SF Chronicle March 13, 2011Michael Bauer, Chronicle restaurant critic
The road to becoming a Chronicle Rising Star Chef is diverse, but there are guideposts along the way. The main one: passion.
Yet, while passion is always an element in a chef’s success, the feeling is palpable with this group. This is the 19th year the Food & Wine staff has recognized young Bay Area chefs who we feel are making – and will continue to make – a national impact. The Bay Area is a breeding ground for trends, and this group is at the forefront.
As you read their profiles and look at their recipes that we’ve tested for the home kitchen, you’ll be able to experience their magic firsthand.
How they got to where they are today is diverse, but many started in the restaurant business while they were teenagers, forgoing college for on-the-job training. Two are culinary school dropouts, yet still discovered their true expression in cooking. Three started as dishwashers; a strong work ethic and love of preparing food propelled them to the limelight.
Three of our six chefs have strong Bay Area roots; the other three are from, or worked on, the East Coast. However, all of them have found a comfortable and inspiring home in the Bay Area. They’re doing what they love, whether it’s cooking Italian, Chinese, vegetarian or locally inspired food.
So welcome the 2011 class of Rising Star Chefs. We think you’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the future.
2011 Rising Star Chef: Charlie Parker of Plum
It should make perfect sense that Charlie Parker is championing an indigenous Bay Area cuisine. After all, he’s a local boy.
Born and raised in Menlo Park, and a graduate of Woodside High School (class of 2002), Parker is the chef at Daniel Patterson’s Oakland restaurant, Plum.
But before signing on late last year to the East Bay’s newest three-star spot, Parker had spent a decade learning from some of the industry’s biggest visionaries: David Kinch at Los Gatos’ Manresa, Rene Redzepi at Denmark’s Noma, Jeremy Fox at Napa’s Ubuntu, Randall Grahm at Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon Vineyard and now Patterson (also of Coi in San Francisco), just to name a few.
Throw in experience at Woodside’s Village Pub, where he learned how to handle working in a high-volume kitchen, and another at a friend’s meat shop, where he learned to butcher, and you’ve got a versatile and complete chef.
One name that should have been on that mentor list is Heston Blumenthal of England’s Fat Duck restaurant. Parker was supposed to work for him, but, thanks to a suitcase full of knives, he couldn’t get through customs in London. He didn’t have a work visa, because the stint at Fat Duck wasn’t a paid position – he just wanted to learn. Long story short, British customs agents were incredulous that he would work for no money, so they sent him back to California.
Parker’s first restaurant gig was at age 17 as a dishwasher at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. While attending high school and then culinary school, he worked his way up to become a line cook.
He got his big break at 20, when he landed an externship at Manresa, eventually becoming sous chef. He’s the fifth Manresa vet in five years to be named a Chronicle Rising Star Chef.
Now at Plum, he’s putting his experiences together, implementing fine-dining techniques and attention to detail in a casual neighborhood setting. And he’s got a few new mentors, too.
“I’m so privileged to be able to sit down with Daniel Patterson and (corporate chef) Ron Boyd and bounce ideas off them,” he says. “I might tell them I’m thinking about a squid and carrot dish. They chime in and by the end of the conversation, we have a dish. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
It’s all part of a mission to use local and foraged ingredients to create a delicious, genuine experience that can only be had in the Bay Area.
“This is my cuisine. This is the area I grew up in. We’re trying to find and craft a cuisine that is truly Northern California.”
Restaurant: Plum, Oakland
Cooking style: Modern Northern California cuisine
Recipe: Wild Nettle & Green Garlic Soup, Smoked Potatoes, Meyer Lemon
Quote: “I see restaurants as a place for friends, family and lots of alcohol and food. Sharing plates and appreciating life. To me, that’s a good time. That’s why I love restaurants.”