Daniel Patterson

Earlier this month, Daniel Patterson won the James Beard Award for the Best Chef in the West. The restaurateur made a name for himself when he opened his first restaurant at the age of 25. Since then he has opened a number of establishments, including Coi in San Francisco, a two-star Michelin restaurant, and Plum and Haven in Oakland. He joins us to talk about Northern California cuisine, his philosophy on food and why he’s re-launching one of his Oakland restaurants.

Daniel Patterson, chef and owner of Coi; his other restaurants include Alta in San Francisco and Ume, Plum Bar and Haven in Oakland

  • ES Trader

    Despite your comment about meat along with vegetables do you ever offer an all vegetarian meal ?

  • William

    I’ve worked in the food and beverage industry for 18 years, and worked at Elizabeth Daniel when it was open. I walked into that job as if it was just another, and by the time I left, I learned that the restaurant industry can actually be a noble profession. I learned more about food and service from Daniel Patterson than any other chef for whom I’ve worked.

  • michele

    I don’t understand how some chefs who smoke can discern anything about the taste or smell of their food. Yuck!

  • K Marie

    I like to hear Daniel say cooking is cooking. There are some cheap chain restaurants take it simple things like fried chicken right every time and then there are the high priced restaurants that couldn’t cook fried chicken to save their souls. I judge food by quality and cost, don’t mind paying for high-quality, love to eat good food at low cost as well. Food snobs are usually never cooks.

  • Guest

    I’m in the industry (Front of House) and encountered similar challenges on the Peninsula that you did in Oakland. There can be a big difference between SF and other Bay Area communities with regards to guest expectations, level of product knowledge, etc. While I was able to blaze some trails there, I just accepted a job at a new restaurant in the city, and very excited to expand my professional experience there as you have done. Continued good luck, keep the faith.

  • Randy Cook

    So glad to hear that you didn’t go to culinary school. I spent almost 20 years in kitchens and by the 80’s most chefs were exclusively hiring from culinary schools, yet I found the school of hard knocks provided the elements of cooking that formed the foundation for a love to cook, while giving me the tools to work with any type or style of food without the school experience.

  • Robert Thomas

    I don’t see why cooks shouldn’t want to cook very well and very creatively, with very good ingredients and take advantage of patrons who are willing to pay a lot of money to finance their performances.

    But unlike other arts, every dish is a private performance. Anyone can pay a small fee to see a picture by Willem de Kooning or Thomas Eakins but a performance at the French Laundry is a lot more costly. And I can get a reservation to go back and see the Eakins every day.

  • poot

    Whenever someone asks me if they should go to culinary school, my first response is, “have you ever worked in a restaurant?” If not, I tell them the first thing they need to do is go get a job in one and learn what it’s like, and see if it’s what you want to do for a living. It’s quite definitely not cooking for your friends in the backyard. I agree with Daniel that school is unnecessary, and when I see people looking for cooks who “must have a culinary degree,” I have to take exception to the thought that a guy with six months of schooling will get hired, and with 20 years experience, they don’t even want to talk to you… who wants to work for someone that dumb?

    • I agree with everything you said. I’ve also been working in fine-dining, though mostly in the front-of-the-house, for 20+ years. The one time I ventured into the kitchen, it was as an apprentice to a pastry chef. She accepted me because I was already a skilled home baker, and had many years of experience working in fine-dining restaurants and had seen what goes on in a fine pastry kitchen. After working alongside her for about a year, we got an intern from CCA for a 6 week staging.

      This person had an impressive recipe book and many units of classes, but was phenomenally ill-prepared for the actual grind of daily restaurant service. This person also had perhaps the worst type of personality for working in a restaurant–overly sensitive, lacking in humor, easily rattled/stressed out, and constantly needing direction–no initiative at all. If you didn’t provide him with a very rudimentary set of instructions for each and every task, he’d simply sit down in the back of the kitchen and wait. This type of behavior, nonetheless, had allowed him to excel in a school-type setting–he came highly recommended by his teachers. But in the high-pressure demands of a fine-dining kitchen, it’s career poison.

      If someone hasn’t taken the initiative to start out at the bottom as a busser, dishwasher or prep cook in a teenage summer job, I’d question their actual passion and suitability for restaurant work. Perhaps cooking for a commercial manufacturer, or an institutional kitchen might be better for the type of culinary school types that too often graduate with flying colors but are utterly not suited for actual restaurant work. It’s just not for everyone–but there are many other kinds of livings to be made in the culinary world that don’t involve working in a restaurant.

  • Thank you for having Mr. Patterson. He’s one of SF’s true groundbreakers. I’m enjoying him so politely taking on the folk who are so eager to bash him for being supposedly “elitist”. There’s a certain kind of commenter who is absolutely dogmatic about pooh-poohing anything that is either pricey, or strives to be anything more than simple and populist. Now of course, simple and populist has its place. But we are not bereft of these sorts of dining opportunities, whereas very fine dining experiences executed by a risk-taking creative genius is indeed a rarity. And they are not for everyone, both taste-wise, and wallet-wise. (Besides, the recent explosion of pop-ups and food trux has brought quality, affordable and interesting cooking to much broader audiences.)

    I understand the tendency to push against gentrification, and I’m right out there on the barricades when it comes to fighting against income inequality. But even on my exceedingly modest income, I am the sort of person who has such a passion for food and transformative dining experiences that I will scrimp and save so that I can experience what I consider true genius in the establishments of people like Mr. Patterson. This is important to me. And I don’t shut down those who celebrate budget, egalitarian dining. Co-existence should be a given.

    To those who feel that they must attack “elitist” restauranteurs with snarky, “why should I care” comments, surely there is something in your life about which you feel such passion that you’ll go to great lengths to experience it–greater lengths than perhaps the rest of us would. So please take that tiny little intellectual step, and grant us “elitists” our esoteric pleasures.

    If it makes you feel any better, these restaurants tend to be very labor-intensive, and provide excellent, intellectually rewarding working-class livings for lots of people. I know this because I work at a Michelin 1-star, and have been in fine dining for 20+ years. A great number of “elitist” establishments are the rare good guys of the restaurant industry and actual strive for staff retention with competitive wages and real health and vacation benefits. So put that in your dogmatic pipe and smoke it!

  • Heather Cleveland

    Please, please tell
    me again the place in Petaluma where Mr. Patterson gets his cheese! I was driving and could not write it down but very much want to plan a field trip out there to get some!

  • tomlederer

    What is the name of the Petaluma cheese maker metnioned by Patterson in response to a listener question?

    • miriam cassidy

      Soyoung Scanlan from Andante Dairy

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor