2016 San Francisco Rising Star Chef Yoni Levy of Outerlands

2016 San Francisco Rising Star Chef Yoni Levy of Outerlands
May 2016

Before he ever worked with Jeremy Sewall at Lark Creek, Paul Kahan at Blackbird, Jason Hammel and Amalea Tschilds at Lula Cafe, Chris Pandel at Bristol, and Jared Van Camp at Old Town Social, Yoni Levy was a dough boy and delivery driver at Little Caesar’s. The San Jose native was also a college dropout, habitual skaterboarder, and—when not chauffering pizzas—working nights at a UPS warehouse in Sonoma.

For a couple of lost years, Levy skated around and worked uninspiring front-of-house positions and “crappy” cook jobs before finally getting his act together and enrolling at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, during which time he externed at Bradley Ogden’s One Market in San Francisco. Upon graduating in 2001, Levy got a job with Sewall, and followed him to Boston, where he helped open Great Bay. That year, Levy began dating his future wife and followed her to Chicago, working at Blackbird and then as sous chef at Lula for three years. After cooking with Pandel at Bristol, came a position as chef de cuisine of Old Town before launching Jane Addams Hull-House Farm. When time came to start a family, he moved back to the Bay Area, becoming chef de cuisine at Flora in Oakland, three years during which he worked closely with farms. Before arriving at the Outerlands in 2015, Levy opened Daniel Patterson’s Alta. As executive chef of beloved Outerlands, Levy joins forces with Pastry Chef Brooke Mosley, creating crave-inducing California cuisine with an international edge.


Interview with San Francisco Rising Star Yoni Levy of Outerlands

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Yoni Levy:
 My first gig was as a dough boy and delivery driver for Litttle Caesars. I dropped out of college and bounced around crappy cook jobs until, at some point, I realized that I loved food and loved what I was doing. I went to the Hyde Park CIA and externed at One Market with Bradley Ogden

SK: Whom do you count as mentors?
 Jeremy Sewall, Paul Kahan, Jared van Camp, Jason Hammel, Amalea Tschilds, Chris Pandel, and Ron Boyd. 

SK: Not a bad list. How do you describe your food?
don’t try to do anything crazy. I layer flavor with minimal manipulation. It's solid, delicious food; unpretentious, comforting, and fun. My favorite thing about food is being as simple as possible through complexity. A ton of prep goes into some dishes, even down to the people who make the olive oil.

My Eastern European and Jewish side sometimes slips out, and I can see my grandmothers eating a certain dish. I don’t like to repeat anything on the menu. At my last job I made a name for myself with falafel. I push myslsef to learn and do new things. I like simplicity, but with adding layers to a dish. 

SK: How do you come up with ideas or get inspired? 
YL: Sometimes I don’t really understand where ideas come from; like when I'm talking with my wife over breakfast and something she says triggers a thought about food and I have to write it down. My phone is filled with notes and flavor combinations. 

SK:How are you involved in the local culinary community?
I grew up in the Chicago community of chefs. I cooked there for 7 years and made so many of my best friends there. The owners of Outerlands are beautiful people. Everyone I work with is a skater, artist, or surfer. They're all really good people. This community welcomed me so quickly. I buy 95% of the restaurant's produce from local farms. I have a lot of great friends who are chefs in the community, which is nice. A good handful of chefs and industry people come in here. 

SK: What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your position here?
 They didn't have a chef for a while before I started. This place is a beast, so many covers. I had to control flavor, drop food costs, tighten everything up and unify everything, write recipe books .. It took 5,6 months.

SK: What's your five year plan? 
I want to own some stuff. Open more places around here, moving into inner sunset. I love comfort. I'll never have a place with table cloths. Even on an off day you feel good in here and that makes the food better.