takes on many of the practical tasks as bar manager, including hiring and scheduling, and it turns out that all that time she spent studying profit and loss statements and general ledger reports in college has come in handy. “I change a lot of light bulbs,” she says.

Making regulars Surprisingly, Laman wasn’t hired at Trick Dog for her remarkable speed behind the bar — nor for her business acumen — but for

her hospitality skills. In the months before the bar opened, co-owner Harris sat for a meal at Lolinda one evening when Laman was working. He inquired about the availability of nonalcoholic beer (he doesn’t drink) only to learn the bar didn’t carry any, but he and Laman had a conversation about it. “Five minutes after that, a barback came back from the corner store with a six-pack of nonalcoholic beer,” says Harris. After two more visits, Harris found that Laman had made nearbeer a regular stock item and even chose for the house selection the fa-


vorite brand Harris mentioned once. He asked her to interview for a job. Though at the time she was certain she was moving to Chicago to follow Bachman, her mentor, she went to see the bar in person. “I absolutely fell in love with the space that would become Trick Dog. It was afternoon, and that light comes through the window. … It just felt like it was supposed to be a bar. So I decided to stay in San Francisco,” she says. “Two years later, Trick Dog wouldn’t be the same without her,” says Harris.


Caitlin Laman catches up on her laptop before Trick Dog opens its doors to patrons.

The new regulars On a recent Saturday night two tall, preppy guys in their late 30s order drinks from Laman. They are not cocktail geeks — I see raised eyebrows while reading the menu — but they order quickly to save face. They look like they’re here for just one quick drink to check out the place everyone’s been talking about. As Laman prepares and serves their drinks at her typical speed, a woman asks to borrow their menu and vocalizes a similar struggle. “I don’t know what most of these

words are,” she says, sighing at the menu. The menu includes ingredients like Batavia arrack, sarsaparilla and fenugreek. At Trick Dog, it’s hard to guess how any drink is going to taste, even if you know all the individual components, so eventually one throws caution to the wind and just picks something. It usually works out well. “I don’t know most of the words either,” says one of the guys with a fresh cocktail already in his hand, “but this one is really good. I didn’t

know what to get so I just asked for something with rum.” The guys sit at the bar for more than an hour, and that one drink turns into three or four. They seem delighted at their good fortune: these cocktails, this bar and that bartender, with whom they’ve kept up a conversation despite her never slowing down for a moment. They love it here. Says Harris: “We challenge our staff to make one regular customer a day.” True to her competitive nature, Laman has just doubled that.


The $908 dinner (for one) A night at Saison — freshly awarded its third Michelin star — is a night of abundance. 36

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Seeing (Michelin) Stars In the rarefied air of chef Joshua Skenes’ Saison, a writer is served up grace and precision — and a photographer goes behind the scenes as its crew prepares for service

by daniel jimenez photographs by jim gensheimer illustrations by jeff durham


n October, San Francisco’s Saison reached the culinary stratosphere by winning its third Michelin star, placing it among only a dozen restaurants in the nation and fewer than 150 in the world. The clientele is largely made up of captains of industry, presumably with a few high-level politicians and celebrities mixed in. Maybe even a Kardashian or two. But could chef Joshua Skenes’ premium-priced, prix fixe temple of fresh seafood and seasonal ingredients survive true scrutiny — from a man who lived on fast food and 99-cent French bread pizzas as a bachelor but is now learning to appreciate the finer things? I booked a solo reservation for the $398, always-different Discovery Menu, augmented by the $298 wine, sake and beer pairings — a step above the $298 18-course tasting menu that is Saison’s “standard” fare — determined to experience culinary nirvana. What follows is a roughly minute-by-minute account of the experience. 5:04 p.m.: Afraid of rush-hour traffic, BART delays, stray breezes and alien attacks, I arrive very early. (Missing a reservation is not advised; cancellations are charged the full dinner price.) I catch a quick glimpse through the window: The staff is gathered around the kitchen for the pre-shift meeting. I decide to wait casually down the street until I can’t stand it any longer.

brightly lit, open kitchen, resplendent with copper pots of all sizes and enameled Dutch ovens, which make this amateurish home cook very envious.

5:24 p.m.: Strolling in, I’m greeted immediately and escorted to the lounge to enjoy a glass of Krug Grand Cuvee in the few minutes before the restaurant officially opens. The dining room and lounge are stylish and dark, but they face the

5:30 p.m.: To my table. I’m right in front of the kitchen, directly facing the action. I glance around and spot a framed quote on the wall next to my table: “Do or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda

Sous chef Scott Clark, foreground, cleans the stoves before service.

Daniel Jimenez is breaking news editor for the Bay Area News Group.

Let’s begin. 5:33 p.m.: First course: Tea. A refreshing palate cleanser, really — a Meyer lemon infusion with herbs from the restaurant’s garden. I dip the delicate herbal bouquet into the water and let it steep while sommelier Max Coane pours my first wine selection: a 2007 Arteis & Co. Brut Rosé. 5:40 p.m.: I get my first real bite:

peppers “preserved in embers,” atop whipped buttermilk and served in an ornate crystal box, like a gift waiting to be opened. The peppers are so creamy, with crunchy, tiny peppercorns on top. I wonder: What good will the buttermilk do? Oh, but what good it does; now there are two distinctly velvety textures at play, with a hint of tanginess added to the peppery bite. I look with envy at people making their way to their tables. They

One meal, one man, 23 courses of decadence Pictured over the next four pages are the dishes, in order, presented to Daniel Jimenez at Saison, just days after the restaurant received its third Michelin star. The Discovery Menu, which changes often, also includes wine, sake and beer pairings (not pictured).

Infusion of herbs and flora (from Saison’s garden) with Meyer lemon


Peppers “preserved in embers” over whipped buttermilk

Golden caviar with potato fried in duck fat, with cheese and cream, and sauce of braised leeks

Flash-grilled lobster with a sauce made from the lobster shells, yuzu lime

Smoked Battle Creek trout with vinegar sauce and a chicharrón of trout skin

6:03 p.m.: Battle Creek trout, smoked and served in a vinegar sauce, with a chicharron of its own skin: I bite into it, expecting big smoke flavor but get gentle sweetness instead. The smoke drifts in as I chew. 6:08 p.m.: The service is amazing. Empty dishes evaporate — and after I gave up on my chopsticks and, yes, grabbed a morsel with my hands, a hot towel appeared on my table in seconds. “They’re watching me,” I think with a hint of trepidation. I’m not used to being treated like — well, someone more important (or at least privileged) than I really am. 6:10 p.m.: Trout, part two. A custard made of the fish’s bones arrives in a simple clay pot, topped with bright orange trout roe and a snippet of turnip greens. Trout custard? I steel myself for the first dish to challenge my comfort zone. Yet the custard is impossibly delicate and less fishy than you’d expect. The tight spheres of roe explode on the palate.

haven’t had that first bite yet. But it’ll get even better for me, right? 5:48 p.m.: Right. Golden Pacific caviar, with a torpedo-shaped morsel of potato, fried in duck fat, and a dollop of a cheese and cream mixture. The server drizzles the caviar with a braised leek sauce from a tiny copper pot. I’ve had only limited experience with caviar, but this is neither salty nor briny; it’s tender and flavorful without

Battle Creek trout custard made from trout bones, topped with trout roe and turnip greens

being overwhelming. I add a bit of potato and wonder why everything isn’t fried in duck fat, all the time. I struggle to scoop up the last bits of caviar. Will anyone notice if I lick the bowl? The textures and flavors are like a symphony — a theme that will repeat throughout the evening. Multiple elements on the same plate provide distinct sensory experiences, then combine to present something else entirely.

Grilled Monterey Bay abalone, with a sauce of its liver and capers, topped with seaweed

Radishes atop a radish relish with clarified butter

Chef de partie John Solari carries a tray of aged Muscovy ducks.

5:56 p.m.: Junmai Daiginjo sake from Shindo Sake Brewery is served before flash-grilled lobster, in a sauce made from its own shell. I squeeze a wedge of yuzu over the soft pieces. The first bite is good, with an herbaceous edge complemented by the sake’s big floral flavor — and the second bite is striking, as the yuzu really soaks in. But I’m having trouble with my fancy chopsticks.

Grilled sea cucumber with a grilled cucumber, in a sauce made of the innards, served with a pickled cucumber on the side.

6:12 p.m.: I wash the saltiness away with the crisp citrus of a 2012 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre, mellowed out for the approaching Monterey Bay abalone, grilled and served over a sauce of abalone livers, with capers. The abalone has edges that are firm, but it’s not quite fair to call them “crisp.” The meat is nutty and tender; the sauce adds a piquant, mustardy bite. 6:19 p.m.: A bowl of radish slices. They look plain and white. The server ladles clarified butter over them. 6:20 p.m.: I would like everything I

Chicharrón of the skin of the cucumber with an egg yolk sauce.

Sea urchin served over a “liquid toast” of Tartine bread


eat for the rest of the night — and maybe the rest of my life — to be served in this butter, please. 6:21 p.m.: I realize I have been staring into space for at least a minute with a somewhat demented grin on my face. 6:26 p.m.: “All Things Cucumber,” the server says. A small portion of grilled sea cucumber — lightly crisp on the outside, very soft in the middle — is paired with grilled and pickled pieces of “real” cucumber. My mouth tells me there’s cardamom somewhere in there. 6:29 p.m.: Another chicharron, this time of sea cucumber. It’s sitting on a clear cube, with a dab of egg yolk underneath it. I struggle mightily to pick it up with the chopsticks; a passing staffer takes pity and tells me I can pick it up with my hands. 6:33 p.m.: Sea urchin on “liquid toast,” with Junmai Genshu sake from Ippongi Sake Brewery. The contrast in one bite — the ethereal formlessness of sea urchin, over the crunchy top layer of toast, over the sauce-saturated bottom of the bread — is astounding. I have had urchin before. I was not a fan. This urchin is not like that urchin. 6:38 p.m.: Maybe the only course that does little to move me: seaweed washed in Meyer lemon vinegar. There is an interesting duality between crisp greens and gelatinous pieces, but … 6:46 p.m.: Grilled black cod with pine mushrooms, in a pine bouillon. The wing of the fish, crisp and bony, is served on the side. The pieces of cod almost crackle with the first bite, even emerging

Seaweeds washed in a Meyer lemon vinegar

from the broth. The rich peach flavor of 2011 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet slips into a lovely embrace with the savory fish. “Don’t be shy,” the server says. I gulp the broth straight from the bowl. 6:57 p.m.: Brussels sprouts and cabbage blistered in the fire, served over sauerkraut. One bite highlights the nuttiness and paperlike texture of the singed sprouts; the

Grilled black cod with pine mushrooms in a pine bouillon, served with the wing of the fish


Above: General manager Patrick Ellis, right, talks with sommelier Max Coane. Opposite: Sous chef Johnny Ortiz was named a “Young Gun” this year by Eater, recognizing 16 culinary stars younger than 30.

