Archive for the ‘San Francisco, My Hometown’ Category


Food Safety

March 9, 2011


On Monday I took an all day manager’s food safety seminar, sponsored by the San Francisco Department of Public Health and The Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Each restaurant in the city must have a least one manager that has taken the class and we pay to attend.

While we have several managers at Waterbar and Farallon with certification, it had been a while since I had taken a class. Continually reading up on food safety and being inspected on an ongoing basis, I felt I knew a lot but I that it would be a good idea to have a refresher.

We reviewed the different kinds of food borne illnesses, how to handle food safely and proper storage of foods. Much of the information was technical- minimum temperatures required for hot water and refrigeration, internal temperatures for cooking and for holding both hot and cold food.

Two things impressed me about the class. One, the participants asked interesting and technical questions. Chefs really want to do the right thing when it comes to preparing food. No one is trying to take short cuts.

Second, Mohanned, our teacher who is a health inspector, was a nice guy who taught dry material in an engaging and entertaining way. Most restaurant people cringe when the health inspector shows up unannounced. It’s as though he is out to bust us. In actuality we are all after the same goal. It doesn’t mean we aren’t relieved when he leaves and we get the passing certificate but his visits aren’t something we should dread like going to the dentist. He works with us to keep our restaurants clean.

At the end of the day we took an 85-question exam. It was a state certified test where you filled in the circles with a number 2 pencil. Not having taken a test besides my DMV license renewal in years I had a bit of test phobia, but all turned out ok.

When the class was over we gave Mohanned a round of applause. We all had a good laugh as he doesn’t get much appreciation. More often he gets dirty looks behind his back.

FYI California passed law SB602 that takes effect in July and requires all who handle food to have a food handler’s certificate. The State, however, is still working out details on how the classes will be administered.

P.S. For better or worse I have joined the ranks of twitter. Follow me @emilyluchetti.


The Fancy Food Show through the Eyes of a Pastry Chef

January 19, 2011

The other day I went to the Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center. Held every January in California, they also have a summer show on the east coast. It’s the place to find specialty food producers.

Individuals are there promoting their secret family recipes as well as large corporations. Countries even have booths to promote the foods they import. Not surprisingly The Italian booth had lots of pasta and olive oil and The French cheese, jams and terrines. South Africa was even represented by a family owned company, Fry Group Foods, which makes vegetarian meat alternatives.

It’s a bit crazy to see row after row of booths representing about 1,300 food companies. They are set up in a grid and you can easily get lost as you walk around. After 10 aisles, they all look the same. It’s best to do a quick walking tour of the entire show and stop at the places that look interesting.

Sweet things are everywhere. There were at least 175 companies that sold chocolates of one kind or another. This doesn’t even count the companies like Guittard, TCHO and Ghirardelli who sell baking chocolate. If they are all making money it’s no wonder there is a cacao shortage. There were also over 90 cookie companies. Who knew that many high end packaged cookie companies could exist in one country.

Biscoff, the delicious spiced biscuits known by most people as the cookies served along with peanuts on Delta Airlines, was there. They have recently come out with a spread, kind of like Nutella, based on the cookie. It does taste like the cookie without the crunch. That being said, I’m not sure what I would do with it.

It’s interesting to see the trends at the show. A couple of years ago pomegranate products were everywhere. Before that it was salsa and mustards. This year biscuits for cheese and sweet potato products had a strong showing. One company makes a water that is to be used as a palate cleanser between courses. It will be interesting to see what reappears or disappears for the 2012 show.

All conventions are good for San Francisco and local restaurants appreciate their business. But it’s especially fun when food people come to town.


SF Chefs Weekend

August 19, 2010

Last weekend was the second annual SF Chefs weekend organized by The Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Conceived as a marketing venue for the city’s restaurants it offers consumers a great opportunity to try many chefs’ creations.

The ribbon at the opening ribbon cutting ceremony was a thing of beauty. Not merely a piece of cloth, it was a garland made of herbs and vegetables. It was cut by Chris Cosentino and Dominique Crenn with about a dozen other chefs holding up the ribbon and waving kitchen tools.

Even with the fog you couldn’t complain about the weather. It’s easier to eat and drink if it isn’t 85 degrees. It’s certainly more pleasant when you are on the worker side of an event. Of course it didn’t hurt the events were inside a tent at Union Square. If you were there all weekend and tasted every dish you would have sampled food from a good majority of the restaurants in the city.

On one level chefs participate because it helps us keep our names out there in a competitive business. People who try and like our tastings will come (we hope) to our restaurants and eat.

On another level, and just as important to us chefs, the weekend is a way for chefs to see each other. In our kitchens we are caught up in the day to day stuff- managing employees, writing menus and cooking, or in my case, baking.  It is necessary and even gratifying but not that enlightening. Rolling out dough and mixing batters satisfies the introvert in me but I also need to get out and see what others are doing. It’s fun to be part of an event that includes so many of the Bay Area’s culinary talent.

