Meeting with a lady today to talk about a 3-week trip to Uganda in December…why not?
sf day with mama!
Organic fare doesn’t have to be pretentious, bland or boring. Ask Sean Baker, the executive chef at Berkeley’s Gather, an all-organic restaurant and bar that redefines contemporary American cuisine. Offering exquisite, delicious dishes made from only fresh, locally-sourced, organic ingredients, Gather highlights the infinite possibilities of earth’s own unadulterated soil. With a seasonal menu brimming with innovative artisanal creations that are diverse, approachable, thoughtful and enticing, dining here will make you wonder why you’ve ever eaten any other way.
Your experience begins as soon as you enter Gather’s trendy, casual yet sophisticated space, where you are greeted warmly by attentive wait staff. An open, bright room showcases exposed concrete, steel beams and warm wood décor, making for an industrial chic, warehouse-meets-coffee-shop dining atmosphere. Every element has a unique story: from bench seats crafted with recycled leather belts to Thailand-imported fish nets shading warm light bulbs that illuminate the expanse of wooden tables below. Sit in the dining room bustling with energy for wrap-around window street views; opt for a table outside on the sunny patio; or nestle up to the bar by the open kitchen where you can order a delicious organic-grain cocktail and watch chef Baker himself prepare your meal and marvel at the passion of a true creative genius.
Celebrate the harmony of taste and texture with the eggplant sandwich: a warm, vibrant stack of smoked eggplant, avocado, heirloom tomatoes, and grilled onions on a toasted Acme French roll—a luscious mix of earthy tones complemented by a bright, tangy punch of citrus aioli. For meat lovers, Gather offers a wide range of delectable meat and fish dishes, from the house-cured charcuterie or mouth-watering Prather Ranch burger to Baker’s robust slow-cooked dishes, such as braised pork on a bed of creamy, fresh-milled polenta with a side of grilled baby escarole. With a diverse menu and a warm, inviting ambiance, Gather is the perfect place for any occasion—a casual lunch, elegant dinner, or a weekend brunch with family and friends. Most importantly, it provides common ground for the herbivores and carnivores alike, so that we can all gather together.
2200 Oxford Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
You sit in a swanky downtown restaurant, mingling, sipping cocktails lazily. You skim the menu, and order something. Food emerges some time later from a veiled kitchen entrance, sliding into your view. Your mingling continues, the food is good, the cocktails are better, and the plate becomes empty. Then you leave.
Ok, that’s fine.
But what about this: You sit in a swanky downtown restaurant, mingling, sipping cocktails lazily. You skim the menu, and order something. Food emerges some time later from a veiled kitchen entrance, sliding into your view. The chef who made that food accompanies the arrival of the plate. He sits with you.
“This is what went in to the dish you’re about to eat, and this is the story of the one who envisioned and created it…”
Your mingling continues—but it is a conversation, an exchange of stories, a learning experience, a genuine human connection. It is process, happenstance, inspiration, vision and drive. The food is spectacular. You are stunned and delighted.
Then you leave.
All that by way of saying: We don’t know much about the food we eat.
With the help of things like the Slow Food movement, though, we’re doing better. Locally-sourced, sustainable, organic food is being thrust into the spotlight, and has become the centerfold in hundreds of new-age, trendy restaurants around the Bay where it’s more likely you’ll come across an organic turkey burger on a gluten-free bun with goat cheese and mixed greens than its humble predecessor (think: greasy gluttony).
As silly as a movement like this sometimes may seem (a recent visit to Oakland’s modern and minimalistic Plum left me puzzled when the “farm egg” appetizer was touted by a waitress as “gorgeous”), I think we should give thanks to the Bay Area’s spirit of innovation that’s always striving to redefine gastronomy. More specifically, I think we should give thanks to a man who’s establishing a new focal point in the culinary world by bringing us closer to the masters behind the menus.
San Francisco entrepreneur Brad Lev is the host and founder of Studio Gourmet, a new culinary production that’s part talk show, part cooking demonstration, and part food tasting. Lev’s philosophy: bringing people together to hear the stories and experiences behind the individuals who create the food we love to eat.