Brussels and cabbages blistered in the fire, served over sauerkraut

next is dominated by the sauerkraut.

balances the ratatouille’s savory bite.

7:04 p.m.: It’s “the battle of the rieslings,” sommelier Coane says. First up: Weingut’s 2011 Alzinger riesling, served with “flavors of ratatouille,” a thick slice of eggplant, soaked in a black olive sauce and dressed with tomato and basil. The basil leads the flavor parade, followed closely by the rich olive sauce. The riesling’s sweetness

7:15 p.m.: The 2010 Schafer-Frohlich riesling comes before the Naples Long pumpkin, served raw as well as slow-roasted for three days on a rack high above the kitchen’s fire pit, a technique they call “Fire in the Sky.”

Flavors of ratatouille; eggplant in an olive sauce

7:21 p.m.: Here is what I wrote in my notes, in very large letters:

Naples Long pumpkin two ways: Raw and “Fire In the Sky” (hung over the fire for 3 days)

“Fire In the Sky” beet: Dehydrated, then rehydrated with beet juice and marrow

Duck liver toffee with milk, bread and beer

Duck breast, slow-roasted over embers, with patĂŠ of giblets and a date

Bouillon of grilled duck bones

Red Hawk mousseline over honey and plums, topped with pecorino cheese; grilled-bread beignet

Panna cotta of French marigold with wild berries and raw-milk ice cream

Buckwheat tea


“3 DAY SQUASH + RIESLING = MAGIC.” The oily, rich, lightly crisp squash is … well, you get it. I float above my seat.

Above: Hachiya persimmons dry in a window at Saison.

7:28 p.m.: Beets, dehydrated over the fire, then rehydrated with beet juice and marrow. They’re earthy and meaty and a tiny bit salty until the sweet riesling comes swooping in.

Opposite: Executive chef Joshua Skenes tends herbs at the Saison farm in Marin.

7:34 p.m.: Reutberger dunkel lager, an airy, flavorful, not-heavy dunkel lager, meets toffee with bread, milk and beer. I swear I heard the server say “duck liver toffee,” but that can’t be right. I’ve had a bit to drink. The toffee is rich and creamy, sweet without being cloying, and there are crunchy flakes of bread. This can’t have duck liver, can it? Each mouthful reveals a bit

Skenes photo by Bonjwing Lee

more of the complex flavor, and I start to wonder. 7:42 p.m.: Wonder no more: The next course is whole duck, slowroasted over the fire and served with a paté of the giblets and a sweet date. The duck is firm under my knife, but each bite is tender. There is a strip of fat attached to the duck, but it separates so easily as I cut. Am I supposed to eat it? I try a tiny sliver with a piece of the duck breast, smeared with the soft date. 7:43 p.m.: YES. EAT THE FAT. I have never had food this rich, I think to myself. I take a few bits of leafy greens from a dish on the side. The subtle dryness of 2006 William Selyem Pinot Noir politely interrupts: “Hello. I know you are

luxuriating in all this lusciousness, but perhaps you would like a contrasting flavor?” 7:49 p.m.: After only 19 courses, I am starting to feel a tiny bit full. Amateur. 7:51 p.m.: A bouillon made from the duck bones. It is hot and pungent; the aroma reaches up and slaps me in the face as I lift the bowl. It is smoky and fatty and somehow just right. 8:02 p.m.: The cheese course; the end is in sight. Flakes of pecorino cover a mousse of Red Hawk cheese, served over honeyed plums. Is that sage, or is my palate simply suffering sensory overload? A bread beignet served on the side is almost

as creamy as the mousse itself. 8:07 p.m.: And now, dessert proper: A panna cotta of French marigold, under wild berries and raw-milk ice cream. Cardamom rises up to greet me again. A paper-thin cookie under the panna cotta makes each bite different; the crisp sugar of the cookie combines with the tartness of the berries or the density of the ice cream. 8:18 p.m.: A small steaming pot of buckwheat tea — a palate cleanser once more — is my last “course.” 8:29 p.m.: I step out into the night. AT&T Park is a block away, and the Giants have won the World Series. I’m a lifelong Dodgers fan. And I couldn’t care less.


It is almost December, which means two things: You can finally bust out that overpriced puffy winter jacket. And you are going to host a fabulous holiday party for 20 of your closest friends. Yes, you can do it. And we’re going to help. We’ve enlisted two of the Bay Area’s top caterers and celebrated culinary stars — Yigit Pura of Tout Sweet Patisserie and Margaret Teskey of Taste Catering & Event Planning — to develop a couple of irresistibly delicious party spreads: a luxe ‘Nutcracker’-inspired dessert buffet for grown-ups and a cocktail soiree fit for a gourmet queen. Did we mention Pura and Teskey are besties? That’s why the parties blend so seamlessly. With recipes, servingware suggestions and decorative tips included, you’ll have everything you need to pull off holiday entertaining without breaking a sweat. Sans puffy jacket, of course.


‘Nutcracker’ Dessert Party, Tout Sweet Patisserie

Even grown-up kids cannot deny the magical nostalgia of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet suite, made all the sweeter through San Francisco pastry chef Yigit Pura’s vision. This lavish buffet — a blend of bite-sized morsels and larger cakes and tarts — is a miniature version of Pura’s colorful Macy’s Union Square patisserie (a second outpost is opening next month in Palo Alto). It starts with a tablescape full of nutcrackers, of course. “When it comes to a dessert buffet, more is always better,” advises Pura, winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef: Just Desserts.” “You want different colors, heights, shapes and sizes


so your eyes want to eat the food before your mouth does.” If eyes could salivate, they would just looking at Pura’s desserts, many of which are featured in his new cookbook, “Sweet Alchemy: Dessert Magic” (Chronicle, $35, 224 pages). For this buffet, he plucks recipes with flavors that evoke the “Land of Sweets” in Act 2 of “The Nutcracker.” It’s a celebration of sweet flavors from around the world, including Earl Grey Tea-Infused Chocolate Truffles and elegant, glossy Bosc Pears Roasted in Caramel and Indian Spices, alongside a Cheeky Raspberry Tart and classic Buche de Noel. Display the truffles in a shallow

Above: Colorful macarons, left, and Earl Grey Tea-Infused Chocolate Truffles At right: Bosc Pears Roasted in Caramel and Indian Spices

Make it! Turn to Page 80 for holiday party recipes.

glass-and-gold bowl at the center of the table, which you’ll want to cover in a luxurious green or red sequined tablecloth (La Tavola in San Francisco has them in every shade; you’ll find the nutcrackers at Macy’s Holiday Lane). Finally, Pura suggests using small, stacked cake towers to hold one-nibble wonders, such as crunchy Pistachio-Vietnamese Cinnamon Brittle, and, according to Pura, the favorite among even closeted sugar eaters: his Baked Berry Meringue Kisses. “You just put them in your mouth, and they melt and crunch,” he says. “They’re inexpensive and addictive.”

snacks & sips

Taste Catering President Margaret Teskey imagines an evening inspired by “The Nutcracker” as an elegant and festive event — colorful and imaginative with “pretty little vegetarian morsels” and crowd-pleasing winter-themed cocktails. Both sentiments come across in executive chef Chris Borges’ spread, which includes bright, savory Beet Macarons made from pressed beet extract and herbed goat cheese; Butternut Squash Cups, filled with an apple-leek compote; and a turmeric-tinged Cheddar Cauliflower Soup, ladled into vintage teacups and surrounded by a few red ama-


The Cocktail Party, Taste Catering & Event Planning

ryllis flowers. Everything is on display in floral, traditional heirloom platters (rent them online from Rent Vintage China). “Around the holidays, color is really important,” says Teskey, who adds dried pomegranates and pine needles to her tablescape. “For a celebration like this, it is important to have little jewels of color that catch your eye on a buffet.” If you want to add meat to your buffet, go for something unique, and make it pop with a homemade cranberry or pomegranate relish. “It’s nice to have proteins that are different from what you have the rest of the year, like duck, venison

Clockwise from top left: Oaxaca Old-Fashioned; Crab Salad With Chive Mayonnaise in Pretzel Rolls; Toybox Tomato, Squash and Black Olive Tart; Quail Egg and Ricotta Croutons with nettle puree, chanterelles Far right: CitrusCured Gravlax and Avocado Mousse on rye crackers with pickled radishes

or lamb,” Teskey says. “Something that evokes celebration.” Add to that a rich cocktail setting, using sterling silver trays dotted with pine cones. Teskey suggests serving cocktails that evoke the season, like her Grand Winter Cocktail, a blend of bourbon, elderflower liqueur and ginger beer, in something regal, like a beaded rope Venetian tumbler (rent online from Wine Country Party & Events). Pair it with a body-warming, rye-based, classic Boulevardier in vintage, etched wine glasses — with a bright orange rind for that must-have pop of color. Cheers!

My pasta pursuit An amateur chef embarks on a culinary adventure led by the pasta-making master himself, Flour + Water’s Thomas McNaughton Insider tip: Don’t forget the prosecco!

By MARTIN G. REYNOLDS PHOTOgraphS by LIPO CHING illustration by jeff durham


am on a street that smells delicious. After inhaling a double espresso, I move with caffeinated swiftness, anticipating the evening to come. I join a small posse that’s entering a warehouse used for classes by Flour + Water, where foodies and fledglings alike flock to learn the art of pasta-making from the master chef himself, Thomas McNaughton. His Italian-inspired restaurant, which has been drawing crowds since 2009, is owned by the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group, which also includes Central Kitchen and Salumeria, all located within a tortellini’s toss of one another around 20th, Harrison and Florida streets on the rim of San Francisco’s Mission district. So that’s why the whole damn street smells so good. As we ascend the darkened stairwell lined with flickering candles, I note “culinary haunted Martin G. Reynolds is the senior editor for community engagement and training at the Bay Area News Group. Martin’s love of cooking comes from his New Orleans roots and his early years working in restaurants. 52 ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| EAT

house.” Inside “The Upstairs” as it’s called, we’re greeted with glasses of prosecco and platters of housemade salumi. It’s an elegant room — half loft, half kitchen — and the three large wood tables, decked out with hand-cranked pasta machines, cutters, butter knives and white aprons, confirm this is the evening I had in mind. Most of my 14 pasta classmates are coupled up, and they come from all over — San Francisco, Oakland, the Peninsula. Three of us come stag. Our dates are the pasta. Chef McNaughton looks more like he should be modeling Tommy Hilfiger than toiling away in a hot kitchen. He smiles, lifts his glass and urges us to ask any and all questions. When he encourages the timid group to drink more prosecco, I think, listen to the man. He’s the professional. He says he believes in “removing every ounce of pretension” from the food experience. Later, after class, he tells me his years of working in fine dining — Bay Area restaurants La Folie, Gary Danko and Quince, with stints at Michelin-rated restaurants in France and Germany — made

him yearn for something more. That “more” is what led him to Italy and ultimately to Flour + Water. I have to admit, I am tense before arrival. I am also out of my element. In my own kitchen, I embrace my New Orleans culinary heritage. My grandmother Mary Johnson regularly holds cooking classes at the test kitchen that is her home in North Oakland. Family members and close friends have taken these classes, which are informal yet so dead-serious we videotape them for posterity. It’s as much about capturing living tradition as it is about the food. She teaches us how to make gumbo, oxtails and red beans. It’s daunting enough to learn from a matriarch who doesn’t use recipes. She laughs when I ask her, how much of that am I supposed to use? “Boy, I don’t measure,” she tells me, snickering as she sprinkles in spices not on my list. So now, I am supposed to roll pasta, something I have never done. In front of a bunch of strangers. Under the watchful eye of a master chef. What could possibly go wrong?

