James Syhabout – COMMIS, Hawker Fare, The Dock

Chef James Syhabout -2JAMES SYHABOUT -THE INTERVIEW

In his mother’s Thai kitchen in the East Bay James Syhabout got a feel for good food and a hard work ethic. But it was his insatiable creative drive that took him to greater heights.  He took advantage of every opportunity laid in front of him. He was sous at San Francisco’s Betelnut, chef de cuisine  at Los Gatos’ Manresa, he staged at the wildly creative Fat Duck in London and worked for 6 months at Spain’s boundary-pushing, progressive El Bulli. Now at 35, James has multiple restaurant ventures and he has brought brought two Michelin stars to his East Bay roots at his Oakland restaurant, Commis.

 

What was your food heritage growing up?
I’m a restaurant kid; I was born in Thailand close to the Laos border but grew up in my folk’s East Bay restaurant in Concord called Wat Phou.

 

What drew you to the industry and why become a Chef?
I was always curious and an eater!  Even at a young age I would eat everything, from all different cultures. I used to work with  my mom peeling garlic and picking stems off of chilies. I would drive her crazy with my questions and such! But that experience, as early as ten years of age, piqued my curiosity in the business and I saw it as an outlet for creative drive, so I was hooked. Part of my thing is I can’t sit still, I always have to be moving, and thinking, and doing and so the kitchen was perfect for this. By high school I knew I was going to be a chef- end of story.IMG_1599

In 1997 I graduated high school and directly enrolled at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco where I graduated in 1999. I really got into understanding the science behind cooking. Why does a mayonnaise come together in an emulsion? How does this work, and why does that work? I just ate up things like that.

After school I started working at a Pan Asian restaurant in Berkeley under Alexander Ong called Xanadu. Chef Ong worked at Stars and The Ritz Carlton and so he ran a brigade system and this was new to me coming from a mom n’ pop background. I liked the team effort. The only hierarchy in mom’s kitchen was mom, right? Now you’re working as a team answering to sous chefs and there’s a chain of command. I was there for two years until it closed and Alexander open Betelnut and I followed him there as a sous chef. It was really high volume and I spent most of my time supervising, but it was good because I learned the nuts and bolts of the business, what makes a restaurant function, managing people, making the numbers work, and all aspects of making a business work. Regardless of the type of restaurant the principles were the same.

IMG_1260I put in a year, but I was 22 and I needed to explore more possibilities. I had done Asian, I grew up with Asian! What I really felt I needed to get under my belt was French cookery, as it had always fascinated me. As a kid I would watch stuff like the Great Chefs of Europe, Jacques Pepin, and the Troigros brothers and now I wanted to get into doing this in a professional kitchen. As far as management I learned what I was going to learn as far as the nuts and bolts. I was getting bored and rather uncomfortable. Bruce Hill set me up with a stage once a week with Ron Siegel at the Ritz. Bruce and Ron used to work together. This was the real deal all the classical technique in real time, not like at school. You’d better get your brunoise and quenelle perfectly on point or you get yelled at, right? I loved it but after two months there was no opening for me there.

Bruce told me that if I really wanted to learn some stuff there was a place in the South Bay called Sent Sovi,  that was run by this chef who was focusing on Catalan cuisine and his name was David Kinch. He just opened this other place called Manresa that was doing things no one was doing.  I thought, South Bay, man that’s a long drive, I dunno. I had no clue who David Kinch was but I decided to give it a try by doing a one day stage there and see. I walk in and see an island station, French cook tops, stainless- everything just pristine and WOW. So my first day was the first day I used a tammis, and a French top. I loved the structure and got hired on in 2002 as chef de partie in garde manger. Chef Kinch was just the opposite of the stereotype of the tyrannical chef. He was firm but kind and you learned a lot. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career, cooked some things that weren’t very good but I think those things are necessary as you learn and grow from them. It’s a process. I worked my way up to sous chef and then in 2005 I took a year off. I hit a road block, and you might think how could I hit a road block having achieved what I had to this point as well as working for David Kinch?. But I reflected on what got Chef Kinch to where he was at and I realized it was Europe. He’d been to Europe, and worked there, I had not. The deep influences of his kitchen came from places like Arpège because he had experienced them first hand, and I had not. I personally felt I needed to do so to move forward. People change, especially in relation to exposure, and food is a reflection of that exposure. I saw the depth that came from David’s exposure and I wanted to experience similar things.IMG_1707

