TRACI DES JARDINS Executive Chef/Partner Jardiniere
2000: Traci was nominated for Best Chef in California by the James Beard Foundation.
Traci Des Jardins exudes the grace and peace of someone at the top of her game, who has come full circle in her career. She has long mastered French techniques, and knows how to
successfully "push the culinary envelope," and create show-stopping dishes. "I think it must be the same way with other types of artists," Des Jardins said, "you enter into any creative field because you have specific ideas and something to offer. But first, you must learn the discipline. For me that part was so critical, but the discipline and techniques only took me so far; as I've grown personally and professionally something has shifted in my cooking. I used to feel the need to make a bold statement with my cooking; now I'm just creating the food I love."
Lucky for Bay Area diners in San Francisco, then, that Jardiniere is Des Jardins' canvas. She has made a consistent creative splash since she arrived in 1991, and her cooking, as well as the
restaurant's design, have garnered a tremendous amount of national recognition. In 1995 Des
Jardins was named "Rising Star Chef of the Year" by the James Beard Foundation, and in the
same year was named one of Food & Wine Magazine's "Best New Chefs." She was recently
chosen Chef of the Year by San Francisco Magazine's critics' panel. For two consecutive years
she was named one of the top three chefs in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle. In
1997 Jardiniere was nominated as "Best New Restaurant of the Year" by the James Beard
Foundation, and has been named one of the "100 Top Restaurants in the Bay Area" by the San
Francisco Chronicle two years in a row.
Des Jardins grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in a family where food was always the center of
activity. Her father was a rice farmer. Her paternal grandfather was a skilled cook born in
French Acadian Louisiana and her maternal grandparents were Mexican, which means that Des
Jardins grew up being exposed to a wonderful "mélange" or mixture of cuisines. The family
prepared meals together with fresh produce from their garden and game that the men hunted.
Des Jardins, who never saw a casserole or convenience product in her home, began baking with
her mother by age 6.
She was planning a career as a veterinarian and entered the University of Santa Cruz with that
intention, but quickly learned that indeed her heart was elsewhere. Her hardcore foodie aunt
and uncle put her in touch with Joachim Splichal who was the chef at 7th Street Bistro in Downtown Los Angeles. Splichal gave Des Jardins a job, and although she had no professional kitchen skills, he was so impressed with her determination and strong sense of organization, that he allowed her to run a kitchen station within two weeks. From Splichal, Des Jardins believes she discovered "an uncompromised discipline and standard of excellence. I was lucky enough to start with one of the best chefs in the country. For me there would be no turning back, no other way to approach cooking."
Splichal advised his protégée to continue her studies in the traditional European fashion, that is,
by apprenticing great French chefs. With Splichal's help, she landed the most impressive
apprenticeships imaginable. She worked with Michel and Pierre Troisgros of Troisgros, Alain
Sendersens at Lucas Carton, Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV and Alain Passard at L'Arpege.
"The importance that the French place on what and how they eat truly resonated with me," Des
Jardins says, "it is very much the same way that I grew up."
Upon her return to the United States, Des Jardins worked at Drew Nieporent's Montrachet in
Manhattan before returning to California as the opening chef de cuisine of Splichal's Patina.
Then, after moving to San Francisco where she had always wanted to live, Des Jardins helped
open Aqua with George Morrone and then Elka with Elka Gilmore. In 1993 she became the
executive chef of Drew Nieporent's Rubicon (also owned by Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro
and Francis Ford Coppola), and garnered considerable acclaim for the restaurant and her
signature cooking style.
Des Jardins had long dreamed of owning her own restaurant where she could shape the menu,
the service, and the atmosphere around her own philosophy. That dream was realized in 1997
when Jardinière was born. Although Des Jardins prefers not to label food, when pressed she
calls her cuisine "French-California -the technique is entirely French, and the ingredients are
wholly Californian." She and Kuleto succeeded in creating a romantic, celebratory and relaxed
environment, where people of all ages are made to feel comfortable and welcome.
Des Jardins is proud of Jardinière, and looks forward to maintaining the standard of excellence
that she and General Manager, Doug Washington, have established, while keeping everything
fresh and vibrant. "One of the most exciting things about the Bay Area is the availability of
produce, wines and other ingredients, there is always something new to share with customers,"
she says. In addition to all of her professional accomplishments, she is equally proud of and
devoted to her partner and baby, and has discovered lasting grace and peace outside of the
kitchen as well as inside.