Flour + Water Pasta Class What: Pasta class with chef Thomas McNaughton, followed by a threecourse family-style dinner with wine pairings, fresh pasta to cook at home, and a signed copy of his cookbook, “Flour + Water.” Details: The Upstairs event space, 3012 20th St., San Francisco, $275 (includes gratuity), www. Above: Chef McNaughton shapes cappelletti.

More prosecco, please! McNaughton explains we’ll be doing three pasta shapes, two stuffed and one that he warns “won’t be easy.” As he mixes the dough, he tells us about his time in Bologna, Italy, and his experiences there in “test kitchens,” a term which sounds really scientific. In reality they were “wood tables and old ladies gossiping” about whether someone is using a pasta rolling machine rather than rolling it out by hand. The Italian women he speaks of had been rolling pasta for decades. Now, it is our turn. On the table in front of him is a crater of “00 flour,” whole eggs, a wooden roller and a scraper used for lifting and massaging the dough. Note: This isn’t the dough we’re going to use for our own pasta. Chef just wants us all to knead it to get a sense of how it should feel as the ingredients come together. He pulls out rested-and-ready dough we’ll use to create our own. It becomes very clear very quickly that pasta is very serious business. Especially in Italy, where “they know you’re a tourist if you eat in a restaurant,” he points out.

THE ART OF PASTA Journalist Martin G. Reynolds and classmate Carrie Bishop, of Oakland, use a hand-cranked pasta machine to roll their dough. Below, chef McNaughton demonstrates how to make dough before students mold orecchiette, and fill and trim agnolotti.

There are 600 documented pasta shapes, McNaughton explains. Today, our job is to create three. Outstanding. Only 597 more to go! In the room are a couple of regulars and others here for the first time. Some folks come to celebrate birthdays or mark anniversaries. Most classes are a mix, with about 10 percent so intent on their studies they bring their own pasta machines, aprons and tools. The other 90 percent of us are looking for entertainment. We’re all here for the three-course meal and wine pairings served at the conclusion of the class. I pair up with Carrie Bishop, a cooking class veteran who lives in Oakland and who’s taken


bread-baking classes in Tuscany, Italy. As we prepare, Bishop tells me she grew up in a generation “when we didn’t go out to eat.” She cooks at home — a lot — and she’s taking this class because “there’s nothing like the hands-on experience” of making truly fresh pasta. “People just don’t have the time” to do it, says Bishop, who is semiretired. McNaughton hands out dough for us to roll and then stuff. I crank the machine while Bishop gently holds the dough. We take turns. The first shape is cappelletti, which means “little hats.” My first attempts look more like smashed bowlers, but with each try, they get a bit better. We then move on to agnolotti, using a crimped pastry wheel to

give it that signature jagged edge. At this point, self-esteem is high. Then Chef makes us roll the dreaded but delicious orecchiette, each of which looks like a small dome. We cut small chunks of dough from rolled, index-finger thick strips. Using a butter knife, I press hard into the wooden table, flattening the pasta that I place on the tip of my thumb and unravel to create the traditional shape. The joints of my fingers pop as I press. By the time I finish, I am sweating. I have earned my meal. We’re ushered over to the long table in the rear of the room for dinner. Each main course will include a pasta shape we just made. Chef says we did such a great job,

Above: Students’ pasta rests while they wine and dine.

Make it! Turn to Page 84 for the following recipes: Orecchiette With Rabbit Sausage and Padrón Peppers Agnolotti dal Plin Hand-Rolled Semolina Dough Rav Dough

our efforts will be on the menu. As it turns out, our efforts are in bags ready to take home. Instead we get professionally made sunchoke cappelletti that actually look like little hats, orecchiette with beef brisket, and agnolotti dal plin. Still, all the “pretension” is out of the room. Over the communal meal we’re talking, handing each other plates of amazing food, feeling full and fortunate for the experience. These classes are about “removing the mystery, and creating a growing community around the restaurant group,” McNaughton says. By taking a class, “if (people) trust in what you’re doing, they want to support you.” Trust this, Chef. I will be back.


What’s fresh now, and what’s next? Silvia McCollow, chef at Oakland’s Nido, takes a trip to the farmers market. 56

From farm to table, literally A photo essay traces the route of beets — from Watsonville to the Haven kitchen in Oakland. 62

Exploring the Far East, one dish at a time Living here, there’s no need to visit China to taste flavors from each of the country’s vibrant regions. 68

Bay Area’s bounty, fresh on arrival Tag along with Nido chef Silvia McCollow as she makes a regular trek to the Grand Lake farmers market, always searching for what’s coming next.

by Jennifer Graue illustration by sarah dennis photographs by ray chavez


t is one of the first truly falllike days this year, cool and a little windy. Gray clouds, heavy with moisture veil the sunrise. And a steady but short-lived shower greets Silvia McCollow as she arrives at the Grand Lake farmers market shortly before 8 a.m. “Some women shop for purses and shoes. I buy produce,” quips McCollow, the co-owner of Oakland’s Nido, which interprets Mexican regional fare with a farmto-table philosophy. The market is still coming to life. Farmers and vendors pop up tents, unload produce and arrange it for display in crates and on tables. McCollow likes to arrive early


Above: Silvia McCollow, chef and owner of Nido, inspects radishes at the Grand Lake farmers market in Oakland. Opposite: McCollow checks out bell peppers.

at this popular, bustling Saturday market. The early hour helps in finding parking, true, but McCollow also wants to get her choice of the freshest, best-looking and most colorful produce. “The colors of the farmers market in the fall,” she says, “are beautiful.” Her focus on the color palette is hardly surprising. McCollow is an artist and former teacher, as well as a restaurateur. Her first stop is at a table laden with a rainbow of sweet potatoes — garnet, orange and white. She places some of each in her bag, followed by several bunches of gold and crimson beets, destined for a salad with persimmon, orange, walnut and queso fresco on Nido’s dinner menu.

Local farms deliver produce to the restaurant, of course, but McCollow visits farmers markets a few times a week to search for more — and to ask farmers, “What’s next?” She and her co-chef, Jose Ramos, formerly of Nopalito in San Francisco, use that information to plan menus for the weeks ahead. These days, it’s almost expected that Bay Area chefs cruise the farmers markets, but it’s more than just a trend for McCollow. Her father and grandfather were farmers in Nayarit, Mexico. Her husband, Cory, who helps out at the restaurant when he can — he works full time for the Coast Guard — grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio. McCollow is keenly aware of the toil, satisfaction and occasional sor-

row that comes with having your livelihood tied to the soil. Still, shopping the markets as a restaurant owner is a relatively new experience. Since opening Nido in late 2012, this is only her second fall season, and she considers each trip an adventure. “I’m as surprised, lost and excited as everyone else,” she says. “Every time I come, it’s a learning process.” She’s quick to point out she’s not a trained chef, although she had a brief internship at Chez Panisse after moving to the Bay Area and deciding to open a restaurant. That may be so, but in just two years, the restaurant has accumulated plaudits from Travel + Leisure magazine, which called Nido one

Beets Look for small bulbs, 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. If they get too large, they get a little woody. Beets have a natural affinity for other seasonal foods such as walnuts and citrus, especially oranges. Pair in salads with things like black olives or fresh, briny cheeses whose saltiness is a nice counterpoint to beets’ earthy sweetness.

Purple cauliflower When choosing a cauliflower, pick it up. It should feel heavy. The leaves should be very fresh. Yellowing leaves are a sign of age. This vibrantly hued cauliflower gets its color from the same antioxidant that gives red cabbage and blueberries their distinctive shades. That antioxidant is water soluble, so avoid steaming or boiling the cauliflower. Less is more when it comes to purple cauliflower. When cooked too long it loses its vibrant color, so roast it briefly, use it raw in salads, or add it to soup at the last minute for a brilliant flourish of color.

of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S., and star-studded praise from restaurant critics at San Francisco Magazine, the Bay Area News Group’s Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, which put Nido on its top 100 Bay Area restaurants list last month. “I am a home cook,” McCollow says, “that decided to take my recipes and use them as a springboard for what I wanted to create.”

Jennifer Graue is a freelance food and wine writer. Her motto when it comes to food: “I’ll try anything once.” She has a soft spot for Italian wine and Girl Scout Cookies, but not necessarily together.

Many of those recipes she learned from her mother and grandmother. McCollow grew up in Southern California and spent a lot of time in Mexico visiting extended family. Her mother, a nurse, emphasized fresh, healthy ingredients to feed a large family that included five children, grandparents and, often, cousins visiting from Mexico. As she picks up a large bulb of fennel, McCollow explains that although it’s not traditionally grown in Mexico, she’ll use it because it mimics the licoricelike flavors of other herbs and spices used in some Mexican dishes. “But we’re not doing fusion,” she adds quickly. “I’m not going to get bok choy, for instance.” Tiptoeing gingerly around pud-

dles in her ballet flats, she makes a few more stops, picking up vivid purple cauliflower, jicama, radishes and a few pears, and nearly emptying her wallet before calling it a day. Back at the restaurant, McCollow’s husband helps her unload her market haul. She and Ramos will deal with it later. It’s a few minutes after 10 a.m., and the restaurant has quickly filled for brunch. Diners order plates heaping with chilaquiles verde and steaming bowls of posole, made with a richly spiced chile broth and purple hominy, cooked from scratch. Its firm texture and slightly nutty flavor is a far cry from most hominy, which is white, bland and mealy. The satisfying soup is served with a side of thinly sliced cabbage,

Fennel The best and most tender fennel have snow-white bulbs and fresh green, feathery fronds. Fennel is a culinary chameleon, changing and adapting to each particular use. Shave the bulb and use it in salads with a citrus dressing, or cut it up and add it with other veggies when roasting meats. The feathery fronds can be added to salads, soups or sauces to add a light anise or licorice flavor.


radishes and cubes of avocado. Clearly it’s the dedication to fresh, thoughtfully sourced ingredients that draws diners to this unlikely location for a restaurant, just blocks from the prime Jack London Square real estate but seemingly a world away. Nido is surrounded by warehouses and sits in the shadow of the Nimitz Freeway. “We have the worst view in the city,” laughs McCollow, referring to the gas station across the street. But McCollow’s artistic talents draw focus away from what’s outside to the relaxed, attractive space she’s created at Nido with a mix of raw and finished materials:

Rosemary This versatile herb is particularly well-suited for the kind of cooking we love to do in winter: roasting and baking. Use it to season pork or lamb roasts, or toss with potatoes, salt and olive oil for a simple side dish. When baking, add it to bread or pair it with lemon in an unforgettably good shortbread.

reclaimed wood and pieces of red, corrugated shipping containers on walls; splashes of Mexican tile; and a colorful, partially unfinished mural reminiscent of Aztec art. That same aesthetic is in each dish. Later that day, a bowl of Caldo Xochitl will include paper-thin slivers of that purple cauliflower and butternut squash, herbs and edible flowers, a colorful riot of texture and taste. And jicama, Cara Cara oranges and pomegranate seeds will adorn a ceviche-inspired Aguachile de Habanero Tatemado. The simplicity and elegance that comes from staying true to the raw ingredients that she carefully

selects at the farmers market is part of the philosophy she identified with during her stint at Chez Panisse. “Food is meant to be eaten. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece,” McCollow says. “It’s like art. A sketch or a doodle can be just as beautiful.”






a photo essay by max whittaker of prime collective


Marina Parker picks beets at Dirty Girl.

