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Postcard from the Chef – Sat Bains in San Francisco

02 September 2011
Postcard from the Chef – Sat Bains in San Francisco

In the latest of our occasional series of postcards from top industry names, Sat Bains, chef-patron of Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, gives an account of his trip to San Francisco earlier this summer. Along with Claude Bosi, chef-patron of Hibiscus in London, he was there to take part in two charity dinners at Daniel Patterson's restaurants, Coi and Plum

In June, I was invited to San Francisco along with Claude Bosi, chef-patron of Hibsicus in London, to do a couple of charity dinners at Daniel Patterson's two restaurants, Coi and Plum.

Daniel is one of the most celebrated chefs in California, who is self-taught and has won loads of accolades, including a James Beard award. I've known Daniel for a couple of years, having first met him at Identità Golose in Milan, and our paths have crossed again since then at various industry events.

We did two dinners to raise money for local charities, which is really important to Daniel. The first was at Coi, his 40-cover, two-Michelin-starred restaurant in North Beach. It was an eight-course menu with myself, Claude and Daniel doing two courses each and Daniel's pastry chef doing two courses. After that we did a more casual dinner at Plum, Daniel's open-counter restaurant in Oakland, which he opened last year.

Coi 247
Coi 247
Daniel Patterson
Daniel Patterson
At Coi (left, Daniel Patterson on the right) I served two dishes from my restaurant, Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham - oxtail with a little smoked egg yolk, mushroom ketchup and a salad of raw cepes; and a dish called "brassicas" which featured chard, onion hollandaise and loads of different radishes, turnips, broccoli - you name it, it was on the plate. I knew both dishes would travel well to California. Ben Greeno - who used to work with us in Nottingham and previously worked at Noma and will be soon opening a restaurant for David Chang in Sydney - came over from New York to help with the mise en place.

At Plum, I did belly pork, piccalilli and pickled vegetables. I really wanted to serve a British-inspired dish but something that used their local ingredients. I was a bit worried that diners would be put off by the amount of fat on the belly pork, but they loved it!

Coi is widely considered to be the top restaurant in San Francisco and what sets Daniel apart from other chefs is that he's an intellect. I think Coi is worth three stars, but then I don't know the criteria that Michelin is looking for. What I would say is that Daniel's cooking is very intelligent. He's a thinker, and his dishes go through a long thought process.

One particular dish that impressed me was "beet rose", a rose made out of beetroot, served with a rose-scented granité. It takes 22 minutes to dress each dish! Lots of people are replicating his food because it looks so simple, but there's a hell of a lot of technique that goes into it; it's incredible. I tasted the granité initially and thought: "Wow, that's powerful." But then when I tasted the beetroot and the soft cheese that's served with it, it was just amazing, with such depth of character - the rosewater granité, slightly salty but with a real taste of rosewater, the soft cheese and then topped with the delicately carved beetroot. It was my standout dish of the trip - delicious and powerful.

Of course, our first priority was to make sure the dinners went well, but on the days that we weren't working (we were there just under a week), Daniel organised an itinerary for us to eat at some of the best restaurants in the area.

Daniel had covered our flights to San Francisco and organised digs for us while we were there. It was an opportunity too good to miss - to know that we would be able to eat at the French Laundry, Manresa and Coi, places that we had only ever read about.

All of the food we had over the few days in California was absolutely incredible - we didn't have a single bad meal.

Manresa
Manresa
David Kinch
David Kinch
Manresa, David Kinch's two-star restaurant, was interesting. He's very committed to biodynamic ingredients. The dishes are very clean with beautiful produce. You can see why these places have the reputation they have. His farm in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains about an hour outside San Francisco is going to be turning over a lot more biodynamic produce.

This sort of restaurant definitely has legs and I can see people replicating it. But like any trend I think we'll see a surge in biodynamic produce and then it will probably calm down to a natural level and you'll find that chefs will have "some" biodynamic produce on their menus, but they won't be exclusive. It's like foraging and the trend behind that - foraged ingredients are great, but they shouldn't be on every dish.

The French Laundry is in Yountville in the Napa Valley wine region, 60 miles north of San Francisco. Claude and I drove out there, got a room and then went to Thomas Keller's French Laundry for dinner. I was surprised at how small Yountville is. On the day we visited it was 100ºF so we struggled to cope with the restaurant's dress code of suit jackets, but as the evening wore on and the temperature failed to drop they let us take our jackets off.

The place feels very French and traditional, with heavy linen tablecloths. They offered to cook for us that night and the meal certainly lived up to all the hype and my personal expectations. It was brilliant.

It was wonderful to eat the dishes that I'd read so much about - oysters and pearls (sabayon of pearl tapioca with Malpeque oysters and osetra caviar), truffled egg custard served in its shell; the famous cornets - each one a small mouthful, gone. They chose the wines for us and were incredibly generous with them. We had a fantastic time there.

After dinner we went to Bouchon, Thomas Keller's bistro just up the road, for a drink. The place was buzzing and, although we didn't eat, the food looked great. We also visited Pride Mountain Vineyards, a 235-acre estate that is privately owned by the Pride family.

Back in San Francisco, we next ate at Benu, which is owned by Corey Lee. He is a James Beard Award-winning chef and was previously chef de cuisine at the French Laundry. We went with David Chang and while we could see the refinement of the French Laundry in his food, Lee, who is American-Korean, had an obvious Asian influence in his cooking. It was amazing food and to think he's only got eight chefs in his kitchen. He's known as "the terrorist" because he's so brutal but when I met him I couldn't believe how young he is. His food was light and flavoursome, and the rumour is that, despite being open for less than a year, it will go straight in at two Michelin stars - the food is that good.

Slanted Door
Slanted Door
Charles Phan
Charles Phan
We had a great night at Slanted Door, a huge dining space overlooking the bay, owned and run by Charles Phan. We just ate tapas-style dishes at the bar, and ordered until we were full! It had a great atmosphere, and when we finished a journalist from Grub Street took us around the haunts of San Francisco.

Daniel pulled out all the stops with our itinerary - he even arranged for us to meet food science author Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. McGee has been a great inspiration to Heston Blumenthal and now works closely with Daniel. Harold is a down-to-earth guy, very knowledgeable, and very accessible.

Being in the USA with David Chang also gave us an opportunity to do some interviews for David's own quarterly magazine, Lucky Peach. We were able to present the dishes that we'd served at Daniel's charity events as well as take part in a discussion with David about food and the industry. He did something similar with Wylie Dufresne and Anthony Bourdain in the previous issue.

These dining out experiences truly enrich your knowledge as a chef. The connections we made were incredible and it just goes to show that the whole culinary world is really quite small and accessible. As I said, Ben Greeno is now going to Sydney to work for David Chang, having worked at Noma - it shows that the world's your oyster if you apply yourself. Sharing is the future, without a doubt.


Lucky Peach
Lucky Peach
LUCKY PEACH
Lucky Peach is a new food magazine, published quarterly by McSweeney's. It's the creation of David Chang, the chef behind the Momofuku restaurants in New York; writer Peter Meehan; and Zero Point Zero Production, producer of the Emmy Award-winning Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Each issue explores a single topic "through a mélange of travelogue, essays, art, photography, interviews, rants, and, of course, recipes. The aim of Lucky Peach is to create a publication that appeals to diehard foodies as well as fans of good writing and art in general."

The second edition is due out this autumn.

www.mcsweeneys.net/luckypeach

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