A three month trip turned into an 11 month trip. I had stages set up at the Fat Duck, and at Mugaritz. I applied but did not hear back from El Bulli. Well, I had a blast, especially in Spain! Barcelona was fantastic and even though the language barrier the camaraderie that came with the common goals of the kitchen brought us together. I then planned to go to France and just hang out for a while and soak it in. Well after exploring and eating at places like Pierre Hermé, and Pierre Gagnaire I had finally started to understand the vision that David Kinch had. I had burned a hole in my credit card and was ready to come home. Then out of the blue I get contacted by El Bulli!  One of the stagiers had to leave and there was an opening. What do I do? I was broke, I had a ticket to come home, but when would I ever get an opportunity like this one again? I took it! I was there for the season that lasted 6 months from May to Sept. El Bulli pushed the boundaries, it made me think about food in alternative ways. When conventional chefs ask “why/”, Adria asks, “why not?” It was amazing, a 30 course tasting menu, so you are making hundreds of plates of food every night. Ferran brings in chefs and cooks that qualify from all over the world to stage, and he has them prepare something from where they came from. Brilliant! He was soaking up what others brought to the table and they were taking away what he brought to the table. It was an incredible symbiotic relationship and  think tank!

I came back in 2005 and opened COI with Daniel Patterson. I was there for 6 months then I was made an offer to be the chef of Plumpjack Café on Filmore in San Francisco so I accepted it and took on the challenge. I was 27 and we were getting excellent ratings from the Chronicle, but after being at El Bulli with a really progressive free thinking environment, now I was in a more dictated corporate structure and not sure if this is really where I wanted to be. I also wanted to do the food that I wanted to do, but did not have the labor force to do it, so I did much of it by myself. I was often working 7 days a week for months. Well let’s just say for the long term it was not a good fit.

IMG_1541One day I get a phone call from David Kinch and he told me he’d love to have me back at Manresa. Jeremy Fox was CDC and was moving on to open his own venture and there was an opening for me to fill that spot. By now Manresa had Love Apple Farm and all kinds of cool things were being grown for the restaurant, and this was really something that excited me. I felt I wanted to be a part of this. So I went back to Manresa as CDC and was there until New Year’s Eve of 2008/2009, and that was when I left to open my own place.

David Kinch had made his mark in, a then unknown, Los Gatos and it became a destination. I wanted to come back home to the East Bay and make an impact in an area where no one was doing progressive dining. I opened Commis in Oakland with a few saute’ pans, two cooks, and a couple thousand dollars in the bank. At first people thought I had lost it, opening a place like this in Oakland, but hey this was home. Now skepticism has all but vanished. We opened in June 2009 and by October that year we received a Michelin star (two awarded in 2015). This came after some critics had given us mixed reviews, and owning a business you panic a bit. The Michelin star now gave me confidence that we could really do this and do it well.  We went from a simple menu to presently having 7 courses and snacks, with an open kitchen at that!  I feel that I need to keep things fresh and moving to keep my cooks challenged and excited, I need that as well. I like the art of fine dining but I don’t like stodginess. I like people to have fun but experience food that is elevated.IMG_1519

I have opened a couple other restaurants but the first venture outside of Commis came when my mom was looking to get out of the business so I took that spot over and opened Hawker Fare, which is a tribute to my mom and Thai street food. Food I grew up with, it’s who I am. We opened another Hawker Fare in San Francisco. And last year we opened The Dock here in Oakland. So we’ve been really busy.

I always like to keep myself challenged. Next project is to work on a book. I also am married now and have two kids. Like I said, I don’t ever want to be bored!

 

How would you define your style?
Contemporary and personal.

 

What do you like most/least about being the boss?
MOST:
Pushing myself
LEAST:
Never get a day off.

 HawkerFare Oakland Interiors-Photo Credit Aubrie Pick-14

What chefs influenced you the most ?

  • My mother (Da Syhabout)
  • David Kinch
  • Ferran Adria

 

 

If you could keep only 3 culinary books, what would they be?

  • On Food & CookingHawkerFare-Gai Yang-Photo Credit Aubrie Pick-33
  • El Bulli Vol. 2
  • The Time Life Series (whole set)

 

Favorite kitchen gadget:
Scales, all kinds.

 

If you were not a chef what would you do?
Music Producer

 

Culinary trends that bug you/ trends you like:

BUG: People doing things they think are “authentic” or people judging “authenticity”. Stuff like this is very subjective to me.
LIKE: The naturalist movement, like what NOMA is doing. I also like chefs going back to their roots and cooking foods they grew up on, almost nostalgic.

HawkerFare-Our Khao Mun Gai-Photo Credit Aubrie Pick-23 

An ingredient that you’re attached to:
Vinegars– all kinds

  

Worst kitchen blunder:
I sliced my hand on a meat slicer once pretty bad because I did not use a guard. They still freak me out a little.

 

Most memorable dining experience:
Alain Ducasse, NYC 2004 with David Kinch. My first opulent dining experience with Steak Rossini style for two, pommes puree, whole roasted lobe of foie gras, etc…. Wow.

 

Favorite ‘elbows on the table hole in the wall’:The Dock and The Beer Shed-Aged Cheddar Crackers, Creamy Broccolini Mousse, Broccolini Flowers-Photo Credit Aubrie Pick-120
Taco trucks. The one of 22nd and International is great.

A food item you hate to admit to liking:
Tater Tots

  

Three things in fridge right now:
Champagne, cured meats, lots of ice cream

  The Dock and The Beer Shed-Caesar Popcorn & Jerk Spiced Chicken Wings-Photo Credit Aubrie Pick-110

Secret junk food indulgence:
Church’s Fried Chicken

 

Three people in history you’d like to cook for:
Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley, my Grandma (never met her)

 

James Syhabout on Preferred Meats: ”I think Preferred’s ownership is great and the customer service is excellent. The products are really consistent and delicious- the Berkshire pork, the bird programs -really everything I have gotten from Preferred I have never been disappointed with.”

 

Interview by John Paul Khoury,CCC
Corporate Chef Preferred Meats, Inc

Lapoulet Petit

DSCI0038LAPOULET PETIT- PREFERRED’S TENDER YOUNG CHICKEN

These special birds are about a pound each and are organically raised  exclusively for Preferred Meats. The beautiful thing about these birds is that the breasts and legs cook at about the same rate because the meat is uniform. Bring new elegance to your menus  by serving only the best chicken available. No more plain chicken breast!

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LAPOULET PETIT is:

  1. 100% Organic
  2. Air chilled
  3. Organic grain feed
  4. 4 weeks old
  5. Tender all white meat

ORDER YOUR LAPOULET PETIT TODAY!
(10pc box; Individually bagged)

DSCI0054

PM Duroc Black Forest Ham

PM Duroc Black Forest Ham PREFERRED MEATS DUROC BLACK FOREST HAM-

Premium Antibiotic Free
Heritage Breed Pork

Cured and Smoked Locally in the Bay Area

We are proud to introduce our Julie Ann Naturally Smoked Black Forest Ham! These hams are cured and smoked locally from heritage breed pork that is raised without the use of growth promotants or antibiotics.

 

Bottom line is we feel you will find this ham to not only be delicious but also an excellent value!

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ORDER SOME TODAY!
1-510-632-4065

Fresh Turkeys (Seasonal)

FRESH TURKEYS (SEASONAL)

At Preferred we get fresh turkey once a year by mid November. We take orders starting in September through mid October. Why? Because that’s the season for turkeys and we want to make sure you get the best fresh turkeys for your table! Here are our seasonal offerings:

Willie Bird Turkey Farm
Sonoma, California

The Benedetti family began raising turkeys in Sonoma County in 1948. In 1963 Willie Benedetti developed the formula for the famous Willie Bird Turkey, which the family now raises in the rolling, oak studded hills east of Santa Rosa, California. Willie Bird turkeys are free-range, eat a 100% vegetarian, corn and grain diet free of antibiotics. These broad breasted turkeys are nationally known for their superior quality, tenderness and taste.

Willie Bird Turkeys:
Available sizes are 10# to 30+#.
Please order in 2# increments.

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Branigan’s Turkey Farm
Woodland, California 

Branigan’s Turkey Farm is a family-run farm established in 1942.  Today, Terry and Teri Branigan raise between 18 and 20 thousand turkeys every year.  While most turkeys are processed at 16 weeks of age, the Branigan’s raise their Nicholas breed turkeys to 25-27 weeks.  When allowed to mature to this age, Branigan’s acquire a more developed finish as well as a thin film of fat under the skin, creating superior flavor and moisture.  Branigan’s eat a 100% vegetarian diet comprised of corn and other grains, and are not fed antibiotics.

Branigan Turkeys:
Hens:  14-25 lbs.
Toms:     24-35 lbs

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HERITAGE TURKEY:

We’re talking way back! The native Americans had domesticated, and were raising, the North American wild birds for centuries before Europeans arrived. These turkeys are unlike what 99% of Americans usually eat at their traditional tables these days. Preferred Meats makes truly heritage American bird available to you in limited quantities each season. Descendants of the first domesticated turkey flocks, these varieties are raised slowly and naturally to ensure a truly special and exceptional eating experience!

 A.Q. as far as size and availability. 

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CALL 510-632-4065 for pricing and offerings!

Scott Miller – Market Hall Foods

scott-miller-headshotSCOTT MILLER – THE INTERVIEW

From an aimless teen to a successful, driven chef running some of the busiest high-end specialty food stores in the Bay Area, Chef Scott Miller’s story is one of passion, focus, and downright hard work. Chef Miller found his passion at his first job in the iconic Narsai David’s kitchen and, nearly 30 years later, he’s still at the forefront of culinary creativeness.