Charlie Parker, executive chef at Oakland’s Haven, sings a familiar refrain when talking about his food. “Our approach, as it always is in Northern California,” he explains, “is just to let the seasons dictate the menu. We’re spoiled with such beautiful farmers markets and such nice, down-to-earth farmers.” One of the laid-back farmers he speaks of is Joe Schirmer at Dirty Girl Produce in Watsonville. “It’s nice,” says Parker, “to support anything that is local. But the No. 1 reason we do it is the quality of the product. I’ve been working with Dirty Girl since I was 19 years old, and their product is just superior.” ¶ So when we asked Parker to pick one dish on his menu — the beets and quinoa you see pictured on these pages — and let us trace it back to its origins, it’s natural that it features beets from Dirty Girl, which you’ll see harvested on an early autumn morning. Once they arrive in Parker’s kitchen, the beets are roasted, served over rainbow quinoa dressed with vinegar, olive oil and salt, and topped with Di Stefano burrata cheese and a relish made from the beet greens and Asian pears. It’s finished with toasted pistachios and a light drizzle of saba, a grape syrup. — by tim Ball





Stretching from Gansu to Shandong, enveloping Shanxi and Shaanxi, the Noodle Belt is known for dramatic culinary performance and artful preparation when creating one of China’s most loved staples.

Sichuan is famous for its use of prickly ash pods, better known as Sichuan peppercorns, which give the region’s food a distinct flavor and hot, numbing spice.

Hong Kong cafes offer cheap comfort foods, which are largely Chinese takes on popular Western fare. The dishes often use canned ingredients and creamy sauces.

Hunan’s generous use of garlic, spice and chiles give its dishes a signature dry hot, or purely hot, effect. Chairman Mao’s love for his home province put this food on the international stage.

CHINA BY THE BAY Taste your way through the regions of China right here at home — from Sichuan spices to Hong Kong comforts, Mao’s meats to Shaanxi noodles

By Michelle Chan illustration by JITESH PATEL


ne of the best things about living in the Bay Area is its cultural depth and diversity — and there is perhaps no better way of experiencing that richness than through food. There is every variety of Chinese regional cuisine here, from Sichuan to Hunan, Mao, Shaanxi and more. You can find Indian-Chinese food brought to us via Kolkata and Taiwanese takes on Sichuan, Buddhist Chinese fare and Islamic, as well. And even within the well-known genre of Cantonese cooking, which is served in the majority of Chinese restaurants here, you’ll find everything from famous dim sum emporia to lesser-known Hong Kong cafes.

The HK cafe In the 1950s, when Hong Kongers started to have a bit more Michelle Chan is a food writer, restaurant critic and traveler, who is fascinated by the cultural stories behind everyday food. Born in San Diego but with family roots in Hong Kong, she lives in Richmond with her husband and son.


money and were curious to try Western food, Chinese restaurateurs began opening cheap and cheerful diners, swapping out chopsticks for forks and offering Chinese takes on popular Western food. The fact that this East-West fusion occurred 60 years ago, and largely persists to this day in a culinary time warp, means that Hong Kong cafes, or cha chaang teng, still carry the hallmarks of 1950s fare: lots of canned ingredients, a love affair with all things creamy, and few fresh veggies. But these cafes are so quintessential to that culture that a Hong Kong legislator introduced a resolution in 2008 to get cha chaan teng named as an “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO. You can sample that fare here, too, of course. HK cafes, such as San Jose’s Venus Cafe, offer Chinese comfort foods as well as straight-up club sandwiches. But why have a sandwich when you can order Sizzling Three Combo Fried Spaghetti? It has the same wok-singed flavors of beef chow fun, but with slivers of pork, chicken and ham — and spaghetti instead of wide rice noodles. Venus’ signature dish includes

two moist pork chops, breaded, fried and nestled over scrambled egg-studded rice. One chop is drowned under tomatoey red sauce and the other under a cheesy white sauce. The whole lot is run under the broiler until bubbly and then topped with a fried chicken wing and a sunny-side-up egg. Yeah. This is not health food, nor is it portion-appropriate, but it’s not hard to see why owner Keman Tam wanted “to bring a taste of Hong Kong culture to America through some of the native delicacies and beverages.” Among those delicacies: HK French toast (think of a syrup-coated love child between a peanut butter sandwich and a Monte Cristo. And Elvis.) and an entire menu section dedicated to macaroni in broth. Venus’ milk tea, a true HK cafe invention, is strong and silky, with sweetened condensed milk instead of the usual evaporated milk and sugar. But Bay Area diners looking to go beyond broccoli beef are seeking something with more punch, and midcentury-England-meets-Cantonese-comfort-food may not cut

In the open kitchen at M.Y. China in San Francisco, diners can watch their noodles being shaved, cut or pulled by hand. Chef Tony Wu holds a record as the first chef to pull 16,000 noodles in two minutes. karl mondon

it. Luckily, there are other options that are just as nostalgic but a lot spicier.

The Chairman’s cuisine In San Mateo, 25th Avenue evokes a bygone era. There’s a bona fide record and tape store, a sewing machine repair shop, a vacuum cleaner store and a small Hunan restaurant. The sign in front says “The Noodle Shop” in English, but the Chinese characters above it tell the real story: Mao Family Cuisine. Mao Zedong was born in Hunan, and throughout his entire life, he preferred Hunan peasant food with its flavors of garlic and spice, undercurrents of smoked meats (including famous Hunan-cured pork), the acidic punch of pickled vegetables and, of course, copious chiles. Fuchsia Dunlop, the British author of “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” (W.W. Norton, $29.95, 304 pages), writes in her memoir that Mao supposedly retorted to a doctor “who had advised him, in his old age, to cut down on chiles for the sake of his health: ‘If you are scared of the chiles in your

bowl, how on earth will you dare to fight your enemies?’ ” How indeed? Today the mainland Chinese have a complicated relationship with Mao, but the Chairman’s love for the food of his home province has given Hunan cuisine a big boost. As a result, “Mao family cookery” restaurants are popular throughout China — a testament more to its gastronomic merits than political pedigree. They are so popular that in 2010 the Hunan government issued strict guidelines to preserve the integrity of Mao cuisine, publishing detailed protocols for preparing four of the Chairman’s favorite dishes: red-braised pork, pork with stir-fried peppers, pickled cabbage and steamed pork, and steamed fish head with chile peppers. And so it is that the must-have dish at The Noodle Shop is not noodles but the Braised Bacon Cut Pork, a dish which Mao purportedly ate every day for its brain-building virtues. More commonly known as red-braised pork, this slow-braised pork belly dish is glazed with caramelized sugar and wine, with

hints of cinnamon and star anise. The sauce is not overly sweet, and the hefty chunks of meat arrive on a bed of steamed tender-crisp baby bok choy, a nice foil for the fattiness of the dish. We were eager to try the Hunan Spicy Chili Pepper Fish Head, one of the other dishes to come under the watchful scrutiny of the Hunan government. At The Noodle Shop, they use half a massive fish head, and we were informed that to order it, we would also have to get another dish, such as the Mao Family Big Fish Head Soup, to use up the other half. Alas, our party was too small for such a commitment, but we didn’t regret our second choice, Spicy Boiled Fish Fillet Special Edition, a tureen of garlicky, salty, spicy soup that was topped with a heavy slick of red oil, a layer of dried chiles and scattering of Sichuan peppercorn.

Spicy Sichuan An American diner could be forgiven for mixing up the spicy cuisine from Hunan and its adjacent province, Sichuan, as restau-

rants in the U.S. often serve both. Although both cuisines incorporate prickly ash pods, Sichuan food is much more famous for its use of this ingredient. Better known as Sichuan peppercorn, it is key to the distinctive mala, or numbing hot, profile of many Sichuan dishes. If you like it, you’ll savor its yuzulike flavor and cooling-yet-hot sensation; if you don’t, you’ll feel like you’re enduring a culinary version of dental surgery. At Albany’s China Village, which was recently renamed to the exclusive Michelin Bib Gourmand list — which features excellent restaurants that are easy on the pocketbook — chef John Yao prepares his mapo tofu on the elegant side, with silken tofu, lots of smooth mala sauce and a touch of finely ground pork. Similarly, the cucumber with garlic sauce is a polished dish — neatly stacked cucumber spears are draped with a garlicky, umami-rich sauce. Yao opened China Village to show U.S. diners the gourmet side of technique-driven Sichuan cuisine, pointing out that currently “most people think of Chinese food as fast food.”

Albany’s China Village serves spicy favorites, including, clockwise from left, Szechuan Spicy Chili Sauce Crab, Spicy Charred StirFried Cabbage and 1,000 Chili Pepper Spicy Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth. kristopher skinner

Unless ordered otherwise, the heat levels on many of the dishes at China Village, even the West-Style 1,000 Chili Pepper Spicy Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth, are not as incendiary as you would think. This dish is like a milder version of its fiery culinary cousin, Water Boiled Fish. It arrives in a porcelain tureen with a layer of floating chile pods, which are removed by the server, revealing a light, ginger-studded broth with plenty of mild flounder fillets. Chef Yao concedes that many diners are shocked when they see the sheer number of roasted chile pods covering the surface, but “they are there for flavor, not for spiciness.” Other must-try items include Yao’s personal favorite, the Famous Five-Spice Hot and Spicy Pork Shoulder, which is actually made with eight spices.

