2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Duncan Holmes of Sons & Daughters

2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Duncan Holmes of Sons & Daughters
May 2013

Growing up, Duncan Holmes had no aspirations toward chefdom; rather, he was attracted to the big paycheck and fancy lifestyle that came along with an investment banker-type career. It wasn't until he was deep in studies at Chico State College, working on a degree in economics, that Holmes discovered cooking and the restaurant world. Rather then take the finance internship his program required, Holmes found himself as a line cook at Berkeley restaurant Eccolo, where he learned the basics and developed a strong love for the industry.

Holmes returned to college and finished his degree but was dedicated to a cooking career. After graduation, he moved to Napa, to work at La Toque and then Auberge Du Soleil. Wanting to expand his culinary vision, Holmes spent time staging in Denmark, working in the kitchens of A.O.C., Geranium, and Mathias Dahlgren, in Stockholm.

Back in the United States, Holmes knew he wanted to be in the Bay Area and began staging at kitchens across the region. He worked at Saison and took a line cook position at Sons & Daughters with the plan to move to Manresa when a position opened up. But as Holmes began to take on more creative responsibility at Sons & Daughters, and create relationships with the staff and owners, he decided the downtown restaurant was the right place for him. The decision paid off. Over the past two and a half years, Holmes has worked his way up to chef de cuisine, and helped the restaurant earn its Michelin-starred status.

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Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef Duncan Holmes

Katherine Sacks: How did you get interested in cooking?
Duncan Holmes: My mother has a bakery and catering business in Folsom. When she opened that almost 12 years ago she had me work as a dishwasher a little bit. Little by little she let me help out; carry things, cut things. Then I went away to college and got a degree in economics. In the third year of my economics schooling I had to get an internship in an economics field. I got a job at a restaurant in Berkeley instead. I started as a prep cook and moved to line cook and loved it. I went back and finished my degree and got a little job in Chico to carry me over. I graduated in 2009 and was still deciding what to do with the degree. I think I had my sights set on being an investment banker, but I loved food, that’s why I changed.

KS: How did you end up as chef de cuisine at Sons & Daughters?
DH: I came here from Saison. This restaurant had been open about 4 or 5 months. I had run into Matt [McNamara] and Teague [Moriarty] a couple times around the city and was looking to leave Saison. I was going to go to Manresa, but I came here as a line cook. I worked as line cook for 3 or 4 months and was promoted to sous chef. I was sous chef for 9 months and then moved to chef de cuisine a year ago. It wasn't something I had planned for. I was planning on being here for 4 months and going to Manresa, I had a job at Manresa, but then I stayed here.

KS: How would you describe your style?
DH: As a cook you are trying to take the style of every place you work. I was in Denmark and Sweden for 5 months prior to Saison. That style is completely different than Scandinavian style so yeah of course I took a lot of that.

KS: Where do you find inspiration?
DH: We really try to emphasize all the things in the garden. A lot of things you wouldn't think of, yarrow, sweet woodruff. I would say all the things we have locally here; San Francisco Bay fish year round, proteins and lamb in Sonoma and squab. We’re just creating flavorful nice dishes based on food available around us.

KS: Who would you say is your mentor?
DH: I would definitely say David Kinch as well as Thomas Keller. The style of Manresa and the precision and attention to detail that Thomas Keller demands.

KS: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
DH: I think when we made the switch from our previous menu, which was 7 courses, to this one which is 12. That took a lot, that was difficult, especially with a completely new staff.

KS: Where will we find you in 5 years?
DH: It’s hard to say. Normally in my life I would have a plan already, but I don't for the next five years. I will probably be here or Napa or New York, somewhere where this kind of food is thriving. I have this place here that I kind of feel that I can do anything I want, and there is still a lot to learn.

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