It is 10 a.m. on a Tuesday in San Francisco’s Mission District, and at Bar Tartine, the lights are dim everywhere but in the pastry kitchen. There, among chopping blocks and flour bins, Cortney Burns and her assistants can be found coagulating goat’s milk and rinsing sprouted rye. After running her fingers through the rice she inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae last night and finding confirmation that the koji fermentation has begun, Burns launches into her next project. She hands 50 pounds of Concord grapes to an assistant and shows him how to quickly pop the green flesh of each from its inky jacket. Later they’ll crush these for jelly, verjus and lactobacillus soda.
Next, Burns sprints to the walk-in freezer for the lamb carcass. She’s hoping that if she butchers and grinds the meat (with house-made paprika) into sausage before noon, she might have time to steam-distill rose petals before service begins.
As Bar Tartine’s “project manager,” Burns has a job that would make most DIY foodies swoon: She’s in charge of the fermentation, dehydration, spice-making, cheese, butchery, charcuterie and dessert programs at the critically acclaimed restaurant, which makes everything from sauerkraut to rose water for its regional, experimental menu in-house.
While the farm-to-table movement has inspired many restaurants to bake, pickle and ferment more ingredients in-house these days, few, if any, have attempted to perform as many of these feats simultaneously as Bar Tartine has. The time and labor it takes are tremendous, which chef Nick Balla discovered after taking over the restaurant and switching its focus from French-influenced California fare to a fermentation-heavy, Eastern European–inspired Bay Area cuisine.
“Nick Balla called me one day and asked me if I would come in to butcher a goat, because he was slammed,” says Burns. “Then I started making the túró farmer’s cheese for the Hungarian cheesecake, and I never left.”
No mere functionary, Burns has leveraged her expertise to become Balla’s official co-chef. Her collaborations with Balla produce such elaborate dishes as smoked potatoes with black garlic and fermented ramp mayonnaise that would be impossible to create without a serious understanding of kitchen chemistry. To make the dish, they smoke Yukon golds, ferment garlic for three weeks, and make the mushroom vinegar for a vinaigrette, as well as the ramp mayonnaise.
A signature dish that makes repeat appearances on the changing menu, beef tartare on koji toast, is chopped raw eye of round, butchered by Burns, resting on a bed of house-made koji porridge bread with house-cured bottarga grated over the top.
Though she has been a creative force at Bar Tartine for more than two and a half years, Burns says she learns something new every week. “Some days I learn how to steam-distill flowers,” she says. “Other days I learn that I’ll clear out the restaurant if I open the lid on the fermented turnips during service.”
Creating intoxicating concoctions is not new to Japan. Early adopters of cocktail culture, the country’s best barkeeps were making mixed drinks for emperors as far back as the 19th century. Naomi Takahashi, head bartender at Lounge Bar Privé in Tokyo’s Palace Hotel, has taken the practice to new extremes, spending hours a day diligently measuring and refining her shakes and stirs. After winning a national bartending skills competition, Takahashi was recently awarded the highest technical score at the IBA World Cocktail Championship in Prague (where she came in second overall). Takahashi is at the vanguard of the next wave of Tokyo bartenders, who combine the precision of Japanese cocktail-making past with a newfound appreciation for creative expression. Here, she makes her world championship–winning “Before Dinner Cocktail,” the Wisteria.
› 1 ¼ oz. Havana Club Añejo 3 Years Rum
› ½ oz. Pavan Liqueur
› 2 tsp. Martini Extra Dry vermouth
› 1 tsp. Grand Marnier
1. Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir to combine.
2. Strain drink into cocktail glass.
3. If you are so inclined, create a flower sculpture out of an orange peel, white grapefruit peel, red apple peel and a pineapple leaf, and hang sculpture over glass.
Before Phil Kelm, an American expat and longtime brewmaster, became Palau’s unofficial king of beers, the title belonged to Anheuser-Busch. Legend has it that August Busch III himself once visited the tiny island nation to see the country that had the highest per capita beer consumption anywhere. Kelm, for his part, was vacationing in the Philippines in 2005 when he received an email: Palau Brewing Company needed help. Its brewery was small. It used rainwater and an extract instead of whole grains, and the resulting beer wasn’t particularly tasty, which is likely why most everyone in Palau drank Bud.
During an initial six-month stint, Kelm, 49, who in addition to being a brewmaster is a trained mechanical engineer, transformed the Palau Brewing Company. He introduced actual grains and municipal water, added equipment and beefed up capacity at the country’s first and only microbrewery, overhauling its Red Rooster Beer—and then he never left. “I love scuba, fishing and camping,” Kelm says. “Palau has this better than almost anywhere.”
Today, Red Rooster beer—named after a catchy local children’s song—has become “Palau’s national beer.” Everywhere in this North Pacific nation, one sees white cans emblazoned with the logo of a red rooster. It’s so successful that Kelm is in the process of shoehorning an additional beer tank into the brewery and launching a vodka. This month he’ll even open a tasting room. “I think that Palauans love the fact that something is manufactured here,” says Kelm, who employs a staff of four (soon to be five). “The fact that it’s actually a good beer really helps, too.”
When he’s not in Palau, Kelm now jets around the world as a brewery consultant. He’s opened or upgraded microbreweries in countries where few or none existed before, including South Korea, India, Kazakhstan and Brazil. But his greatest imprint is on this remote nation of 21,000. As Kelm explains, “Frank Zappa once said, ‘You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.’”
Patrick Soucy has just returned to Ceia Kitchen + Bar in Newburyport, Mass., from a nearby farm with a box full of some seriously ugly tomatoes. But he isn’t bothered by aesthetics. On the contrary, Soucy seems unnerved by fruits and vegetables that are all the same size, shape and color, as though they were the Stepford Wives of the veggie patch.
“That’s not normal. This is normal,” he says, palming a misshapen pink heirloom that’s cracked down one side and pocked across the top. “This is a perfect tomato to make tomato paste to thicken soup,” he says. He’ll just cut off the blemishes.
In his devotion to no-waste cooking as executive chef at Ceia, Soucy is a champion of imperfect produce: He even led a 2012 Boston Local Food Festival demo about using the rough-looking fruits and vegetables most people toss in the trash. For one thing, he says, they can provide better taste and texture than faultless specimens. And it’s not just ugly tomatoes that Soucy embraces. In his kitchen, beat-up raspberries meet the muddler for cocktails; blackened bananas are whipped into mousse for stuffed French toast; underripe tomatoes find purpose in relishes and chutneys; and crooked or bruised eggplants get simmered down into sweet and sour Sicilian caponata, a vegetable salad often served on bread.
That said, Soucy doesn’t want to land his acolytes in the antacid aisle. “I’m not saying to use rotten tomatoes,” he says. “Just don’t be afraid to visit the reduced cart.”