The noodle belt Along with the Great Wall, there is another major dividing line in China, one of grain rather than stone. It’s the noodle-rice divide, whose cultural significance goes much deeper than starch. That’s


M.Y. China’s Lamb Shiu Mai features butternut squash, green onion and a Sichuan peppercorn broth.


China Village’s Famous Five-Spice Hot and Spicy Pork Shoulder is served atop a bed of bok choy.


not to say that the rice-eating South is bereft of noodles — far from it — but it’s no accident that Northern China’s agricultural wheat belt has given rise to a noodle belt that stretches from Gansu to Shandong, enveloping Shanxi and Shaanxi. It’s said that the Chinese language has 144 words for “noodle.” In the open kitchen at Martin Yan’s M.Y. China in San Francisco, diners can watch their noodles being shaved off a block, cut with scissors or pulled — very dramatically — by hand. Chef Tony Wu has mastered eight distinct noodle preparations and holds a record as the first chef to pull an astonishing 16,000 noodles in two minutes. Noodle-pulling is part culinary skill and part performance art (some pullers are so flamboyant that it has given rise to an entire genre of “noodle dancing”), but a high-profile place like M.Y. China isn’t the only place to watch a master at work. At Alameda’s Ark Chinese Restaurant, for example, diners are welcomed by a large picture of chef Gordon Xia, dressed in whites and draped with medals, expertly making la mian, or pulled noodles. The la mian here are made by stretching a length of dough in the air and then crossing the hands at the wrists to form a doughy rope that twirls downward. Hand-pulling sets up a long gluten structure and gives noodles their prized “Q,” or chewy/bouncy texture. We tried the beef noodle soup, with a broth that was rich but not greasy, with tender chunks of beef and thin slices of sweet turnip; and the zha jiang mian, bean paste (think miso paste) noodles with minced pork, a Shandong standard which, at Ark, had the unusual addition of diced squash. The noodles were toothsome and smooth, and about the thickness of udon. Also on the menu is chow ma mian, a Shandong seafood noodle soup. The rest of Ark’s menu is not particularly Shandong-focused, but the reason to make the trip to this Alameda establishment is not so much to explore Shandong cooking as it is to nibble noodles that are handstretched to order. You can sample other aspects of Shandong cuisine at Berkeley’s


A Chinese Sampler The Bay Area boasts so many Chinese restaurants, you could dine at a different one every day for a year and never hit the same place twice. So consider this a mere sampling — seven restaurants to get you started. Ark Chinese Restaurant, 1405 Park St., Alameda; www.arkchinese China Village, 1335 Solano Ave., Albany; http://china

karl mondon

Great China, including “double skin” glass noodles and Shandong-style sweet and sour beef (which tends to be on the sour side). And since Korea is just across the Yellow Sea from Shandong, there is a whole subgenre of Shandong cuisine that is better known as Korean-Chinese, with specialties such as kkanpunggi, fried chicken pieces in a spicy sauce. Several restaurants in Oakland’s Koreatown serve Korean-Chinese fare, including Koryo Jajang, which makes its noodles in-house.

New wave Chinese Some say Chinese la mian may be an early forerunner to Japanese ramen. At the very least, in the iconic Japanese ramen film “Tampopo,” the eponymous heroine wheedles the recipe for perfect noodles out of a Shanxi chef. So it’s probably only a matter of time before ramen-slurping hordes start queuing up at Chinese joints. After all, Bay Area diners don’t mind searching out the obscurely authentic or the deliciously imaginative — and we are willing to wait. Just witness the lines outside

San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food, the famed hipster joint in the dingy-turned-vintage Lung Shan Restaurant. Danny Bowien has pulled from cuisines across China to create “Americanized Oriental food.” Many of the dishes bear a close resemblance to Chinese classics: Chongqing Chicken Wings, for example, are fried to a crisp and arrive buried under a pile of dried chiles and peppercorn. Pork dumplings are humble and comforting, just as they should be, bathed in a puddle of ham hock broth. A few dishes riff off traditional techniques: The Thrice Cooked Bacon with Sichuan pepper, for example, is made by cooking bacon one way three times, rather than cooking it via multiple methods, as is done for Sichuan’s famous TwiceCooked Pork Belly. Other dishes, such as Kung Pao Pastrami, feature creatively swapped-out ingredients. And then there are the truly imaginative creations, such as TeaSmoked Eel. While tea-smoking is Above: The Banana Ship dessert at San Jose’s Hong Kong-style Venus Cafe.

common for all manner of proteins in China, here strips of eel are nestled with fronds of aromatic Chinese celery, rolled up in rice rolls and served with cognac soy. The intense flavors push the palate, making one reach for a mouthful of rice or a swig of beer. Indeed, the same can be said of many of Bowien’s dishes, which can be almost too salty, almost too smoky or almost too hot. Of course, some foodies have taken issue with the fact that Mission Chinese often calls its Chinese-ish offerings by the same name as a classic Chinese dish. Then again, why adhere to traditional ways of making salt-and-pepper dishes when many diners don’t know the difference —­and are happily cleaning their plates? Whatever the answer, a few things can be gleaned from the richness of the Bay Area’s regional Chinese cooking scene. The food at Mission Chinese may not be traditionally Chinese, but it is certainly from the Chinese tradition. And, if a fried peanut butter sandwich is genuinely Chinese cuisine, who says authentic need be traditional?

Great China, 2190 Bancroft Way, Berkeley; http:// greatchina Mission Chinese Food, 2234 Mission St., San Francisco; http:// missionchinese M.Y. China, 845 Market St., San Francisco; http:// The Noodle Shop, 164 W. 25th Ave., San Mateo Venus Cafe, 1698 Hostetter Road, San Jose


Eight seasonal cocktails Bartenders from around the Bay Area share recipes for winter drinks. 76

Hits for your holiday party Inspired by the Tout Sweet spread? Here’s how to make treats for your guests. 80

Rolling out the dough Eager to put that new pasta maker to the test? Try a handful of recipes from Flour + Water. 84

Apricot Tropicale

Jericho Road

Suzanne Long of Longitude in Oakland

Nick Kosevich for Mortar & Pestle in San Mateo

Soft and fruity yet a bit deeper in flavor than a typical citrusy tropical drink, this gin-apricot concoction is good for sipping any time of year.

Spicy from the ancho chile liqueur and slightly smoky from the mezcal, this is a winter warmer served cold. .25 ounce grapefruit juice .25 ounce lime juice .25 ounce simple syrup .75 ounce Casa Pacific Reposado .25 ounce Pierde Almas Mezcal .75 ounce Ancho Reyes 1 dropper Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters (substitute 4 drops Angostura bitters) 7 drops paprika oil

4 dried apricots 1 wide peel of lemon 1.5 ounces St. George Spirits Botanivore Gin 1 ounce orange juice 0.5 ounce Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur Splash of high-proof rum Flambé three of the dried apricots and the lemon peel in the bottom of a heat-resistant mixing glass with a touch of overproof rum. Muddle, then add the other ingredients; shake well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a dried apricot.

Shake all ingredients except oil and strain into cocktail glass. Add 7 drops of paprika oil.

WINTER Pomme Aigre

Tupelo Honey

Antoine Nixon of Jack’s Oyster Bar and Fish House in Oakland

Russ Stanley of Jack Rose Libation House in Los Gatos

Apple cider, apple brandy, allspice, and cinnamon: The flavors of fall come together in this drink. Feel free to add more citrus and cider for a juicier variation.

The drink is a maple, honey and chocolate riff on an OldFashioned, so you’re probably going to love it.

2 ounces Calvados Père-Magloire V.S. (substitute any apple brandy or apple eau de vie) .5 ounce lemon juice .5 ounce fresh apple cider .25 ounce St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (substitute homemade) .5 ounce egg white Fresh grated cinnamon or cinnamon stick for garnish

2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye .25 ounce Barenjager (substitute honey syrup) 1 bar spoon (teaspoon) maple syrup 2 drops Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters Stir all ingredients, and strain into a double Old-Fashioned glass over an ice sphere or large cube.

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Shake first without ice to emulsify the egg white, then add ice and shake again to get a nice frothy head. Strain into your favorite glass (ice is optional), and garnish with fresh cinnamon or cinnamon stick.

recipes compiled and tested by camper english illustrations by the selby




Layover at Heathrow

Torii’s Toddy

Jimmy Marino of The Lexington House in Los Gatos

Brandon Clements of The Village Pub in Woodside

Real sloe gin brings a deep fruity plum flavor and rich color to cocktails like this earthy creation from Los Gatos.

A hot toddy combining Japanese whiskey (the drink is named for the founder of the Suntory distillery), lemon and honey with floral tea, this cocktail might ease you to sleep at night or make you wish for a cold to medicate.

1.25 ounces St. George Spirits Terroir Gin 1.25 ounces Spirit Works Sloe Gin (substitute another quality sloe gin like Plymouth or Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum) .25 ounce Luxardo Maraschino .25 ounce gum syrup (substitute simple syrup) Juniper berries for garnish

1.25 ounces Yamazaki (12‑year) .5 ounce Drambuie .25 ounce honey .5 ounce lemon juice Chamomile tea, hot Mint sprig for garnish

Stir all ingredients with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a few juniper berries.

Combine all ingredients except for the tea in a heated Irish coffee glass. When ready to serve, fill with hot chamomile tea. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

TO WARM Savoir Faire

Radio Flyer

Andrew Majoulet of Rich Table in San Francisco

Caitlin Laman of Trick Dog in San Francisco

This surprising cocktail is soft yet citrusy, with bittersweet fernet and slightly astringent tannins from the tea to dry out the finish.

A flip is a lighter-than-it-sounds vintage style of cocktail calling for a whole egg (and no dairy — then it would be a nog). Laman’s version calls for brandy and oloroso sherry and tempts one to find a fire beside which to drink it.

1 ounce Denizen white rum 1 ounce Skipper dark rum .75 ounce grapefruit juice .5 ounce Jelinek Fernet (substitute St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Amaro CioCiaro or Amaro Lucano) .5 ounce lemon juice .5 ounce simple syrup* .5 ounce egg white 3 Tender Branch oolong tea buds, divided Combine liquids and 2 tea buds. Dry shake (without ice) hard, then shake with ice until cold. Fine-strain into a flip glass with a single tea bud for a garnish. *Simple syrup: Put equal volumes sugar and water in a bottle. Shake until sugar dissolves, and store in refrigerator between uses.

