As anyone in the restaurant business will tell you, just making it past the first year is no small feat.
When the Bon Appétit team at The Commissary in the Presidio of San Francisco realized that 2019 marked their fifth year in business, they knew they needed to mark the occasion.
“We’ve seen foot traffic increase as more visitors arrive, and we have created a community within the park. We knew it was time to celebrate,” said Resident District Manager Stacy Peoples.
After a brainstorming session with Presidio Foods Chef-Partner Traci Des Jardins, they agreed that they wanted to throw a party — not a prix-fixe meal where guests were seated at individual tables, but a fun celebration at which the cava flowed freely, the food was abundant, and everyone had a chance to mix and mingle.
The idea was to toast to the future while embracing the restaurant’s past. To develop the menu, Traci suggested inviting The Commissary’s previous executive chefs to each contribute a dish, and current Executive Chef Eric Minnich graciously agreed to open his kitchen. Opening chef Reylon Agustin (now at Michelinstarred Madera in Menlo Park, CA), Bon Appétit’s Regional Culinary Director Robbie Lewis, and Rogelio Garcia (now at Michelin-starred Spruce in San Francisco), all agreed to come cook and contribute dishes.
The invitees were a mix of restaurant regulars, past staff, friends, family, and fans of The Commissary. Tickets were also open to the public, and General Manager Charlie Cross, Assistant Manager John Hall, and Administrative Assistant Cali Newell leveraged all of their communications channels to promote the event, spotlighting the party on social media, on their website, and in their monthly newsletters.
The day of the party, the whole restaurant was buzzing with excitement. As vendors arrived with flowers and cases of cava, Reylon and Rogelio returned to the kitchen and began prepping side-byside with Eric. At lineup, Eric asked each chef to introduce himself and his dish, sharing his history with Traci and The Commissary.
“I was part of the opening team here, and it’s an honor to be back in the kitchen with these chefs,” explained Eric. “Tonight, we’re giving guests a menu inspired by some of their favorite dishes.” Traci also took a moment to congratulate the team, sharing a bit of wisdom and encouraging everyone to “savor the moments and be proud of what you do. It goes by in a heartbeat.”
For the menu, Eric and Traci joined forces to showcase some of The Commissary’s greatest hits, including a take on the popular pea croquettes from the opening menu, made with fava beans and jamón (dry-cured ham from Spain); heirloom tomato gazpacho shooters; and gambas al ajillo (shrimp with fried garlic). Reylon created a take on elote (Mexican grilled corn) with finger lime, cotija, and espuma (foam). Rogelio re-created his crispy Spanish octopus with sauce al pastor and citrus. As the party got underway, Traci hand-sliced jamón ibérico as guests gathered around, enjoying Spanish cheeses, charcuterie, blistered shishito peppers, and patatas bravas (crispy potatoes served with a spiced tomato sauce). In keeping with the Spanish theme, Traci also invited her friend Tom Meckfessel, the chef of Paella del Reyes, to bring his wood-fired mobile paella catering to the event, while Charlie coordinated a Spanish guitarist as the entertainment.
Bar Manager Tony Stewart created a list of cocktails highlighting past favorites like The Official (jalapeño-infused tequila, oloroso, pamplemousse, and grapefruit bitters) and the International Orange (a nod to the color of the Golden Gate Bridge, featuring gin, rosé, grapefruit bitters, and soda). He also made sure to pay homage to The Commissary’s Spanish roots, with a gin and tonic and sangria by the glass, in addition to his more contemporary cocktails.
“The evening was about creating a truly memorable culinary experience, and you could feel that the guests really were there to enjoy and taste what was coming out of the kitchen, to celebrate where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” said Stacy. “It was magical.”
Photos: Charity Vargas Photography