“Chefs are not chefs anymore,” Lev says, “They’re artists.”
A former Atlanta-based catering business owner, Lev launched Studio Gourmet and similar weekly events—like Swinging and Sushi, Tango and Tapas, Wine and Wii—as a way to gain attendance on otherwise slow weeknights. Several years later, now back in his Bay Area hometown and working as Events Director for 1300 on Fillmore, Studio Gourmet is starting to emerge at the forefront of the San Francisco culinary scene.
Now partnered with Urban Spoon, Studio Gourmet has brought in some of San Francisco’s top chefs, including Martin Brock from Gary Danko, Hoss Zaré from Zaré at Flytrap, Russell Jackson from Lafitte, and David Lawrence from 1300 on Fillmore.
“And the list is just getting better,” Lev says.
Lev invited me to Studio Gourmet’s most recent production in late September at the Mission’s Circolo Lounge featuring chef Matthew Accarrino from the acclaimed SPQR—an event that left me with a new vision of the dining experience.
The night began, as all Studio Gourmet productions do, with a live cooking demonstration from the chef himself (preceded by cocktails, of course). On the main menu: smoked trout with fingerling potatoes. Accarrino described his process while he prepared the fillets, brined them, infused them with herbs, and smoked them.
Then, an unexpected delight: squid ink arancini (fried rice balls) with a sea urchin filling.
And even more unexpectedly: cocoa pasta with seaweed, rabbit and goat cheese. I went for thirds.
“The plate is almost like a canvas for them,” Lev said in my interview with him after the show. “There are so many variables that go into making a dish: where they’re from, their background, their history, their influences, their personal taste…each chef has a story to tell.”
So, we privileged foodies got a chance to get an inside look at the vision behind Accarrino—one of San Francisco’s most celebrated chefs.
After graduating from culinary school from the Culinary Institute of America in 1998 and then receiving a B.A. in hospitality, Accarrino cooked at Michelin-rated Antonello Colonna in rural Italy where he developed a passion for seasonal, locally-sourced food.
Interestingly, Accarrino’s culinary career began by pure chance. He was an avid cyclist for years before an accident left his leg with permanent nerve and muscle damage, leading him to believe he would never walk again. For the months he lay in bed recovering, he watched Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network and became fascinated by his style of cooking. So, one day, he wrote Emeril a letter. Later, he was subsequently invited to fly out and meet the celebrity chef in person. Soon after, Accarrino landed an internship with him.
Of course Accarrino, like most chefs, paid his initial dues washing dishes. But his career in cooking was never slow; he worked job after job under such culinary masters as French Laundry and Per Se’s Thomas Keller, Olive’s Todd English, chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio, and several others.
“I’ve never really used my resume,” Accarrino said with a modest smile.
Cooking on the east coast, he says, is quite different from here in California. He explained that in New York the ingredients are less fresh, forcing chefs to hone their technical skills in order to manipulate and transform the foods.
“That’s what great about San Francisco,” he says. “At SPQR, the food comes directly from local farms.”
Accarrino recreated SPQR’s menu to reflect his cooking philosophy: using fresh, sustainable food and experimenting with new techniques, flavors, textures, and balance to create a unique, satisfying eating experience (always including, he says, “a starch component!”). The chef says that when someone compliments him for a great meal, “it makes it all worth it.”
We could learn a bit from Accarrino. Not just the cooking skills, of course, which are invaluable, but also the vision: food isn’t just food—it’s expression, invention, vision and, yes, entertainment.
“You can tell that Matt loves what he does,” Lev says. “And that, to me, is what Studio Gourmet is about.”
Join Studio Gourmet October 25th for husband and wife duo Lori Baker and Jeff Banker from Pacific Height’s Baker & Banker. For more information on Studio Gourmet or to purchase tickets to their next event, visit www.StudioGourmetSF.com.
Just loved Massive Attack - Paradise Circus (Gui Boratto Remix) http://t.co/3kDFtjuB on @hypem
Just loved Beats Antique - There Ya Go (feat. John Popper) http://t.co/bBdaPrjk on @hypem