2 ounces Arkansas Black Straight Applejack (substitute Calvados) 1 ounce Gutierrez Colosia Sangre y Trabajadero Oloroso sherry .5 ounce Rich simple syrup* 1 whole egg Grated nutmeg for garnish Shake liquid ingredients thoroughly with ice and strain into a double Old-Fashioned glass. Grate nutmeg over the top. *Rich simple syrup: Add twice the volume of sugar to water. Either heat the two or simply shake hard to dissolve sugar, and store in refrigerator between uses.

recipes compiled and tested by camper english illustrations by the selby




Recipes referenced in “Sweets, Snacks and Sips: A guide to holiday entertaining” on Page 44

Earl Grey Tea-Infused Chocolate Truffles Yields 50 truffles

Yigit Pura’s dark chocolate truffles get their earthy flavor from Earl Grey tea leaves. 1⁄3 cup unsalted butter 13 ounces dark chocolate (66 to 70 percent) 2 cups heavy cream, plus more to replenish after steeping 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Earl Grey tea leaves 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons corn syrup or glucose syrup 2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder 1. Cut the butter into ½‑inch chunks; leave it on the counter for about 2 hours before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. 2. In a large stainless steel or glass bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate. (Alternatively, heat the chocolate in the microwave on medium power for about 45 seconds, or until melted.) Stir the chocolate every 20 seconds with a rubber spatula so it doesn’t burn. Keep warm. 3. In a medium stainless steel or enamel-coated saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Whisk the tea leaves into the hot cream. Remove from heat, cover and let steep 7 to 8 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth; discard the tea leaves. Add more fresh heavy cream to bring it back to the original volume (the tea leaves will have absorbed some). Clean out the saucepan to remove any leftover tea leaves. 4. Return the strained cream to the clean saucepan, add corn syrup and bring back to a boil. 5. Place the bowl of melted chocolate on the countertop, with a towel underneath so it doesn’t shift around when mixing. Pour half the hot, infused cream over the melted chocolate. Using a rubber spatula, stir quickly at first to begin the emulsification process. Pour in the rest of the cream and continue mixing to emulsify the mixture. Finish by mixing with a handheld blender to obtain a silky emulsion. Set the ganache in a cool space on the countertop, and let it cool to 95 to 104 degrees. 6. Add the butter to the ganache. Use the handheld blender to emulsify the mixture completely, until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks like a silky, thick chocolate mayonnaise. Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ganache to prevent a skin from forming. Keep at room temperature overnight to cool and crystallize. The ganache can be made in advance and held in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. 7. When ready to create the truffles, take the ganache out of the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before using, and set it on the countertop so it can come to room temperature. Sift the cocoa powder into a large, shallow bowl; line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pistachio-Vietnamese Cinnamon Brittle

Butternut Squash Cup With Apple-Leek Compote

Serves 6 to 8

Yields 12

The green pistachios spread through Yigit Pura’s Vietnamese cinnamonflecked brittle add a sweet, nutty flavor and a mosaic look to the crunchy confection.

These beautiful, bright squash cups boast a delightful, sweet-hot flavor.

3⁄4 cup whole, shelled green pistachios 1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt 1 1⁄2 tablespoons ground Vietnamese cinnamon 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 1 3⁄4 cups granulated sugar 1⁄2 cup water 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons corn syrup or glucose syrup 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; spread the pistachios on the sheet. Toast in the oven for about 7 minutes; they should be crispy but still green. 2. In a small bowl, combine the sea salt, Vietnamese cinnamon, baking soda and vanilla bean paste. Line a second baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper; spray the lining with canola oil. (You may have made brittle in the past with aluminum foil lining. I highly recommend that you give up this tradition, as the foil will stick to your brittle and you may be picking it out for the next 75 hours — or so it may seem.) 3. In a stainless steel or enamel-coated 8‑quart saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Make sure the sides of the saucepan are clean of sugar. Cook over high heat, covered, until the mixture starts to boil. Remove the lid and continue to cook until it reaches 250 degrees. 4. Lower heat to medium; whisk in butter until evenly emulsified. Turn the heat to medium-high, and keep stirring and cooking until the mixture is a nutty golden brown. Once it has reached the golden-brown pinnacle of brittle perfection, remove from heat, add the cinnamon mixture and continue to stir. Take care, as it will bubble up because of the baking soda. Fear not; this is what gives the candy its snappy texture. 5. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the pistachios until evenly mixed. Immediately pour the mixture directly on top of the lined baking sheet, and use an offset spatula to spread it onto the sheet. Put another Silpat or sheet of sprayed parchment paper, sprayed-side down, on top of the brittle, and, while still warm, use a rolling pin to roll it out to a nice, even layer. Stop rolling when the brittle is the thickness of the pistachios to create an even mosaic of pistachios. 6. Remove the top lining, and let cool at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Break into small pieces to enjoy immediately. Use as a garnish or to fill gift bags. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks. Yigit Pura, “Sweet Alchemy: Dessert Magic” (Chronicle, $35, 224 pages)

2 1⁄2 pounds butternut squash 4 tablespoons leeks, chopped 1⁄2 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced Olive oil for sautéing 1 tablespoon apple cider or juice 1⁄2 tablespoon ground black cardamom Salt to taste 1⁄4 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon chipotle chiles in adobo Garnish 1⁄2 Granny Smith apple, sliced thinly into half moons 1 pinch red chile threads 1 teaspoon chives, chopped 1. Cut squash into 1 1⁄2‑inch thick slices. Steam until tender when pierced with knife. Using a 1-inch round, fluted pastry cutter, cut out squash rounds. Scoop each one with small melon baller, creating a small cup. 2. Sauté leeks and diced apples in olive oil until translucent. Deglaze pan with apple cider. Add cardamom and salt to taste. Place mixture in squash cups. 3. Blend sour cream and chipotles until smooth. Warm squash cups gently in a low oven before serving, then top each with a dollop of chipotle cream, a slice of apple, red chile threads and chives. executive chef Chris Borges, Taste Catering & Event Planning

Cheddar Cauliflower Soup Makes 4 cups

A winter holiday party gets cheery color and warmth from shot glasses filled with a vivid golden cauliflower soup. (Note: Find these bright golden cauliflower heads at farmers markets and some grocers. This soup is best made a day ahead to allow the flavors to meld.) 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1⁄4 cup yellow onion, diced 1⁄4 tablespoon garlic, minced 2 tablespoons white wine 2 heads cheddar cauliflower, chopped 3 cups vegetable stock or water 1 tablespoon water 1⁄4 teaspoon turmeric 1⁄4 cup heavy cream Salt, white pepper to taste

8. Use a small scoop to make ½-inch balls of ganache. Roll each ball in your hands (powder-free latex gloves work really well for this process) until rounded and truffle-shaped.

1. Sauté onions and garlic in butter until soft and translucent, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine. Add chopped cauliflower and vegetable stock; cook 15 to 20 minutes over medium heat until cauliflower is very tender.

9. Place a few truffles at a time into the cocoa powder, and roll them around to coat. Shake off excess powder by tossing them in a fine-mesh sieve, then transfer them to the prepared baking sheet. Work in small batches so the truffles do not stick to each other in the powder.

2. Add 1 tablespoon water to the turmeric to dissolve it. Fold cream and turmeric mixture into the soup. Purée in blender until smooth. Season with salt and ground white pepper.

10. Pile the truffles in a glass bowl, and enjoy. The truffles can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Roll in fresh cocoa powder before serving. Yigit Pura, “Sweet Alchemy: Dessert Magic” (Chronicle, $35, 224 pages)


Taste Catering & Event Planning

patrick tehan

These butternut squash cups take full advantage of the season by using Granny Smith apples and leeks. The recipe, on the previous page, comes from Chris Borges, executive chef of Taste Catering & Event Planning.


Beet Macarons With Herb Chevre and Pistachios

Bosc Pears Roasted in Caramel and Indian Spices

Serves 20

Yields 3 to 5 whole poached pears

These beautiful macarons surprise guests with their savory, creamy and slightly sweet flavors. (Note: Because of the delicate nature of macarons, ingredients must be weighed to ensure accuracy.)

Optional roasting adds an extravagant flavor, enhancing the Indian spices.

Macarons 100 grams extra-fine blanched almond flour 88 grams powdered sugar 12.4 grams beet root powder 47.2 grams egg whites for step 1 25.2 grams cool water 100.4 grams granulated sugar 37.6 grams egg whites for step 3 0.8 grams powdered egg whites

8 cups water, divided 1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 6 cardamom pods 4 cinnamon sticks 5 black peppercorns 2 star anise pods 2 whole cloves 3 to 5 whole Bosc pears Photographs by Patrick Tehan

Beet Macarons With Herb Chevre and Pistachios

Filling and garnish 1⁄4 pound fresh goat cheese 1 teaspoon parsley, chopped 1 teaspoon chives, chopped 4 tablespoons pistachios, chopped

2. In another 6- to 8-quart stainless steel or enamel-coated saucepan, combine the sugar and remaining 1 1⁄2 cups water. Cook until the mixture turns a dark amber color and begins to lightly smoke, creating a caramel at 365 degrees. Remove the caramel from the heat.

1. Pulse almond flour to a fine powder. Sift flour, powdered sugar and beet root powder together. Add first amount of egg whites (47.2 grams) to make a paste.

3. Use a heat-resistant rubber spatula to mix the cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, star anise pods and cloves into the hot caramel. Be brave, and be prepared. The intense heat of the caramel will release the essential oils of the woody spices. The spices will pop and crackle when they first hit the caramel.

2. Combine water and granulated sugar and heat to 117 degrees Celsius (or 242 degrees Fahrenheit). Let cool. 3. Whip second set of egg whites (37.6 grams) with egg white powder. Fold into cooled sugar syrup to make a meringue. Fold beet mixture into meringue. Transfer to a piping bag.

4. Moving quickly so the spices do not burn, pour a third of the reserved hot water (from step 1) into the caramel mixture. Whisk to combine and then immediately pour in the rest of the hot water. The caramel will expand and release steam when you do this, so be cautious.

4. Preheat convection oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, fan on. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pipe 1 1⁄2-inch macaron rounds onto the prepared baking sheet. After piping all the macarons, slam the sheet pan hard against a table about 4 times to remove any air. Let the macarons sit for 15 minutes, until the surfaces form a skin and are no longer sticky to the touch.

5. Return the saucepan to medium heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. As the mixture heats up, use a whisk to stir the caramel, and dissolve it into the water. If the caramel lumps up on the whisk, fear not; just keep stirring. The sugars will naturally melt into the hot syrup. Remove from heat, and add the scraped vanilla seeds and pod (or vanilla bean paste) into the caramel poaching liquid. Cover and let infuse for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight, if you’re feeling spicy.

5. Bake for 4 minutes. Rotate pan half a turn, and bake 4 minutes more. Let cool. Save for assemblage.

6. Strain the poaching liquid into a bowl; discard the spices. Return the liquid to the saucepan, place it on the stove, and bring it back to a boil. While the liquid is heating, peel the pears. Reduce heat down to a low simmer. Place the pears into the syrup.

6. Mix goat cheese with herbs. 7. To assemble, take 1 macaron half, spread with a liberal amount of the goat cheese mixture, and cover with the other macaron half. Roll sides gently in chopped pistachios. Repeat with remaining macarons. executive chef Chris Borges, Taste Catering & Event Planning

1. In a large stainless steel or enamel-coated saucepan, bring 6 1⁄2 cups water to a boil. Once it is hot, set aside and keep warm. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a paring knife; scrape the seeds from the pod. Reserve both the seeds and the pod.