 

What was your food heritage growing up?
Cereal, Swanson Pot Pies, Pot Roast, Bazooka Bubble Gum, Winchell’s Donuts, Baskin Robbins, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Der Wienerschnitzel. No vegetable that I can remember, unless you count green M&Ms!

 

What drew you to the industry and why become a chef?
I was in my late teens and didn’t have much direction in my life. My folks were heavily into politics and none of that interested me. I was just hanging out in Berkeley with zero ambition. At the time, my best friend was Narsai David’s nephew. Of course, Narsai was not only a Bay Area legend, but a pioneer in the food world in general. In those days it was Chez Panisse and Narsai’s. So, my buddy got me a dishwashing job working at Narsai’s. The year was 1978.

After a few weeks washing pots, the chef at the time, Kurt Grasing, who now has Grasing’s in Carmel, asked if I wanted to do prep. Why not? So I started prepping and I really liked it, honing knife skills and competing on production work with other cooks. Pretty quickly I found I finally had some direction in life! Then I was sent to work with the charcutière, who was Narsai’s brother Jim. He taught me the skills of pâté, terrine, and sausage making before he moved on. After he left, I became the charcutière. I became really good at it – finally I was good at something!ribs

I was at Narsai’s from 1978 to 1981. I didn’t realize it then, but I got a break at one of the most difficult places to work for, yet one of the most groundbreaking establishments in the nation. Narsai was a tough guy – a perfectionist who could be very hard on people. When I gave notice he was very upset and angry.  Before long wee patched things up and I even catered the restaurant’s 25th anniversary!

During my time at Narsai’s I had been catering on the side for Rosevine. We worked with the Great Chefs of France program in the Napa Valley and catered a weekly lunch for the chefs and their students. There were the likes of Pepin, Verge, and Bocuse, the big guns, right!? At the time I was a clueless kid who barely knew who they were, I used to call Paul Bocuse, Pablo Cruz after one of my favorite bands. But in retrospect I mean just WOW, we were cooking for legends!

The catering chef of Rosevine was also the chef for The Pasta Shop, and she asked me to work for her, which is where I went after Narsai’s. Two weeks later she left and I took over. It was a smaller version of what it is today but still had all the elements of the gourmet grocery and higher end take-out. I also kept making charcuterie on the side.

After some time at The Pasta Shop, I had some other incredible experiences learning from and cooking with the greats – I helped open China Moon with Barbara Tropp, and worked alongside Amaryll Schwertner, Jim Moffat, Marsha McBride and Kelsie Kerr at Premier Cru.

In 1987 when the Wilsons built Market Hall, they came and found me and asked me to come back to The Pasta Shop. I have been here ever since. I started with one dishwasher and me, and we now have more than 80 kitchen staff.

porkchopMy job now as the executive chef of the operation involves the development of the cuisine, and also managing staff and planning for expansion. I also have a lot of great managers around me. I am given the freedom to make major decisions because we have been so successful and are consistently growing.

Market Hall was the only place of its kind when we started, and although now there are several similarly styled markets,, we still have steady growth. One reason, I think, is because we offer many types of regional cuisines and we do them really well. People will come to us and say “WOW, this is really good, just like I grew up eating!” That means something. We really do our homework and we get feedback as we develop the recipes so the cuisine has depth.

I see my future as being here. I’m a lifer. I believe in relationships and loyalty and so I feel really good working for this dynamic company for the long term. They have been really good for me and I really love it here.

 

 

How would you define your style and how did you move from kitchen to operations management?
I prefer to create a team atmosphere, building others’ skill levels, recognizing people’s talents. I hold people to a high standard then strive to lead by example, as well as well as teaching respect through mutual respect. This also means always being open to input and ideas from my team. Although I have progressed with the growth of the company and my willingness to lead, I have not moved totally out of the kitchen. I still cook too.

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What do you like most/least about being the boss?
MOST:
Feeling respected for our accomplishments.
LEAST:
Firing people

 

What industry people influenced you the most (LIST 3)?

  • Narsai David
  • Barbara Tropp
  • Jacques Pepin

 

If you could keep only 3 industry related books, what would they be?
Since our menus reflect food from all over the world I cannot narrow down to three but here are some of my favorite authors:

  • Jacques Pepin
  • Judy Rogers
  • Paula Wolfert
  • Diana Kennedy
  • Rosetta Constantino

Beef Bourguignon

Favorite kitchen gadget:
White plastic bowl scraper

 

If you were not in food service what would you do?
I’d be either a DJ or a landscape artist

 

Culinary trends that bug you/ trends you like:

BUG: Loud restaurants
LIKE: Burgers

 

An ingredient that you’re attached to:
Sumac

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Worst blunder on the job:
I accidently mixed in fish stock with chicken stock to make matzo ball soup.