I participated in the Sugar party (i.e. ice cream social) at The Westin Saint Francis Hotel. Pastry chefs teamed up with artisan ice cream makers to create desserts using ice cream. Here’s a line-up of the pastry chefs, the artisan ice cream companies they worked with, and what they made. You can see they are doing some cool stuff.

William Werner (Tell Tale Preserves) and Jake Godby (Humphrey Solcumb Ice Cream): charentais melon sorbet-prosciutto ice cream bon bon; raspberry-sweet corn ice cream sandwich; imperial stout float, roasted white chocolate; praline marshmallow, pluot pate de fruit, blackberry-nib financiers

Dominique Crenn (Luce): Corn textures and foie gras

Luis Villavelazquez (Absinthe) and Robyn Goldman (Smitten Ice Cream): Cantalope, Lavender and Lemon
Christine Law (Anchor & Hope): Blue Bottle Coffee Milkshake with Maple Whoopee Pie
Jean-Francois Houdre (Westin St. Francis): Peach Assemblage-slow roasted peach puree poached peach in anis syrup, thyme financier, thyme meringue sticks

Elizabeth Falkner (Orson), Ian Flores and Annabelle Topacio (Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous): grilled sour dough ice cream sundaes with concord grape syrup, salted brazil nuts and spanish peanuts and chantilly
Ethan Howard (Cavallo Point): “Flufferberry”- Marshmallow ice cream sandwiched between two peanut macaroons with peanut butter buttercream and strawberry preserves
Catherine Schimenti (Michael Mina): Smoked Vanilla Bean Parfait, with cashew butter, fudge and marshmallow

Emily Luchetti (Farallon and Waterbar), Anne Walker and Sam Mogannam (Birite Ice Cream); Peach Split- crème fraiche ice cream, butterscotch sauce, raspberries and toasted almonds

 We all had the common theme of ice cream but it was interesting to see how each chef did something unique.

I got to meet several pastry chefs I had not previously met and others who I had not seen in some time. Pastry chefs (it must be all the sugar) are a friendly gregarious group. I felt energized by all the talent in one room. We could have stayed there for some time laughing and chatting. We each have our own distinct style but we all have the common goal to make great food. We each want to be good but we know there is a place for all of us to succeed. I feel extremely fortunate to be part of the San Francisco dessert world. I don’t think any other city in the country has the caliber and camaraderie around desserts as San Francisco.

Judging from the feedback, the ice cream social will be back at next year’s SF Chefs Weekend. Elizabeth Falkner and I are routing for a brass band like they have at old fashioned ice cream socials. I know it’s a year away but mark your calendars.


The Life of A Pastry Chef

July 22, 2010

Recently I have received numerous emails and phone calls from chefs looking for pastry chefs for their restaurants.

Baking and pastry programs in cooking schools are full across the country. While they have always been popular, since the economy went south a couple of years ago attendance is even higher. I get lots of applications for people just starting out and wanting a job. I don’t know what to tell them. I feel badly because they need the help and they would all be good places to work.

What you don’t see many of are resumes of people with several years of pastry experience, enough to run a pastry department in a good quality restaurant.

So where are they? Even though the baking schools are full, a lot of graduates don’t stay in restaurants long term.  The work isn’t what they expected it to be. They thought since they liked to bake at home they will like to bake in restaurant. Once they get into a restaurant they realize it’s harder than they thought. On their feet for long hours (only sitting down for a ten minute break or to go the bathroom) and the pressure to get a lot done by service takes the fun out of it for many. It can be repetitious when the menu doesn’t change for a month and the production is the same. I once had a cook say she wanted to do something besides production and plating. I’m still to figure out what else there is.

Some are not willing to put in the years of work with the not so great hours for little pay. That being said, pastry chef  hours can be “better” than savory chef hours as a lot of production can be done during the day so you have evenings off.

Restaurants also have bakeries to compete with for staff. Many restaurant pastry cooks go to work in pastry shops where the production pace is similar but there isn’t service and the rest of the kitchen craziness to deal with.

On television food shows they see the glamour and fun part of the business, not the hard work that’s involved. If you go into the business just for the accolades and television appearances you are in it for the wrong reasons and you won’t stick around. There’s a lot of hard work that the cameras don’t show.

The pastry department is generally the smallest department in a restaurant. In small restaurants the pastry chef writes the menu, does all the production and most of the plating. He or she works alone for the most part and the salad person may plate desserts later in the evening or a prep person may peel some apples. Sometimes pastry chefs have to go in early to get everything baked off before the cooks need the oven for lunch or dinner service. They stock up as much as possible on their days off as a line cook or sous chef will fill in between their other responsibilities to prepare anything they are short on. A restaurant has to look at the volume of desserts it sells and gauge its pastry department accordingly. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care about desserts. Given economics, space, and time they can’t get too elaborate.