Pistachio-Vietnamese Cinnamon Brittle (center; recipe on Page 80)

7. Poach the pears slowly and evenly until cooked through their centers, 20 to 45 minutes, depending on their ripeness (a riper pear will take less time). Cover the pears with a parchment paper lid, and keep them evenly submerged while they are poaching. Or, every once in a while, use a wooden spoon to gently roll the pears in the liquid to ensure that they are evenly flavored and poached. As the cooking time will vary depending on the ripeness of the pears, check the pears after 20 minutes with a sharp paring knife to test doneness. 8. When they are 85 percent done (the knife will slide easily into the pear but meet resistance in the center), remove the pan from the heat, and allow the entire saucepan to cool to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. This process will ensure that the pears poach beautifully to their center and will prevent overpoached, mushy pears. Remove the pears from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon, then cut off the rounded bottom to give each pear a flat sitting surface. Either serve or go on to roast them. 9. To roast the pears, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pears in a roasting pan or glass pan. Reduce the poaching liquid over high heat until it achieves a light, syrupy consistency. Pour the hot poaching syrup over the pears. Place the pears in the oven and roast for 7 to 12 minutes, basting with the syrup every few minutes to ensure nicely coated, glossy and gorgeous pears.

Cheddar Cauliflower Soup (recipe on Page 80) 82 ||| BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ||| EAT

Yigit Pura, “Sweet Alchemy: Dessert Magic” (Chronicle, $35, 224 pages)

lipo ching

The Agnolotti dal Plin (recipe on the next page) at Flour + Water uses equal amounts of pork, chicken and rabbit for depth of flavor, but chef Thomas McNaughton says you can tweak the ratios to use whatever meat you have available.


Recipes referenced in “MY PASTA PURSUIT: LEARNING FROM THE MASTER” on Page 50

Orecchiette With Rabbit Sausage and Padrón Peppers Serves 4

This orecchiette can be made with rabbit or any spicy sausage meat. (Note: Hand-rolled semolina dough is used to form the orecchiette, or “little ears,” but you can use store-bought, dried orecchiette instead.) Semolina flour 1 recipe Hand-Rolled Semolina Dough (see recipe) 1 tablespoon olive oil 1⁄2 pound rabbit or other savory sausage, removed from casing and formed into 1-inch balls 1⁄2 cup diced red onions 1⁄4 cup finely diced carrot (about 1⁄2 small carrot) 4 cloves garlic, sliced 1⁄4 cup white wine 1 cup chicken stock 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 cup sliced Padrón peppers 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for finishing 1. Dust 2 baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside. 2. To make the pasta, cut off a 2-by-5-inch chunk from the semolina dough; cover the rest of the dough with plastic wrap. With your hands, roll dough into a rope about 1 foot long and 1⁄2-inch wide (similar to a thick pen’s width). Cut off a 1⁄2-inch piece from the rope. Using a butter knife, push down very firmly on the far edge of the dough with the sharp edge of the blade, and with your other hand on the flat part of the blade held over the pasta, drag in toward your body. Basically, you’re rolling the blade over the pasta. When the dough has almost wrapped around the knife tip, insert your finger into the “dome” of the pasta. Make sure to scrape the whole piece of dough through, even as it starts to encapsulate your index finger. It should fold onto the tip of your finger. Keep it there. 3. Invert the dough over your other hand’s thumb, creating an inverse dome. The orecchiette should be uniform in thickness. Stretch marks are good, because it creates a wrinkly surface that’s great for catching sauce. Arrange the orecchiette on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat. You should have 80 to 90 pieces. Leave the pasta uncovered to air dry at room temperature until ready to cook. You can keep them unrefrigerated for up to a day, but wrap the tray in plastic. 4. Bring large pot of seasoned water to a boil. 5. In a 12-inch sauté pan on high heat, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, add sausage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned, about 1 minute. Add onions and carrots; cook about 2 minutes. Add garlic, stirring so it doesn’t burn. After about 90 seconds, add the wine. Cook until the pan is almost dry, 4 to 5 minutes. Add chicken stock, bring to a simmer and decrease heat to low. 6. Drop orecchiette into boiling water. Once pasta is cooked 80 percent, about 2 minutes, transfer to sauté pan. Increase heat to high. Add extravirgin olive oil to the simmering pan sauce and fold in the Padrón peppers. 7. Let pasta finish cooking in the sauce. When the pasta is tender, add the butter to the pan, and stir quickly to emulsify. Add sherry vinegar and season with salt to taste. Finish with freshly grated ParmigianoReggiano. Thomas McNaughton, “Flour + Water” (Ten Speed Press, $35, 288 pages)


Agnolotti dal Plin Serves 4

These meat-stuffed agnolotti are a specialty at Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water restaurant in San Francisco. (Note: We use equal amounts of pork, chicken and rabbit for depth of flavor, but you can tweak the ratios depending on whatever meat you have available — leftover chicken and prosciutto, for example. Or you can use any small, fresh, storebought, meat-stuffed pasta, like tortellini.)

8. Using a fluted cutter, trim the entire edge directly in front of the filling, cutting as close as you can get to the filling without breaking the seal. Finally, using a fluted cutter, quickly and with some force, cut them apart, one by one, directly in the middle of the “pinch.” The trademark pocket should form with the swipe. Place agnolotti on the prepared baking sheet, spaced apart so they don’t touch. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling. You should get about 75 pieces. 9. Bring a large pot of seasoned water to a boil. Drop the pasta in the boiling water. In a cold 12-inch sauté pan, add the chicken stock, butter and sage leaves. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Filling 3 ounces pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes 3 ounces boned chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes 3 ounces rabbit loin, cut into 1-inch cubes Kosher salt 2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or vegetable oil 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 small onion, diced 1⁄2 cup red wine 2 cups loosely packed spinach, coarsely chopped 1⁄4 teaspoon sherry vinegar 1 large egg 3⁄4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 1 1⁄2 teaspoons grated nutmeg Freshly ground black pepper

10. Once the pasta is cooked 80 percent through, about 2 minutes, transfer to the sauté pan. Stirring constantly but gently, finish cooking the pasta in the sauté pan, still on high heat, about 3 minutes. Toward the end, swirl the pan vigorously to create an emulsion and keep the sauce from breaking. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Divide the pasta and sauce between four plates. Finish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Semolina flour 1 batch Rav Dough (see recipe)

Makes 18 ounces of dough

To finish 1 cup chicken stock 1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter 4 whole sage leaves Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 1. For the filling: In a bowl, mix the pork, chicken and rabbit; season with a few pinches of salt. Let rest 30 minutes. Heat oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over high heat. Add meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is caramelized and deeply browned, 5 minutes. Transfer meat to a plate. 2. In the same pan over high heat, add olive oil and onion. Cook for about 4 minutes, scraping pan bottom with a wooden spoon to release the fond (the caramelized meat on the bottom of the pan) until onions are wellcaramelized, 10 minutes. Add red wine, and cook until the pan is almost dry, 1 to 2 minutes. Add spinach; cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to a bowl, and cool completely. 3. Combine onion and meat mixtures; stir until well-incorporated. Put warm meat mixture through a grinder, using a medium die, or use a food processor to grind it to a smooth texture. Add vinegar, egg, ParmigianoReggiano and nutmeg; season with pepper and salt. Mix well. This will make about 1 cup of filling. 4. Dust 2 baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside. 5. Using a pasta machine, roll out dough until the sheet is just translucent. Cut a 2-foot section; cover the rest with plastic wrap. 6. Cut sheet of dough in half lengthwise, forming two 3-inch-wide strips. Using a piping bag or a spoon, place dollops of filling — 1 teaspoon each — onto the sheet in a row, leaving 1⁄2 inch between dollops. Take the long edge closest to you, and fold it over to comfortably cover the filling, but still leave about 1⁄4 inch of dough bare at the far edge. Use a spritz of water to help seal it, if necessary. 7. To form the individual agnolotti dal plin, hold your thumb and index finger perpendicular to the table and pinch the dough between the lumps of filling. Start on the right side of one strip, and work your way down the line, one shape at a time. Once the pinch is created, seal each agnolotti individually by gently pressing the rest of the dough over the filling and removing any air pockets in the front edge.

Thomas McNaughton, “Flour + Water” (Ten Speed Press, $35, 288 pages)

Hand-Rolled Semolina Dough Semolina dough is the purest definition of flour and water. (Note: Flour + Water uses this dough for making trofie, pici, orecchiette, and strozzapreti. No pasta machine is required.) 1 cup semolina flour 1 cup 00 flour Salted warm water: 3⁄4 water plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt 1. Combine the flours. Place the flour mixture on a dry, clean work surface, forming a mound about 8 to 10 inches in diameter at its base. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, create a well 4 to 5 inches wide, with at least 1⁄2 inch of flour on the bottom. Using a fork to stir the middle of the well, slowly pour in the salted water, trying to keep the integrity of the walls during this first step. Combine the flour and water into one mass and knead until fully incorporated. The dough will be dry. If necessary, using a spray bottle, spritz with water several times to “glue” the loose flour to the mass. 2. Once you’ve formed a ball, knead the dough: Drive the heel of your dominant hand into the dough. Push down and release, and then use your other hand to pick up and rotate the dough on itself 45 degrees. Drive the heel of your hand back in the dough, rotate, and repeat for 8 to 10 minutes. 3. Wrap the dough tightly with plastic wrap. Let rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature before using. If you’re not using it after 30 minutes, put it in the refrigerator. Thomas McNaughton, “Flour + Water” (Ten Speed Press, $35, 288 pages)