Most memorable dining experience:
Da Delfina in Italy

 

Favorite ‘elbows on the table hole in the wall’:
My elbows are always on the table

 

A food item you hate to admit to liking:
Peanut butter stuffed pretzels

 Pork-Chops-with-Apple-and-Mustard

Three things in fridge right now:
Pickles, Greek yogurt, and bacon

 

Secret junk food indulgence:
Donuts and Diet Coke

 

Three people in history you’d like to cook for or dine with:
Mohammad Ali, Bruce Lee, and Michael Jordan

 

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Scott Miller on Preferred Meats: “Preferred’s commitment is clear and their passion is unwavering and it starts with the owner, Bala Kironde. Besides that, he’s a really great person.”

 

Interview by John Paul Khoury,CCC
Corporate Chef Preferred Meats, Inc

SF Professional Food Society Brazil by the Bay

SF Professional Food Society Brazil by the Bay

Our Regional Chef/Director of Operations Amey Shaw had a blast at the San Francisco Professional Food Society’s Brazil by The Bay BBQ, August 15th at Coyote Point Yacht Club in San Mateo. She made a delicioso “Linguiça Flavors,” spice rub for our Heritage Pork, and charcoal grilled the pork racks and the tenderloins, and she simmered the shoulders as carnitas over the coals. The crowd was wowed! Another great day of fun that was capped off by our exceptional heritage meats and the expertise of our “seasoned” chef!

 

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Carpe Vino – Culinary Gem in the Sierra Foothills

CVINOCARPE VINO- CULINARY GEM IN THE SIERRA FOOTHILLS

In the quiet little foothill town of Auburn,CA, 40 miles NE of Sacramento, is a little wine shop/restaurant called Carpe Vino. Yes the expression to seize life, or the wine, or both aptly applies to this gem in the  Sierra foothills where one can not only imbibe in the product of the vine but also dine well, exceptionally well.

Chef Eric Alexander is the man behind the cuisine of this seasonally driven menu. Eric and his family  own, live on and tend the farm where Carpe Vino gets much of its vegetables and other seasonal items –about as farm to table as you can get!  Classically trained on the East Coast at the Culinary Institute of America, Eric brings solid technique and an intelligent approach to a cuisine that is simple yet complex allowing the ingredients to shine.

The night we went in Chef Alexander asked if he could simply cook for us. Who could say no to an opportunity like this? We let him know of any dietary restrictions and put the evening in the Chef’s hands. It quickly became apparent that we had made the right choice!

The amuse came out and what a beautiful display of three mouthfuls- 1) foie gras mini torchon on brioche with cherries from the Alexander farm, 2) a cheese filled perfectly fried squash blossom, 3) an Indian spiced lamb shank on a delicate homemade crisp. Well, if this is the warm up we are in for an evening!

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The first course was a salad of compressed strawberry, wild fennel pollen, fava beans (picked that morning), and delicate ribbons of lardo. Wow! Fresh, bright and then a slightly rich satisfying finish with the lardo. Pork makes everything better, right? The second course was pea soup. Well, sort of- Delta crayfish, ham, and delicate ricotta gnocchi with a bright pea soup with a hint of mint and parsley poured around.

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Course three kind of a reverse take on Pho. The Vietnamese marrow rich broth that is so warming is turned on its ear here as a roasted split marrow bone is encrusted and topped with tastes of Pho. Brilliant! So good it has become a signature item for the restaurant. The fourth course was a beautifully seared Norwegian cod, and if you are paying attention it is crusted on one surface with a thin layer of brioche! Thin and crisp this delicate crust enhanced the fish and was served with baby artichokes, clams, chorizo, pickled ramps, and a hint of lemon verbena.

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The Chef’s French training came through loud and clear with course number five- a housemade Penryn rabbit boudin blanc filled with foie gras and served with Puy lentils, porcini, black truffle, and fines herb. Superb! Course six was solidly rooted in rustic French country fare. Veal breast blanquette. But this a blanquette that has been brought up to speed and refined. A beautifully braised, deboned, and pressed pave’ of veal, that was nicely seared and topped with crispy ris de veau (veal sweetbreads). Served with Thumbelina carrots (and a smooth carrot puree’ as well) asparagus, and little morel mushrooms. The braising jus was then emulsified with crème fraich. We literally were licking the plate before the server saved us from any further embarrassment!

