Many locally and nationally famous chefs have cooked in The Commissary’s display kitchen, as part of the Open Kitchen series held at this restaurant in San Francisco’s beautiful Presidio. (On the first Monday of every month, two or three chefs join Executive Chef Rogelio Garcia to plan and cook a four-course prix fixe menu based around a single ingredient.)
By now, the 3-by-5- foot hanging chalkboard that chefs sign at the end of the night is getting rather full. Among the chefs have been Matthias Merges, owner and executive chef of Yusho and formerly of Charlie Trotter’s (both in Chicago), and Philip Tessier, culinary director at Hestan Cue, formerly of The French Laundry, and the 2015 Bocuse d’Or silver medalist.
But starting in February, this popular dinner series has had an extra sprinkling of star power. Rogelio’s recent stint on Season 15 of Top Chef in Colorado (see box with Q&A, below) earned him not only double takes on the streets of San Francisco, but lasting friendships among the country’s hottest chefs. And he’s been inviting many of them to Open Kitchen!
In February, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins of San Diego’s forthcoming El Jardín (a cheftestant alongside Rogelio) and Carlos Gayton of Chicago’s Michelin-starred Mexique (a Season 11 alum) joined Rogelio in creating a special four-course menu focused on California’s peak citrus, from kumquats to kishus and calamondin to Cara Cara oranges.
Artichokes were the focus in March, and the guests were two more new friends from Season 15: Tu David Phu, creator of ĂN: A Vietnamese Dining Experience and Chefs Hawker Centre (two series of pop-ups), and Melissa Perfit, Executive Chef at Bar Crudo in San Francisco. Joining them was Angelo Sosa, a Season 7 alum who has opened many restaurants in his career, including Añejo (Hell’s Kitchen and Tribeca) and Abajo Cocktail Bar in New York City, and recently launched a made-in-the-USA chef apron line, Art of Simplicity.
This Monday, April 9, Rogelio will be joined by two more Season 15 alums, Bruce Kalman of Union Restaurant in Pasadena, CA, and Tyler Anderson of Millwright’s Restaurant in Simsbury, CT. The ingredient? Eggs, any kind: chicken, duck, emu, fish, quail…the shell’s the limit, although probably not bear.
“I don’t want to limit their imaginations,” says Rogelio. “The point of this is really thinking creatively, having fun with the menu and execution, and giving them ownership over the process.”
EXECUTIVE CHEF ROGELIO GARCIA DISHES ON THE TOP CHEF EXPERIENCE
Now that Season 15 of Top Chef is over, Rogelio shares some highlights.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE FILMING IN COLORADO?
I’d never been in Aspen, Telluride, Denver, Boulder — those cities are amazing. The chefs they have there, the restaurants. Chefs from big cities like New York and San Francisco are opening up restaurants there. It’s definitely a coming-up place.
YOU GUYS SEEMED PRETTY TIGHT EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE COMPETING AGAINST EACH OTHER.
You walk in not knowing any of the other contestants, and you walk out like a family. You get to know each other, their stories. Just because you spend so much time together — with blood, sweat, and tears. We have a group chat on Snapchat that’s called Family, and we always hashtag #family. No matter what the cameras say, I think at the end of the day we are always going to be connected.
DID THEY INSPIRE YOU?
The other contestants are definitely super talented. A lot of them have James Beard awards, they have restaurants and accolades, they’ve been cooking for a long time. I definitely look up to many of them. We also have a connection, as far as bouncing ideas back and forth and what moves are next.
HOW ABOUT THE JUDGES?
Cooking for the judges, it was a little intimidating. They travel all over the world, eat all over the world, and even some of the guest judges that were there as well, they are very well respected and have a really high following. They definitely put the pressure on us all the time.
THE PRESSURE WAS INTENSE, HUH?
Some of them say it’s like a whole year of stress all in those couple of weeks. The pressure of that competition, it’s a different kind of pressure because it’s definitely food, but it’s also mental. You get hit with a lot of unknown factors. In a regular restaurant, you know what’s happening, what’s going to happen, you know how many people are coming in. You plan out your day, you have a plan going in, but in an environment like that, you never know what’s going on.
BUT IT WAS WORTH IT?
You definitely learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about the industry. The connections I made, with Top Chef and the other contestants, they will be with me forever. I was super lucky to get to do that.
— Submitted by Shayna Lee, Administrative Assistant