The San Francisco Bay Area has a sea of exceptional restaurants and culinary experts. The city's most seasoned chefs are those whose years of experience has brought them national acclaim. Among the celebrity chefs representing San Francisco's crème de la crème are four James Beard Foundation award winners. Chefs Gary Danko of Restaurant Gary Danko, Nancy Oakes of Boulevard, Thomas Keller of French Laundry, and Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys are culinary icons in the Bay Area, distinguished for their enduring excellence and ingenuity.
Chef Gary Danko
Chef Gary Danko of Restaurant Gary Danko in Russian Hill attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and studied with the renowned food author Madeleine Kamman. Danko shares, "Kamman helped me refine and expand my French techniques and theories even more. Once these techniques are honed, they can be expanded upon -- that's when the innovative cuisines start to be incorporated into chef's repertoire."
Danko was the executive chef for Beringer Vineyards and Chateau Souverain for several years. He shares, "Working at Beringer Vineyards helped me incorporate American wines, cook with wines, and better pair food and wine together." Chef has also worked at the prestigious Dining Room inside the Ritz-Carlton, during which the restaurant was called one of the best in the country. In 1995, Danko received the James Beard "Best Chef in California" award. Danko's success further led to appearances on the Food Network and the PBS programs Great Chefs and Jacques Pepin's Cooking with Claudine.
Danko opened the cosmopolitan Restaurant Gary Danko in 1999 and generated instant critical acclaim. The restaurant received its first of six "Five Star" Mobil Travel Guide ratings and in 2000, Danko received the James Beard "Best New Restaurant" award. The restaurant has also received recognition from the Relais & Châteaux association for offering something "unique in the world," Danko's mustard seed sauce.
Gary Danko offers a prix-fixe menu with French, Mediterranean, and regional American cuisine. Danko's signature dish is the Roast Maine Lobster with tomatoes, chanterelle mushrooms and tarragon with potato puree and a seasonal favorite is the Glazed Oysters with Zucchini Pearls, Osetra Caviar, and Lettuce Cream.
Chef takes the time each week to greet his patrons. "I sign a lot of personalized menus for our guests. We are in the hospitality business and guest services is key to any experience - it is not enough to just have great food." In recognition of this, the restaurant received the James Beard "Outstanding Service" award in 2006.
Next for Chef Danko... "I am currently working on a new restaurant one block away from Gary Danko. The concept is the high energy of a brasserie with American everyday food. Since I am really involved in my restaurant, one block is as far as I can journey."
Chef Nancy Oakes
Chef Nancy Oakes and restaurant designer Pat Kuleto opened Boulevard in 1993. With the stunning view of the Bay Bridge, the posh belle époque interior, and the fine American cuisine served with a French flair, it's understandable why the Michelin star rated restaurant ranks at the top for many locals.
Boulevard is known for its succulent meat dishes prepared by wood oven. Best sellers are seafood dishes such as the seasonal Venetian Style Crab with Fettuccini and the Filet Mignon served with red wine beef jus, sweet white corn, fondant fingerling potatoes glazed with Morbier cheese, Brandywine tomato relish, bacon, spinach, and watercress salad. Venison and wild boar are occasionally on the menu as well.
Oakes shares, "Between cooking what you want and what customers want, the two are not far apart for me. You don't need to compromise yourself. Cook what you love. Even if squab with truffles is not as popular, we'll still serve it. If nine out of 30 people order it, it was worth cooking for those die-hard foodies looking for something different."
Oakes studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and was mentored by the renowned Joël Robuchon, Gérard Boyer, and Guy Savoy. Training with these chefs helped Oakes introduce more simplicity to her cooking. Oakes has also been fortunate throughout her career by being in the right place at the right time and having the necessary resources. Among Chef Oakes' accomplishments: in 2001, she received the James Beard "Best Chef in California" award and in 2005, Oakes published her cookbook "Boulevard."