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The final course was light and right on point in every way. Eric’s daughter had milked a sheep that morning so Chef made a light panna cotta out of it, a little strawberry sorbet, rhubarb brunoise compote, pine nut brittle and a hint of orange blossom and fresh thyme. Fabulous!

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All the courses had wines selected for us by the Chef and our server who was well versed in the list and offerings.

This dining experience helped us to appreciate a number of things. One is that you don’t have to be in a culinary epicenter to have an exquisite dining experience. Also, farm to table dining does not mean simply dropping a freshly picked carrot on a plate, but it does mean creative restraint, elevating the ingredient through intelligently applied technique.  And finally a true expression of hospitality and nurturing is when a passionate Chef offers to cook for you. You should say yes to an offer like this- We were awfully glad we did.

Why You Should Be Using HUDSON VALLEY Foie Gras

WHY YOU SHOULD BE USING HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS

402FDFF8-A418-BE14-F2D39A33753D37B7When we speak of Farm to Fork we also speak of sustainability. Hudson Valley Foie Gras not only are the most sustainable producers of foie gras, and duck products, but also one of the most sustainable animal husbandry operations period!

8 REASONS YOU SHOULD BE USING HUDSON VALLEY

  • Only producer in America that does not use pneumatic feeding. All ducks are gravity fed/finished thus taking the capability of the bird to assimilate feed into account
  • Only USDA certified cage free foie gras operation in the world
  • Evaluation of each duck-none is overfed. Each examined daily ensuring each bird properly digests the feed
  • Professionals in charge of feeding are paid a bonus when their ducks produce the highest quality livers-this ensures the handlers are incentivevised for using sustainable practices.
  • Mixed feed mimics the protein/carbohydrate ratio the bird eats in the wild
  • All parts of bird utilized; inedible products also utilized including bones, feathers, etc.. Almost zero waste
  • Open door policy. Visitors welcome to see the entire facility

That’s why the Hudson lobes are larger, firmer, and easier to sear; they are humanely raised and carefully handled. There IS a difference and it is rooted in sustainable transparent practices.

WATCH HUDSON VALLEY FARM VIDEO HERE

For More Information On Product Line Please Contact Us!

510-632-4065

 

Taylor Boetticher – The Fatted Calf

283040_10150256038108457_4641806_nTAYLOR BOETTICHER- THE FATTED CALF

Taylor Boetticher came from a traditional family in Dallas,TX with a stay at home mom who was a fantastic cook. He then took a non traditional approach to his career choices that had ties to his love of food nurtured by his upbringing. From the kitchen of Stephan Pyles at Star Canyon in Dallas, to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, to along with his wife Toponia, owning the highly regarded Fatted Calf in Napa and San Francisco, CA. Taylor’s story is one of vision and passion plus a lot of hard work.   


What was your food heritage growing up?
I grew up in a pretty traditional nuclear family in Dallas,TX. My dad worked all day and my mother was a homemaker, really the unsung hero of the family. Her job was in retrospect not an easy one. I was fortunate in that my mom would make a great effort to have a well prepared dinner on the table every night and we all sat down and ate together, me, my mom and dad, and my two siblings. Mind you this was not boxed Mac n’ Cheese- I mean I probably ate my way through the Silver Palate Cookbook with my mom’s cooking. She’d make things like Salad Nicoise, and Beef Bouguignon, I mean really nice stuff for the family and not just for special occasions. It’s funny that after I became a professional chef it became like well ‘we can’t cook for you anymore because you’re a chef’. That’s just crazy, I mean cooking for someone is one of the greatest acts of love and has nothing to do with critiquing something because I do it professionally. Anyhow, I grew up eating the classics. A lot of that has translated into how I approach food today.

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What drew you to the industry and why become a Chef?
I’ve always liked food and had a good sensibility for it, so as I got closer to graduating from high school the idea of going to college to study for something that I really did not know where it would lead and spending a bunch of money in the process for that uncertainty just did not sit right with me. I graduated in 1995 and decided to actually start working first before I decided whether to go to college or not. I got a job at Stephan Pyles’ Star Canyon. I learned a ton from his executive chef and sous chef. Right off the bat they asked me what my goals were in the industry and I said that I’d like to learn new skills and be creative, etc… Then the exec brought me down to earth right away and basically said this is a really hard job that takes stamina, the ability to accurately execute repetition for long periods of time while working long hours. It was a wakeup call to the reality of the industry that I am grateful for to this day.

I loved the camaraderie and at 18 you can take a pounding and get up and do it again the next day right? Plus Star Canyon had all the latest gadgets for the day including two wood burning grills, it was just really a great place to learn and work. I was there for about a year and a half and worked throughout the kitchen and I thought, hey I can do this and started to think about it as a career. In early 1997 I started at at the CIA in Hyde Park and that’s where I met my wife to be, Toponia, and I really need to say she is one of the best natural cooks I’ve ever known, I mean she really ‘gets’ food. We ended up in the Bay Area for our externships and just fell in love with the area. I mean not just San Francisco but you go three hours in any direction and there is just great stuff all around- unparralled.