Rav Dough Makes 19.6 ounces of dough

This ravioli dough is used for all the shaped pastas — agnolotti, tortellini and ravioli — at Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water restaurant. 2 well-packed cups 00 flour, unsifted 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1⁄2 cup whole eggs (about 2 large) 1⁄3 cup egg yolks (5 to 6 yolks) 1 1⁄2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 1. Place the flour on a dry, clean work surface, forming a mound about 8 to 10 inches in diameter at its base. Sprinkle the salt in the middle. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, create a well 4 to 5 inches wide, leaving 1⁄2 inch of flour at the bottom. 2. Slowly and carefully add eggs, yolks and oil into the well, treating the flour as a bowl. Using a fork, gently beat eggs without touching the flour “walls” or scraping through the bottom. Still stirring, slowly incorporate flour “walls” into the egg mixture, gradually working your way toward the outer edges but disturbing the base as little as possible. Once the dough starts to take on a thickened, pastelike quality (a slurry), slowly incorporate the flour from the bottom. 3. When the slurry starts to move as a solid mass, slide a spatula under dough; flip it and turn it onto itself to clear any wet dough from the work surface. With your hands, start folding and forming the dough into a single mass. Use a spray bottle to generously and constantly spritz the dough with water to help glue any loose flour to the dry dough ball. When dough forms a stiff, solid mass, scrape away any dried flour from the work surface. 4. Knead the dough: Drive the heel of your dominant hand into the dough. Push down and release, then use your other hand to pick up and rotate the dough on itself 45 degrees. Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes. This is how Italian grandmas get their fat wrists. When the dough is ready, it will be firm but bouncy to the touch and have a smooth, silky surface, almost like Play-Doh. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap. 5. If you plan to use the dough immediately, let it rest at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for at least 30 minutes. (If resting for more than 6 hours, refrigerate it. Bring to room temperature before rolling. It’s best to use fresh dough within 24 hours.) 6. Rolling out pasta by machine — whether it’s a hand-crank model or an electric one — should be a delicate, almost Zen-like art. Slice off a section of dough, immediately rewrapping the unused portion in plastic wrap. Place dough on work surface and, with a rolling pin, flatten it enough to fit the widest setting of the machine. Roll dough through that setting, guiding it quickly through the slot once. Decrease thickness setting by one and repeat. Decrease and roll once more. It should have doubled in length. 7. Measure the width of your pasta machine’s slot, minus the thickness of two fingers. Make a gentle indentation at the end of the pasta sheet to represent that length. Make that mark the crease and fold the pasta over. Repeat for the rest of the pasta sheet, keeping that same initial measurement. For best results, you want a minimum of four layers. Use a rolling pin to roll it flat enough to fit in the machine. Put the dough back in the machine but with a 90 degree turn, so what was the “bottom” edge of the pasta is now going through the machine first. 8. This time around, roll out the dough two to three times on each setting at a steady, smooth pace, keeping the dough taut and flat. Move on to the next level when the dough slips through without any trouble.

Recipes referenced in “bAY AREA’S BOUNTY, fresh on arrival” on Page 56

Mexican Rice Makes about 4 cups

1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 cups long-grain white rice 2 cloves garlic, minced 1⁄2 cup onion, diced 1⁄2 cup carrot, diced 3 tablespoons tomato paste 4 cups water 1 to 2 teaspoons salt 1. In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over mediumhigh heat. Add rice, garlic, onion and carrot; sauté until rice begins to brown lightly. Add tomato paste; cook a couple of minutes more, being careful not to let the rice get too brown. Add water and a teaspoon or so of salt to taste, and stir. 2. Cover skillet; when mixture comes to a slow simmer, lower heat. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Silvia McCollow, Nido

Caldo Xochitl Serves 6

This recipe for a hearty Mexican-style chicken soup is a celebration of the farmers market, with its purple cauliflower, butternut squash and edible flowers. (Note: This is beautiful, hearty chicken soup is a celebration of the farmers market in its layers of textures, flavors and colors. Thinly sliced purple cauliflower, carrots and butternut squash add crunch, while chipotle peppers add smoky heat.) 1 potato 5 Brussels sprouts 2 chipotle chiles in adobo 8 to 10 cups chicken or vegetable stock 1 or 2 florets purple cauliflower 1 chunk of carrot from the large end 1 chunk of butternut squash 4 cups prepared Mexican rice (see recipe) 1 1⁄2 cups shredded cooked chicken, optional 1 avocado, cubed 1⁄4 pound queso fresco, cubed 2 or 3 squash blossoms or other edible flowers or herbs, depending on what’s in season 1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil on the stove. Peel and cube the potato; blanch in boiling water until fully cooked. Set aside. Blanch the Brussels sprouts. Slice in halves or quarters; set aside. 2. Using a blender, puree the chipotles.

Aguachile de Habanero Tatemado Serves 4

This cevichelike appetizer uses colorful winter produce, including Cara Cara oranges and pomegranate seeds. 1⁄2 pound fresh scallops or favorite firm whitefish, such as halibut 3 habaneros 2 cups lime juice 1 tablespoon salt 1 jicama root, julienned 1 Cara Cara orange, segmented 1⁄2 red onion, thinly sliced Seeds of 1 pomegranate, divided 1 avocado, thinly sliced

3. In a large soup pot, heat the chicken stock to a simmer; keep hot on the stove. 4. Using a mandoline or knife, carefully slice the cauliflower, carrot and butternut squash as close to paper-thin as possible. 5. To serve, place a scoop — about 3⁄4 of a cup — of Mexican rice in the bottom of each individual serving bowl. Add a handful of the raw and cooked vegetables and 1⁄4 cup of the chicken to each. Ladle about 1 1⁄2 cups of the hot stock into each bowl. The hot stock will cook the thinly sliced vegetables slightly. Garnish with a drizzle of the pureed chipotle peppers, cubed avocado, queso fresco and squash blossoms. Silvia McCollow, Nido

1. Gently rinse the scallops and slice horizontally, sashimi-style. Keep chilled. 2. On a gas stovetop, or under the broiler, place the habaneros directly onto an open flame, and roast until slightly charred and blistered. Place the charred chiles and lime juice in a blender, and puree with salt. 3. Mix the scallops, jicama, orange, red onion and 2⁄3 of the pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Toss with habanero marinade to desired taste (the more you use, the spicier the dish will be). 4. Garnish with sliced avocado and the remaining pomegranate seeds. Serve with tortilla chips. Jose Ramos and Silvia McCollow, Nido

Thomas McNaughton, “Flour + Water” (Ten Speed Press, $35, 288 pages)


The last word

My Bay Area food odyssey By Flynn McGarry illustration by brett affrunti


grew up cooking and eating in Los Angeles, and though I’ve visited New York, Chicago and Seattle in the past few years — both to work in restaurants and eat some amazing meals — I’ve never made it to Northern California. A day trip and a limited budget just won’t do it justice, so I wait patiently until I have the time and the money to live out the dream of a Bay Area culinary tour — or at least one tasting menu and a few other restaurants. In the meantime, Max Coane, a friend and the sommelier of my pop-up, EUREKA, moved to San Francisco and is now working as a sommelier at Saison. I know I have to visit. And soon. Max has a couch for me to crash on, so the time is right. I book a plane ticket and a reservation for one. My plane lands in the late afternoon, and I travel in a suit so I can head directly to the restaurant. As a solo diner, I’m seated at a table with a prime view of the kitchen. The inventive food, the beautiful space and a dreamlike kitchen make for a memorable first night. As the cheese course is served at the end of my meal, Max brings out a bottle of milk from the Saison cow, Vibrance, for my “pairing.” Both Max and Matt Mako (Saison’s maitre d’) are off work the next day, and on the way home, they tell me they’ve planned a “grand tour of the Bay Area” for me. I try to get specifics out of them, but they tell me I’ll have to wait. We begin the next day by adding one more ­— Rodney Wages, formerly Saison’s chef de cuisine. We head to the Ferry Building for breakfast at Boulettes Larder, and then the four of us pile into Rodney’s car. As we drive through Napa and I see the first sign for Yountville, there’s no doubt about our destination. As a 10-year-old, “The French Laundry Cookbook” showed me the amazing possibilities of food. Now


we’re here: The French Laundry is on the left, its gardens on the right, and Bouchon is just down the street. This is the place that inspired me to cook. The natural beauty is strikingly idyllic — green, quiet and almost too clean. It seems like a movie set. More like “Culinary Disneyland,” says one of my friends. As we walk through that famous blue door, we’re greeted by Larry Nadeau, who has been maitre d’ at The French Laundry literally longer than I’ve been alive. He takes our coats and suggests we walk around the garden as we wait for a tour. Outside, the produce is planted in perfectly straight lines and labeled with precise strips of green tape. Everything is green; it’s obvious this is Thomas Keller’s garden. Back inside, the restaurant

Flynn McGarry, 15, is a chef living in Los Angeles. He’s been hosting pop-up dinners since he was 12, has cooked at the White House and on The Tonight Show and appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine earlier this year.

seems much smaller than I’d pictured. When I was 12, my parents helped me create a kitchen in my bedroom. (I couldn’t reach the countertops of our actual kitchen.) At first I arranged the stainless steel tables to resemble The French Laundry’s workspace. Standing in the middle of the real thing makes me realize that mine actually wasn’t that much smaller. Everything here appears in straight lines, is carefully labeled and spotless — making it heaven for a cook with a touch of OCD. But a full meal here is not in the cards for this trip, so instead we head down the street to Bouchon, Keller’s bistro. We have chicken liver mousse with lots of fresh bread, frisee aux lardon, French onion soup, skate wing, a truffle

fondue, tongue and many desserts. There’s probably more that I don’t remember. (Food comas — and the resulting memory loss — are very real things.) After the late lunch, we head back to San Francisco for dinner at State Bird Provisions, where the highlight is indeed the state’s bird — cornmeal-fried quail. And as much as I want to cap the night at Kin Khao — Pim Techamuanvivit’s Thai restaurant near Union Square — once a few more desserts cross our table at State Bird, nobody wants to see any more food for a while. The next day, my hosts are busy at Saison, so I have a few hours to myself. Bread and quiche at Tartine, Blue Bottle coffee and then another foiled attempt at Kin Khao — this time the doors shut two minutes before we arrived for a late lunch. But all was not lost. My trip is capped off with a ride to the East Bay for dinner at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ temple to locally sourced ingredients. When I text a chef friend that we are headed there, he tells me to pay special attention to the lighting and the aroma wafting from the wood-burning ovens. Sure enough, that’s what first strikes me: The all-wood room is dimly lit — just enough to see what is necessary — and the whole place smells toasty from the oven. It feels like, says one of my friends, “going to eat at grandma’s house.” The food is simple but delicious — the chicken, one of the best I’ve ever tasted — and the service is attentive without being invasive. That’s incredibly difficult for any restaurant to accomplish: to appear effortless while pushing boundaries. As the sun rises on my day of departure, I’m still full but thinking about the places I’ve missed. I begin to hatch plans for my next visit: For my 16th birthday, I’ll return to The French Laundry — this time to dine. And Commis. And Kin Khao — if we can get there on time.

Things we love

Short Stack Editions photograph by mark dufrene

If you love cooking, you probably love cookbooks. And if you relish a day spent picking up the season’s freshest bounty at a farmers market, you’ll adore these from Short Stack. Each clocking in at 48 pages, and devoted entirely to a single ingredient, they’re the sort of gift that you’ll have a tough time actually giving away. They’re personal and chock full of inventive recipes (honey-malt ice cream, cardamom and coconut milk sweet potato pie, etc.). Designed and illustrated in a style that feels like a throwback in the best possible way, they’ll elevate anything from a family meal on the weekend to a holiday feast for the masses. $14 each (also available in gift packs, or subscriptions for 2015 editions) at


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Eat Magazine  

Premium edition published in Bay Area News Group papers on Nov. 30.

Eat Magazine  

Premium edition published in Bay Area News Group papers on Nov. 30.