Pastry cooks  get promoted to pastry chefs faster than a line cook will get promoted to a sous chef or chef. This isn’t always a good thing. He or she  may be a good cook but if they are promoted to pastry chef a year out of school they don’t have the work/life experience to handle running a department and solving the problems that invariably come up. Often they get burned out and leave.

Many pastry chefs I have talked to over the years find working in one person shops lonely. They feel they stopped learning as much once they weren’t working under a chef or with other cooks. All cooks needs time to learn from others, see that pastry chefs don’t all do things the same way. That doesn’t mean a pastry chef can’t make fabulous desserts and be happy in a small department I just think it’s harder.

A pastry cook who worked for me a couple years ago was offered a pastry chef job in a small restaurant but she turned it down so she could work under more pastry chefs. I commend her for it. It was tempting to realize her ultimate goal of becoming a pastry chef but she put it off so she could get something bigger down the road.

Throughout my career I have worked for large restaurants where we have the luxury of having a pastry chef and several cooks. A 175 seat main dining room and private dining rooms require a bigger pastry department. Being open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner keeps volume up too.  I prefer  this environment because I am able to put together and be a part of a team. We all contribute whether it is creating, production or plating. When all the responsibility isn’t on one person you have the time to brainstorm ideas and get feedback from your colleagues.

Regardless where they work, pastry chefs have to be extremely organized and thrive on the sense of urgency and the chaos in a restaurant. It can be a love hate relationship and if the negatives outweigh the positives a pastry chef will find a different career. If you are a pastry chef still in love with your career, email me at and I can hook you up with some great restaurants.


Good People, Good Food & Good Wine = A Good Cause & a Good Time

June 24, 2010

On Friday night I will be cooking alongside chefs Gary Danko, Traci Des Jardins, Craig Stoll, Yigit Pura and Yank Sing Restaurant to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of San Francisco Pride at the new SOMA gallery 12 Gallagher Lane. Proceeds from the evening will benefit The James Beard Foundation and AMFAR. This is going to be a great party.

The VIP hosts include Anne Kronenberg, Maggie Rizer, Alex Mehran, Susan Ungaro, and Denise Hale. The mistress of ceremonies for the live auction will be Joanne Weir.

The food will be as amazing as you would expect from this great line up of chefs. Here’s a listing of some of the food that will be offered:


Jewish Artichokes with Lemons and Aïoli
Sweetbreads alla Saltimbocca
Assorted Dumplings > Shrimp, Snow Pea Shoot, and Spinach
Pork and Shrimp Siu Mai
Devil’s Gulch Rabbit Escabèche with Fava Bean Crostini    
Herb-Crusted Beef Filet Mignon with Spaetzle, Cippolini Onions, and King Trumpet Mushrooms
Brown Sugar Oat Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches with Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream
Turkish Delight 2010 > Crispy Honey-Baked Kadayif with Creamy Citrus-Scented Mascarpone Jelly, Glazed Apricots, and Almonds
Baked Lavender Pavlova with Chinese Lychees, Raspberries, and Tahitian Vanilla Chantilly
Housemade Valencia-Roasted Peanut Butter Cups with Fleur de Sel
Citrus-Scented Panna Cotta with Cucumber–Lemongrass Gelée and Candied Fennel
Hamada Farms Meyer Lemon Parfait Pops with Strawberry–Lemon Verbena Leather
Layered Pistachio Cake with Sour Cherry–Chocolate Gum and Spiced Sicilian Pistachio Buttercream
Housemade S’more Stacks with Tonka Bean Ganache

And to Drink

Miura Sparkling Cava NV
Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Basil Gimlets with SKYY Vodka, Basil, and Lime Juice

12 Gallagher Lane, the location of the event, is the exclusive west coast gallery for artist Hunt Slonem, San Francisco, California. It’s tucked between 4th & 5th and Howard & Folsom. Slonem grew up in the south and the outside of the building is reminiscent of his two restored plantation homes in Louisiana.

The VIP Reception starts at 6:00 P.M. and the Tasting Soirée & Live Auction begins at 7 and runs until midnight. We hope to see you there.

For ticket information go to:

This is the week for anniversary events. Sunday I will be cooking at a luncheon at Sakonnet Winery in Rhode Island, celebrating their 35th anniversary. If you happen to be near Little Compton (just outside of Providence) come by for some Passion Fruit Pound Cake with Strawberries and Chantilly Cream. Savory courses will be prepared by Anne Quatrano from Atlanta, Jasper White from Boston, Johanne Killeen and George Germon from Providence and Casey Riley from Newport. Go to for more information.