Opening a restaurant is a dream that is often out of reach for many. For this reason, a future goal for Chef Oaks is to help others accomplish this dream. "Mentoring is a thrill for me," says Oakes. "I'd like to get involved in small business opportunities for women in the US and do something that becomes financially rewarding for someone else."
Currently, Chef Oakes is working on her next restaurant Prospect which is projected to open in the Spring of 2010.
Chef Thomas Keller
Chef Thomas Keller made his start in cuisine in Palm Beach, Florida. He trained with Master French Chef Roland G. Henin in classical French cooking for several years before he worked as an apprentice for various fine dining restaurants in Florida, New York, and France.
In 1994, when Keller opened his restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, Napa Valley, he received rave reviews and three-stars from the Michelin Guide. His recreation of the French countryside dining experience earned Chef Keller multiple James Beard awards including "Best Chef in California" in 1996, "Outstanding Chef," "Outstanding Service," "Outstanding Restaurant," and the "Outstanding Restaurateur" award. The French Laundry is also a Relais & Châteaux property and received its "unique in the world" honor for never repeating a single ingredient throughout a meal. Keller's innovations include his "Oysters and Pearls", a Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar and the "Beets and Leeks" with Maine Lobster Tail "Pochée au Beurre Doux" with King Richard leeks, pommes Maxim's, and red beet essence.
Keller has opened other restaurants in Yountville as well, including the Michelin star rated bistro Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, and Ad Hoc. With the huge amount of success that Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery have received, Keller opened locations in Las Vegas, New York, and Beverly Hills. Keller is also the author of the cookbooks "The French Laundry", "Bouchon”, and "Under Pressure."
On another note of interest, if you've ever wondered who came up with the beautiful ratatouille dish presentation at the end of Pixar's animated movie "Ratatouille," that was none other than our Bay Area Chef Thomas Keller.
Chef Hubert Keller
Chef Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys and co-owner Maurice Rouas have one of the most elegant romantic restaurants in the city. Keller partnered with Rouas in 1986 and the restaurant has since become one of the finest dining destinations in America. The chef from Alsace, France is a pastry chef graduate of the École Hoteliere in Strasbourg and trained with the legendary chefs Paul Bocuse and Roger Verge.
Keller won the James Beard "Best Chef in California" award in 1997 and has received the high honor of cooking for President Clinton. "When I was invited to the White House to be the first guest chef, it was very exciting. But to top it off, meeting President Clinton in the oval office was an experience of a lifetime," shares Keller.
Chef is also the author of "The Cuisine of Hubert Keller" and the creator of the PBS television program, "Hubert Keller: Secrets of a Chef," which is going into its third season. In 2006, Keller was a guest judge on Bravo TV's first season of Top Chef and was invited back for seasons two and five. In 2009, Keller became a contestant on Bravo's series premiere of Top Chef Masters. He shares, "My experience put simply -- I would do it again, anytime."
The Michelin star-rated Fleur de Lys offers contemporary French cuisine from a prix-fixe menu. "Right now, the Slow-Braised Snake River Farm Waygu Beef Cheeks with Pretzel Crust on spatzle, choucroute gratin and scented with a beer sauce has been extremely popular and well received," says Chef Keller.
In 2004, a second Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas opened and Bon Appétit Magazine wrote, "Hands down the best fine dining in Las Vegas." Keller has also ventured into casual dining from a gourmet perspective with his popular Burger Bar restaurants. Currently, there are locations at Mandalay Bay, St. Louis, and Macy's Union Square. Chef has also made it convenient for cooks at home to recreate his redefined burgers with the help of his new cookbook, "Burger Bar: Build Your Own Ultimate Burgers."
Most would guess that the busy Chef Hubert Keller would be impossible to track down. Au contraire... "I am in the restaurant every day and I make sure I greet my guests at the end of the evening. I think the most rewarding thing for a chef is if at the end of the evening my guests are happy, I’ve done my job," says Chef Keller.
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