577876_683848578292298_793591059_nI externed at the Fog City Diner. That was when I realized the differences in kitchens. At Star Canyon we were really upscale, had 9 people on the line, it was a large kitchen- the Fog City there were a fraction of the number of cooks, small kitchen and we cranked out 50% more covers than Star Canyon! That’s really where I learned multi tasking and consolidation. Well, haven fallen in love with NorCal, when I went back to New York to finished the program, I came right back out here again in 1998 and I really liked Cindy Pawlcyn’s style and vision so started working at Mustards in the Napa Valley. I was also working at Cosentino Winery during the day and then driving back to Berkeley where we lived after my shift at Mustards. Four to five hours of sleep and back up to do it again, I lasted about 8 months before burn out started to set in. I then went to Buck Eye in Mill Valley and did pastry. That was not a good fit. I really should not have been there, I was out of my element and I did not last long. I did not have a self awareness at that point to say this was not a good match, I just thought suck it up and do it. I’m older and wiser now. An industry head hunter, who knew I wanted to be somewhere like a Chez Panisse, that was a single establishment, and owner operated, placed me at Marsha McBride’s Café Rouge in Berkeley. I did not realize there was a meat counter there along with the restaurant, and when I interviewed they told me they needed someone to run that counter. This was cool because I wanted to open myself up to other possibilities than working the line. That’s why I worked at a winery, and why I misguidedly took a pastry chef position, is that I wanted to open up my possibilities and this was another step in that direction. I need to set myself up to strike my own course. We roasted chickens, dry aged steaks, ground burger, etc… and we ran the counter and catered to the public. This also allowed me to get instant feedback from customers; some still come in to Fatted Calf today from relationships developed back there! I worked there from 1999-2001, then took a leave of absence to go on our honeymoon to Italy. That’s when the idea for the Fatted Calf began to take shape. When we got back Marsha had kept a spot in the butcher shop open for me, which was amazingly generous and allowed me to start using some of the new techniques and recipes I’d learned on our long trip.  By March 2003, Toponia and I were ready to strike out on our own. So eventually we rented space in a commissary kitchen with a friend and started to make our own charcuterie and selling it.

11149693_10152698097797553_885667019766403360_oThe idea of the Fatted Calf itself took place while in Europe. I’m not particularly religious but the biblical parable that Jesus gave of the prodigal son that went away and returned remorseful, coupled with his father’s forgiveness and the slaughtering of the fatted calf for him, where they ate, drank, and enjoyed themselves because of his return, always resonated with me. It started out as a musing but we thought what better name? So we went with it. We opened in 2003 as a business but no store front yet. We worked out of a commissary in the Dog Patch south of AT&T Park in San Francisco, and did farmers markets, catering, etc.. and still had part time jobs to make ends meet. Then we decided we needed a face on this venture.

In 2007 we moved to oversee construction at our present Fatted Calf location in Napa, where the OxBow is now. We felt the only way to take this forward was to have a store front where we could produce but also sell to the public at the same time. And being close to what became the public market here in Napa was a really good move for us. We thought we were going to open in mid 2007 but did not open until January 2008, all the while living up here and still working in the Bay Area. It stretched us a bit.

It was a change moving to Napa as you couldn’t just go out and get like Ethiopian or Korean food, and things close early, but the more I’m here the more I like it. It has been a good fit for Toponia and I. It forced us to learn to adapt, as there are so many moving pieces. It was not easy for us for the first couple years but around 2010 things started to smooth out and we became established. You learn a lot from the process if you’re fortunate enough to survive!

In 2010 we jumped on the opportunity to open Fatted Calf SF and we did. It is a smaller place and we don’t have the same production capabilities, so it was a bit easier to get going. In 2011 we started working with a guy at Ten Speed publishing on producing a book. Two whole years of working on it for about 4 hours a day and sometimes more becomes consuming, but in 2013 “In The Charcuterie” was born! I still pinch myself, when I see copies of the book around and displayed in our shop, that the book exists, and that it has catalogued recipes and dishes that we are proud of. It is a testament to our team and the hard work by everyone to make Fatted Calf happen, and there it is documented in a book. Pretty cool! It’s in its 4th printing. What I’m proud of is that each printing we can edit a few things- but they have all been minor (like typos) but every recipe in the book worked from day one- and would appeal to home cooks and professionals as well.

