The chef de cuisine at Monsieur Benjamin in San Francisco tells Janet Harmer that there are endless reasons why he loves living and working in the city
What inspired you to first work in San Francisco in 2015?
Since leaving school, I always had a drive to work in the US – probably from watching too many episodes of Friends or The OC. I spoke with my head chef at the time, Ian Scaramuzza [a Scot now working at In Situ in San Francisco], about my dream of working in the US, and he said I should work at three-Michelin-starred Benu. Claude Bosi (then chef- proprietor at Hibiscus) emailed Benu and secured a stage for me. I flew to San Francisco and fell in love with the city. I was blown away with what I saw at Benu.
Why did you then leave the US?
My US visa expired, and I went to work in Berlin at a French bistro with two friends from Hibiscus. Niall Keating, who had become a close friend during our time together at Benu, then explained his plans for Whatley Manor in Wiltshire, so I moved back to England to help him relaunch the food programme at the hotel.
You are now back in San Francisco as chef de cuisine of Monsieur Benjamin. Can you describe the style of the restaurant?
It is a modern approach to French bistro-style dining – lots of classic flavours using the amazing ingredients the Bay Area has to offer.
What do you like about living and working in San Francisco?
The list is endless: the weather most of the time is awesome, the people are really friendly and there’s so much diversity in the food scene. Different cultures make for a great variety of amazing restaurants and flavours, and the produce is awesome.
It’s definitely not the cheapest city in which to live. However, the quality of life is currently worth the high cost of living to me.
What are the key challenges of working as a chef in the US?
Compared to the UK, the challenges are pretty low. You have to be more approachable as a chef in the US – the days of shouting and screaming are definitely over.
How easy has it been to obtain working permits?
As long as you have a restaurant that will sponsor your visa application in the US, I’ve found the process to be pretty straightforward. But there is a lot of paperwork involved.
What is the eating out scene like in San Francisco?
The eating out scene is awesome here. You are never short of new places to try. Some of my favourite restaurants in the world are here.
Are there many other Brits working in hospitality within the city?
Not really. We are kind of rare, which has its benefits. Also, I think Brits try to avoid other British people in foreign countries!
Is there anything you miss about living and working in the UK?
I will always miss our pub culture when away from home. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else. I get to use my real accent in the UK, which is nice. I have to modify it a little over here. Otherwise, servers start going to the wrong tables!
Has working in the US enhanced your abilities as a chef?
I gained so much amazing experience working in the UK for some amazing chefs. However, working in the US really changed my outlook on what being a chef means. Working at Benu especially taught me so much more about organisation, creativity and just how to work as a professional.
Would you return to live and work in the UK?
Living and working in the UK is such a part of who I am today, so I would never say never. But currently, I am really enjoying working in the US.
Would you like to work anywhere else in the world?
I love to cook Mexican food and, after spending two weeks in Mexico City last year, it’s definitely a place I’m interested in. The people, culture and food were amazing.
2018-present Chef de cuisine, Monsieur Benjamin, San Francisco
2016-2018 Head chef, Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire
2016 Sous chef, Brasserie Lamazère, Berlin
2015-2016 Chef de partie, Benu, San Francisco
2014-2015 Chef de partie, the Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
2012-2014 Demi chef de partie, Hibscus, London