Letter from the Editor: Personality Is Front and Center in San Francisco Vol: 99

May 2013

San Francisco is a fiercely loyal town. There’s not a chef we tasted with who isn’t driven by a love of Northern California’s farms and producers. And as the restaurant scene has evolved, those allegiances have, too. They’ve grown deeper in many ways—with chefs like David Kinch gaining exclusive access to Love Apple Farms’s produce, Butcher Ryan Farr working with local ranchers to stock his meat cabinets at 4505 Meats, and Jacob and Shauna Des Voignes farming their own plot in Lodi.

Chefs are also developing their own voices—above the siren calls of heirloom carrots and heritage breed pigs. In 2010, we found a mature market, where chefs were no longer shackled by their reverence for pristine product. Three years later, Bay Area culinarians are still fearlessly transforming California’s bounty, and they’re doing it in a way that’s more personal than ever. And the best of those chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, and artisans are joining the ranks of StarChefs.com Rising Stars. So without further ado, we introduce the 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Stars and Why They Shine.

The true sense of individualism is striking in San Francisco. For some chefs that means exploring naturalism, as with Dominique Crenn and Juan Contreras’s forest-like plating and poetic approach at Atelier Crenn, where Contreras goes so far as crafting his own plate ware for each dessert. For others, it means breaking down fine-dining assumptions. Chefs Brett Cooper (Outerlands), Richie Nakano (Hapa Ramen), and 2007 Rising Star Chef James Syhabout (Hawker Fare) are merging white tablecloth experience and technique with approachable environs and laid back concepts.

Charcuterie-loving Chef Sean Baker has found a way to convey his love of (and skill with) meat and local Lindencroft Farms produce in a vegan charcuterie board at Berkeley’s Gather. And we’ve now seen three generations of Bar Tartine chefs doing entirely different, but equally successful concepts: Jason Fox’s modern American cuisine at Commonwealth; Chris Kronner’s addictive burgers at KronnerBurger; and Nicolaus Balla’s newest Hungarian take at Bar Tartine.

Mixologists Scott Baird and Josh Harris bring this personal approach to their new bar, Trick Dog. Instead of pomp, they focus on quality, attention to detail, and maintaining an energetic atmosphere. Along with Mixologists Matt Conway and Heaven’s Dog’s Ethan Terry, San Francisco is pushing the envelope toward individual expression, approachability, and easy drinking. Sommeliers like Oliveto’s Esteban Brunello are following suit, pouring affordable, food-friendly wines that emphasize the comfort and desires of the customer.  

The market in San Francisco is open to this candid industry bent—diners want to try it all. Pastry chefs in the city are taking advantage of this receptive audience, spreading their wings and taking risks like nowhere else in the country. They are opening all kinds of shops, from the traditional Knead Patisserie and William Werner’s funky modern Craftsman and Wolves to Cameron Ring and Todd Masonis’s hot chocolate bar, Dandelion Chocolate, and Yigit Pura’s playful pastry parlor Tout Sweet Patisserie. And Coi’s Matt Tinder is among a group of young pastry chefs who are reinventing desserts as an ice cream-, quenelle-, and rule-free exploration.

San Francisco is also home to a rapidly expanding coffee roasting scene. Blue Bottle and Ritual coffee led the way, and, now, a new generation of roasters is making its mark. The artisans at Four Barrel and Verve Coffee are as transparent about their coffee sourcing as they are committed to delicious pours. And we’re excited to report that the dedication to local is catching on within the microbrewing scene; brewers like Linden Street Brewery, Pacific Brewing Laboratory, and Almanac Beer Co. are proving it’s possible to make beers that truly represent the tastes of Northern California.

Read all about our San Francisco eating and drinking adventures in our restaurant travel guide. And don’t miss out on the San Francisco Bay Area Rising Stars Awards at AT&T Park on Thursday, June 13. Keep your nominations coming to fuel our travel to other markets—we have trips planned to New England, North Carolina, Charleston, and LA in the coming months. And remember to get real-time updates on our whereabouts and meals by following us on Twitter and Facebook.

Antoinette Bruno