This whole journey has really highlighted to me the value of a good team. I have never been one to hunger for the spotlight. What I really appreciate is the people that I work with and that work for me- the input they give and the time it gives me, and Toponia, to be able to bring new exciting things to the table!

 

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How would you define your style?
Classically rooted old school with the good sense to utilize all the amazing products and new techniques that are available.

 

 

 

What do you like most/least about being the boss?
MOST:
Being able to teach people, and be the cheerleader to my crew.
LEAST:
Being a babysitter. I hate managing petty squabbles between adults.

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What chefs influenced you the most?

  • Jacques Pepin
  • Staffan Terge
  • Andrea Nguyen

 

If you could keep only 3 culinary books, what would they be?

  • La Technique
  • The Art of Simple Food
  • The River Cottage Meat Book

Favorite kitchen gadget:
Hasty Bake Smoker

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If you were not a chef what would you do?
Chicken farmer

 

Culinary trends that bug you/ trends you like:
BUG: Making things too precious. If it takes more than one set of tweezers to plate a dish it had better blow me out of the water.

LIKE: I like seeing the lines getting blurred. People incorporating influences not necessarily inherent in the style of cooking they are doing, like the kung pao pastrami at Mission Chinese- Traditional? No. Delicious? Yes.

 

An ingredient that you’re attached to:
Piment d’espelette

 

Worst kitchen blunder:
Adding fresh figs to a big batch of pork and fig crepinette. The enzymes in the fruit would not allow the proteins to bind and it would not come together. I made a huge batch of terrines out of it though. Good lesson.

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Most memorable dining experience:
A chef I worked with at Star Canyon, named Mark Castle, opened this place in Dallas that also next to a pretty high energy club that the owners wanted to have a decent dining venue associated with it as well. Anyhow they opened early after the remodel and my wife and I went there when we were in town on a slow night. He destroyed us- amazing dining experience!

 

Favorite ‘elbows on the table hole in the wall’:
Libby’s Mexican restaurant in Philo, CA. Just the best Mexican food in the state, in my opinion.

 

A food item you hate to admit to liking:
Chili Cheese Fritos and a Dr. Pepper (hey, I’m a Texas boy!)

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Three things in fridge right now:
Kimchi, 6 year old Parmesan, four different kinds of anchovies.

 

Secret junk food indulgence:
In-N-Out Double Double, no tomatoes Animal style.

 

Three people in history you’d like to cook for:
Ghengis Khan, Mark Twain, and W.C. Fields

 

1233219_637645122936316_31098829_oTaylor Boetticher on Preferred Meats : “Preferred is a small company that brings in good stuff, I mean if it comes from Preferred I never have to worry about the quality. Preferred is the epitome of the type of purveyors we like to work with.”

 

Interview by John Paul Khoury,CCC
Corporate Chef Preferred Meats, Inc

Wayfare Tavern – San Francisco’s American Gathering Place

WAYFARE TAVERN – SAN FRANCISCO’S AMERICAN GATHERING PLACE

slide12If you were to define the quintessential upscale American gathering place you would no doubt find your answer in Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern. Located in San Francisco’s financial district in the former site of the legendary Rubicon, Wayfare is fast becoming legendary as well. At the helm is Chef Omri Aflalo. He and his crew execute Tyler’s vision of American comfort at a level worthy of the City by the Bay!

We started off with those incredible Wayfare pop overs then items we enjoyed in our evening with friends included an eye of rib beef tartar, w/ house ground mustard, celery and homemade potato chips. The tar tar also had a rich, velvety, egg yolk folded into it table side. Yum!  Also, you can’t pass on the Wayfare deviled eggs with pickled onions. We also had an avocado, hearts of palm and orange salad, and a crudo of hamachi with roasted beets, miso, and soy poached cranberries- American with an Asian twist!

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Time for the entrees! We enjoyed a Prime beef flat iron with chanterelles, charred green garlic, and Delta asparagus; Skuna Bay salmon w/ chard, parsley, capers, and cannellini beans; New Bedford scallops w/spring onion fondue, king trumpets, and a light fume’; and the famous Tavern Burger which we at Preferred grind to Wayfare’s specs. (Hey if we’re grinding the burger we got to have one and make sure we’re doing a good job, right?) Preferred’s grind and Wayfare’s preparation- how can you lose? We also enjoyed a big side of charred broccolini that was delicious!

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Finally dessert. We’re stuffed but how can one pass up a chocolate cream pie that also has salted caramel AND devil’s food cake in it? And to cut the richness of the pie we just had to have the strawberry rhubarb cobbler w/pecan streusel and caramel. (Had to make an excuse for ordering more sweets.)

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The place was hopping, we were satiated and happy. With all it has to offer you can understand why Wayfare Tavern is such a popular American gathering place in San Francisco!

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